The Inside Scoop of Working with Editors and Proofreaders at Writers4Writers

It was so much fun at our March Writers4Writers meeting! If you’re unfamiliar with our group, we meet once a month to learn something, do readings and enjoy each other’s company.  As people who know me have heard ad infinitum – I love being around writers! Truly, I find writers to be intelligent, creative, and with an added bonus of kindness.

As long as you’re a writer, whether you write nonfiction, fiction, poetry, romances or mysteries – whatever genre, I hope you’ll come visit us.  Everyone can afford FREE : ) Represented at the meeting were mystery writers, poets, non-fiction writers, YA writers, technical advice writers, editors, and even a former investigative reporter. Once you get a taste, I’m sure you’ll want to come back for more.  Every time we meet, I bask in an enthusiastic afterglow for days.

Lynette Smith photo

Lynette M. Smith

At our meeting we were treated to the inside scoop on using copyeditors and proofreaders by Lynette M. Smith who is a copyeditor, proofreader, publisher and author. Her talk, “Working with Copyeditors and Proofreaders: the Why, How, and When,” defined not only what assistance each provided, she also gave us a typical timeline as to when you needed each professional for your writing journey. Having seen the writing path from both an editor’s perspective and as an author herself, Lynette has seen all angles of bringing a book to market.

Like a sleuth with a lavender (her favorite color) flashlight she searches for those errant commas, duplicate words and clumsy phrases, making our polished work sparkle. Sometimes she works with writers requiring a spit shine, and then for others, she has to get out her gloves, boots and stringent cleaning solvent to get their work prepared to be seen in public. Because the ultimate goal is to bring our work out into the open to share our best, shiny new creations.

In the beginning she advises, you may choose to get a coach or book shepherd to help guide you through all the phases of writing and publishing your book.  These professionals prevent planning and writing errors, offer advice in building a fan base and may help develop a marketing plan.

You may choose to get a developmental or content editor.  Their goal is to insure balance and make sure the writing is complete. The sad, and true expression comes to mind… if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.  They can help you refine your writing tactics, help you organize your manuscript and suggest appropriate writing approaches such as style.  They also can fact check your manuscript.

You can consider it to be an insurance policy. As writers, we always are doing rewrites, although you don’t want to incur a costly gaffe in either money or time, by major sections’ being left out or needing to be surgically detached – which for us sensitive writers, feels like it’s removed without anesthesia.

I know from my writing experiences, you never can have enough eyes looking over your work to help point out simple mistakes or when the writing is unclear.  At times we may think something is on the page, and be surprised to find out it’s still in our heads.

Now sorry, this doesn’t mean Aunt Bessy who majored in English in high school.  While I’m sure she’s great, and makes a mean apple pie, remember when you pay for professional work – you can expect to receive high quality advice. Still, you might want Aunt Bessy to bake a pie to celebrate your accomplishment – finally completing your manuscript. Writing a book is no joke, requiring a huge commitment of time, energy and expertise. If you’re wise, leave editing and proofreading to the professionals, or you might end up paying more down the road for having tried to cut corners.

Ah yes, completed – such a relative term. There are so many different steps to stub your toe on and wily curves to pass by remaining – try to avoid falling over the cliff!

Once the final draft is ready, it’s time for the copyeditor. The copyeditor’s job is to bring consistency to formatting your manuscript, including headings and paragraph styles.  They are the guardians of spelling grammar and punctuation, making any college English professor proud. They also insure any muddy phrases are kicked off your boots and left out of your manuscript.

For some creatives, this can be hard medicine to swallow. Similar to when you are sick, you fill your prescriptions to feel – or in this case, read better.  After all, we want our offspring to be as healthy and beautiful as possible.

Find professionals you’re comfortable working with.   Remember, their intention is to make your writing better so accept their suggestions gracefully.

Now if you’re intending on galloping next out into the indie-publishing Wild West, then there are other professionals to rope into your corral, also known as graphic or book designers and layout professionals. For this phase, you need to relax and get comfortable because there’s going to be more than one dance and your feet or other body parts may be sore by the time this is over.

There are all kinds of steps and rules to follow to insure your finished book looks professional. You have to get your book designed including the cover (front, back and spine), as well as the interior.

Alleviating errors is a multi-phased process. The writer creates, then a professional proofreader reads PDFs of your creations. Errors are documented, and someone has to correct the errors (this may be you or someone else). Don’t forget the final phase – rechecking to insure they were corrected in the manuscript.

A square dance of the writer, graphic designer, and proofreader weaving in and out and back again to the home position to start over. A dizzying dance catching this wrong word here, or putting in a missing comma there – and no one ever wants to be caught with a dangling participle. It will be a long, possibly dark night of the soul, with a filled dance-card, and you probably will need a couple drinks before you finish.

As for rules – you’d better be familiar with them.  One handout Lynette distributed gave me a stomach ache as I saw how she outlined what you’re not supposed to do (which of course I had done), AND she provided solutions as to how to correct our errant ways.  How was I supposed to know we aren’t allowed to use the tab key to indent first-line paragraphs, or spacing between sentences has to be one space – not two? We have to use the manual page break, not hit enter twice between chapters – damn it, I mean thanks for telling me!

Lynette has put together the handbook, “80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors” (paperback). I would advise you to run, not walk, to buy it and save yourself unnecessary copyediting fees.  It’s available in hard copy or as an eBook .

Lynette also spoke to us about how to hire different book professionals such as book cover designers, graphic designers, and editors.  Analyze every line in the contract, seek reviews and recommendations and detail the scope of work. She advised us to compare each candidate by asking specific questions about how they do their work – each may be different. Ask questions like:

  • How many times do you read the copy?
  • Do you charge by the hour or by the project?

Before final pricing can be determined, you might be asked to send a few pages from the latter ninety percent of the book. These are probably more representative of your writing than the well-scrubbed beginning chapters. Once reviewed in detail, the professional can determine the amount of work required with more precision. Then you’ll confront the bottom line – the price.

Book cover designers can be hired cheaply from websites like, or traditionally which will cost $300-$1,500 or more.  Seeing the book cover is probably the first introduction to your book the reader will notice, and you need something to catch their eye.

Interior book layouts can be made by using Word in a simple format, or by using a book layout software like Adobe InDesign which has many more features.

Lynette advised – always protect your book ownership by getting your own ISBN numbers – YOU should be the publisher of record – unless a traditional publisher has accepted your manuscript for publication. By the way, separate ISBNs are required for each book edition so the hard cover, eBook and paperback would each require a different ISBN.  Also, ISBNs are country-specific, so finding the requirements for publishing outside the United States will require sleuthing on your own.

Both CreateSpace and IngramSpark do a great job for self-publishing books.  However, always be sure to get a printed proof copy – don’t only look online at your book.  Additional corrections are probably needed for the physical book once you examine it.

Also, if your manuscript has photos, there’s always an additional layer of complexity and therefore, it requires an evaluation specifically for the photos.

Another few rounds and do si dos will be required to finish off the job and finally you’re ready to let your masterpiece take flight. Revel in your accomplishment – YOU DID IT!

Thanks so much to Lynette for providing us with the nitty gritty details of copyediting and proofreading! Our next Writers4Writers meeting is April 15 as we gather together 4 The Love of Writing and Writers.  I’d love to see you there. As always, I hope you’re enjoying your writing adventure, and I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…