Black Cat does #IndieAuthorChat

I was the guest for the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Twitter chat on Tuesday 6th August 2019. The chat takes place every Tuesday, using the hashtag #IndieAuthorChat, and is hosted by the lovely Tim Lewis of Stoneham Press. We had a great hour talking about proofreading for indie authors. If you weren’t able to join us, you can catch up using the Twitter Moment or read, below, a transcript of the questions Tim asked and my answers:

Q1: How does proofreading differ from editing?

A1: Proofreading is a type of editing, but it is a lot less interventionist than a copy- or line-edit. I think of proofreading as making the smallest possible changes to make the text as correct as possible.  Proofreading should occur right at the end of the publishing workflow – it’s the final polish and is not a substitute for a thorough self-edit and professional copy-edit. The SfEP has a handy fact sheet to compare proofreading and copy-editing.

Q2: How much difference does format (print, eBook, etc) make in terms of proofreading a manuscript?

A2: It shouldn’t make a huge difference. It will be more about what the author finds easiest to work with and how much labour they want to put in to checking and adopting changes. Indie authors tend to ask me to mark up a Word doc, which isn’t proofreading in the traditional sense (that’s checking typeset proofs) but is easy to manage. Don’t be afraid to ask for a paper or PDF proofread if you want one – a properly trained proofreader will have the ability to do this. The cost will probably be higher but they will be checking the text and the format in as close to its final state as possible.

Q3: What is a style sheet and why is it important in editing and proofreading?

Black Cat Editorial Services_ talking proofreading on #IndieAuthorChatA3: A style sheet is SO IMPORTANT. A style sheet is a document that collects all your style preferences. You can see a very basic example on my website. It is essential for editing and every editor you work with should provide one for you. If they don’t, ask to see what they compiled. Style sheets are needed to ensure consistency throughout the text, and provide the author with an at-a-glance summary of what has been done and why. I extend mine to record character and location details, and often include a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to help me keep track of events. If you engage a proofreader, it is in your interests to provide them with the style sheet the copy-editor compiled for the project. It’ll save a lot of time and possibly confusion, and should make proofreading cheaper for you.

Q4:  How do you work with an author – what is the process of getting your manuscript proofread like?

A4: The process is quite straightforward, but I need the author to give me as much information as possible, really. Be upfront about what you are looking for. Send me a sample so I can see what needs to be done. If I don’t think a proofread would best serve you and the project (i.e. it needs a deeper level of edit) I will tell you. There is a small amount of paperwork involved (I ask clients to sign a project agreement) and I will require a deposit to book my time. Proofreading is usually(!) straightforward so the client may not hear from me until I’m finished. However, I’ll email if I do need to consult on something that’s not easily dealt with. I’ll send over the marked-up document and the style sheet, and a sign-off form for the project. I’m available to answer any related questions and will do my best to assist.

Q5: How much should an author pay for proofreading and what factors affect the cost?

A5: This is a tricky one. It depends. If the text is in excellent shape, and the client provides a comprehensive style sheet, I’d charge around £7 per 1,000 words. If we are looking at something complex that needs to be done within a tight time frame, I’d charge £10–12 per 1,000 words. It’s all about time. The longer it takes, the more I charge. My pricing isn’t at the top end of what you could expect to pay. The SfEP suggested minimum is £25.00 per hour. Format, time frame, complexity, level of intervention – these will all affect the cost.

Q6: What is one thing you wish all authors understood about proofreading and editing?

A6: What a question! Well, one of the important things for me is that authors understand that we are a team. Don’t be afraid to give me as much information as you can. Tell me what you want to achieve. If I don’t know, I can’t tailor my editing to support you.

Q7: How can people find out more about Hannah McCall and Black Cat Editorial Services?

A7: You can check out my website (https://blackcatedit.com/) or follow me here on Twitter (I’d love it if you did).


Got your own questions about proofreading? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thinking about joining ALLi? You can find out more here.

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Tools of the trade: resources for style and usage

It’s part of my job to make sure the texts I work on are consistent in style and in usage, and to identify and/or fix incorrect usages of the English language. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to work from a house style-guide, or a copy of the project style-sheet that has been compiled by someone else, or a list put together by the author. But where do I turn if I don’t have these things? There are lots of resources available, but this post discusses those I use most often.

Style and usageBlack Cat tools of the trade_ guides for style and usage

When I talk about style here, I mean preferred forms in areas such as spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation and punctuation. For example, the use of serial commas is a matter of style, as is whether you write proofreader or proof-reader. Writing style itself, while it includes these things, is not what we are necessarily dealing with here.

Usage looks at how language is used – and I’m focusing on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and syntax. For example, standard modern usage would see programme as the correct British English spelling, but allow program when used in a computer-related context.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

New Hart’s Rules is an excellent little guide to style. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature – it is thorough and wide-ranging. It’s the first thing I reach for if I need a reminder on how to style publication names, or the principles of presenting numerical date forms. It does touch on US English style, but I have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style to refer to for US-specific queries.

When editing text to UK-publishing standards, it is New Hart’s I will use as my guide. I don’t enforce the style on the text, unless I’ve been directed to do so by the client, but it serves as an authoritative guide for tackling consistency issues.

New Oxford Spelling Dictionary: The Writers’ and Editors’ Guide to Spelling and Word Division and New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word

I’ve lumped these two together because for me they serve the same purpose. If I have to decide between hyphenated or not hyphenated, check the spelling of a specialist term, or confirm the italicisation of a word from a different language, I will pick up one or both of these books. The Spelling Dictionary has more entries, but at the cost of the extra guidance present in the Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Fowler’s is a treasure trove of information and advice on the use of the English language. On occasion, I flick through it just for fun, but then I’m a bit odd. I usually turn to Fowler’s when I have a niggling ‘is that the proper way to use that word?’ thought. Sometimes it serves as a hand-holder: yes, you can use further in that context; yes, proven is now common in UK English.

It’s a comprehensive dictionary, and it contains thoughtful and nuanced guidance. For example, it provides a clear and thorough summary of the issue around split infinitives – and comes to the sensible conclusion that split infinitives are acceptable, and can, in fact, be necessary.

Oxford Dictionaries Online and the Oxford English Dictionary

If I’m away from my desk (and therefore my books), or if I can’t find the information I need in the sources above, I go to Oxford Dictionaries Online. This is usually where I do quick checks of spellings and alternative forms. It will often give advice on related grammar and standard usage, as well as details of the word’s origin and pronunciation.

Archaic and unusual words may require me to access the legend that is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It can be almost overwhelming in the depth of detail for some entries, but it is an excellent resource. (Access is restricted to subscribers – but if your local library has a subscription, you should be able to sign in using your library card number.)

What does this mean for my clients?

It means my clients can be sure that I take style and usage seriously. I don’t make decisions based on a flip of a coin or what I prefer – I use authoritative resources to guide me. The style sheet I compile for each project has a section where I record which books and websites I’ve consulted in the course of proofreading or editing. If the client would like to look into any relevant style and usage in more detail, they can do so.

The key takeaway is what these resources allow me to do: I make sure style is consistent, and I fix or highlight non-standard usage. My clients are informed about what I’ve done, and why, and I engage them in the decision-making when necessary.