Delighted to welcome back Wendy Janes with a post on proofreading fiction and non-fiction books. Wendy is also the author of two books and you can find out more about those later in the post.
Back in the twentieth century when I started out as a freelance proofreader I worked solely on non-fiction, mainly academic texts for a variety of publishing houses. Each had an in-house style guide that editors and proofreaders were expected to work from, which was very useful for a newbie who felt she needed a safety net.
In addition to correcting grammar and punctuation, I became involved in decisions about the hierarchy of headings, styles for different types of lists, plus the setting of figures, tables and boxes. I was also required to check in-text quotations and references against bibliographies and reference lists, as well as ensuring that bibliographies and reference lists were set correctly and contained full publishing details. It was meticulous and rewarding work.
Friends used to remark that I must be very clever, since I spent my days reading so many interesting books about obscure aspects of subjects such as education, history, politics, art and film. Alas, this wasn’t the case. Although I had been totally immersed in a book while proofreading, once I’d finished, it was astonishing how little I could remember. Maybe there’s only so much my brain can retain. However, one fact I do recall is that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were delivered by the same midwife.
Anyway, let’s get back to the proofreading…
After a few years, a publisher offered me a novel to proofread. Elated by a sense of freedom – no lists, no figs/tabs/boxes, no quotes and, joy of joy, no extensive bibliographies and references to double-check – I reckoned this was going to be a doddle.
To my surprise, it wasn’t.
Very quickly I discovered that I had to constrain my initial impulse to impose every single rule I’d been required to use when proofreading non-fiction. Let’s take the following sentence, as an example:
The therapist should ensure they keep their notes up to date.
In the textbooks I’d been proofreading I was expected to change this to:
The therapist should ensure he or she keeps his or her notes up to date.
Therapists should ensure they keep their notes up to date.
Some of my publishers encouraged their authors to make a note at the start of the book if they had chosen to run with masculine or feminine, but the mix of singular and plural was to be avoided at all costs. For a while when I first began proofreading fiction I had to physically stop myself from correcting this. These days, whether proofreading fiction or non-fiction, this isn’t such an issue because the singular ‘they’ has become far more common. In fact, the APA now endorse the use of the singular ‘they’ in its bias-free language guidelines. I find it fascinating to see how language is continuing to evolve, and if you’re equally fascinated, I think you’ll enjoy this article about: The Singular They
Another example of a big difference between proofreading fiction and non-fiction is when dealing with contractions. When working on a non-fiction title, I would amend:
Good therapists don’t doodle in their notebooks during therapy sessions. It’s not professional.
Good therapists do not doodle in their notebooks during therapy sessions. It is not professional.
That formal style would make for a very stilted novel, and in dialogue (unless the character is particularly prim and proper) it would sound downright wrong.
As I received more fiction titles it became clearer that while errors in fiction can suck all the drama from a novel, errors in non-fiction make the reader doubt the authenticity and accuracy of the information. I also realised the importance of listening to the novelist’s voice and the need to take time to decide when to intervene and when to let something go. In fact my touch is now much lighter with both fiction and non-fiction, and I reckon that makes for better proofreading.
I believe I was lucky to start off proofreading non-fiction for publishers, picking up invaluable tips from the editors I worked with while honing my skills. I think this post is a sort of thank you for that start. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to make the move into proofreading for independent authors. Initially, working with indie authors felt like swinging through the air on a trapeze without a safety net below. No in-house style sheet to rely on, no editors to double-check things with, just a knowledge that I had the confidence and skills to take that leap, catch the bar, execute a perfect somersault and land gracefully on the other side.
©Wendy Janes 2019
My thanks to Jane for sharing this with us and I personally found very useful, particularly in relation to contractions…
About Wendy Janes
Wendy Janes lives in London with her husband and youngest son. She is the author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and the short story collection, What Tim Knows, and other stories. She has also contributed short stories to a number of anthologies, including the fundraising anthology, A Kind of Mad Courage.
Her writing is inspired by family, friends, and everyday events that only need a little twist to become entertaining fiction.
As well as writing contemporary fiction, she loves to read it too, and spreads
the word about good books online and in the real world.
Wendy is also a freelance proofreader, and a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service.
There are many testimonials for Wendy’s work and I am just sharing one with you here. I suggest that you pop over and read the others. You will be impressed.
“Wendy proofread my second novel, she is a pleasure to work with. Her knowledge, skill and sharp eyes picked up numerous, minor errors which both I and my editor had overlooked despite numerous read throughs. Wendy noted misleading sentences, caught graves which should have been acutes and found spaces in places they shouldn’t haven’t been.
My manuscript now sparkles, and I would definitely use Wendy again. Her prices are fair, her work is exemplary, and the proofread was completed ahead of schedule.
Thank you, Wendy, for a scrupulous and professional service. Thoroughly recommended.”
Sam Russell, author of the contemporary romances A Bed of Barley Straw and A Bed of Brambles
Books by Wendy Janes
One of the excellent reviews for What Jennifer Knows
‘What Jennifer Knows’ is a subtle and shocking tale of modern family life and relationships.
Sensitively drawn characters charm us but we, like them, are unsure who to trust. The shifting nature of loyalty and love is portrayed through searingly honest glimpses into the characters’ lives, both past and present.
The children in the novel are beautifully drawn and the way Tim’s siblings give him the acceptance and understanding he needs is both heart-breaking and wonderful.
As the complex plot deepens, we become so caught up in the characters’ lives that we have a real sense of urgency to know what will happen. How will Jennifer deal with what she knows? The final twist gives a fitting ending to this extra-ordinary book.
Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon UK
And on: Amazon US
Read more reviews and follow Wendy on: Goodreads
Connect to Wendy.
Thank you for dropping in today and I am sure that Wendy would be delighted to answer any questions that you might have.