Friday, 21 September 2012
Helen Baggott talking about Proofreading
Most definitely! It’s virtually impossible for us to spot our own typos. By the time an author has planned, plotted and written their novel, they’re so familiar with the content that instead of reading it for errors, they’re almost reciting it.
Friends and family will be honoured to read it first, but often they won’t be able to overcome their pride and errors will remain.
And if you think a spell checker will do the job of a proof-reader, think again. The wrong word spelt correctly is still an error – stares/stairs is a favourite.
How did you get into doing this then?
I began writing seriously about 20 years ago. I won my first short story competition (Writers’ Forum) in the late 80s and since then have continued to write the odd story and have won more competitions – most recently last year.
But it’s non-fiction and publishing that really grabbed my attention. As well as writing and researching articles for magazines and websites, I’ve also edited a local magazine and that involved proofreading. I also write reviews for local newspapers and have met some wonderful people, including Julian Fellowes and Mike Leigh. Thankfully Lord Fellowes had been interviewed before and my stammering questions were interpreted and answered with an Oscar-winning performance.
Of course you can’t write without reading and it occurred to me as I embraced the world of e-readers that writers who self-publish, need to get their books proofread, but on a budget.
They also need to publicise their work and that’s where I can also help. Once I’ve either proofread a manuscript or given an e-book a final post-formatting check, I write an impartial review – posted on my own site (www.helenbaggott.co.uk), Amazon, Goodreads etc.
Can you tell us about any funny/rude mistakes you've caught?
Sadly nothing too funny or rude, but there’s always the next one! Characters can change name or career – a proof-reader isn’t just looking for typos. A while ago I read a novel with a legal secretary as a minor character. Within a few chapters she’d morphed into a fully-fledged criminal lawyer, simply because it helped the plot. That’s sloppy writing.
What’s the most embarrassing error you’ve found?
Sadly it’s my own. I was rushing to finalise the magazine a few years ago and missed that posterity had been rejected for prosperity. I still cringe.
You review books too - what would/do you do if you think the book is awful?
Some books are returned with an explanation. I try to find something positive in everything I read – I’m not interested in shredding an author’s confidence. At the moment I have about 70 books waiting to be read for review only - I give priority to the proofreading work. Often an author will contact me first and I have the opportunity to read the free excerpt on Amazon. I decline the book if I spot too many errors.
Writing should be a pleasurable experience and authors deserve to feel a great sense of achievement – planning, writing, formatting and marketing is a massive achievement. But if authors expect to sell their work, they should strive to produce something worth buying.