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How do you pick the best proofreader for your novel?

Self-publishing a novel can be really difficult, especially when it comes to finding and hiring all the individual services you need. When it comes to proofreading, you want to find the best proofreader for your novel, but where do you start?

Finding a proofreader doesn’t have to be difficult, but finding the best proofreader for your novel might be daunting. You need to find someone who can provide a high quality service who you get along with and trust with your novel.

To help, I’ve put together a guide on finding and hiring proofreaders, with tips for how to decide between multiple providers.

Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

What to do before you hire a proofreader

Before you hire a proofreader, make sure your manuscript has been fully edited. Self-publishing your novel involves knowing the publication process in and out, so make sure you have a publishing schedule.

You ideally want to book several months in advance, so schedule with an editor and confirm a deadline, then do the same with a formatter (if hiring a formatting service) so you know when the final proof will be finished.

Figure out the budget you’re giving your book. Depending on how many services you’re hiring, you may find that it quickly goes up into the thousands. Having a budget in mind, and knowing how much you have left over after other services, will help you narrow down your proofreader options.

Once you know when your proof is ready, you can schedule in with a proofreader. But first, how do you find one?

How to find the best proofreader for your novel

To find the best proofreader for your novel, you can start narrowing down your search by looking for people who specialise in your genre. Fantasy and historical novels have very different styles of writing and formatting, so a proofreader specialising in your genre is important for accuracy and speed.

For a book written in UK English, you’ll want someone who is familiar and confident with UK English.

Ask for recommendations from other authors. Ideally, you’ll want to ask authors who write in your genre, but any can work. If you don’t know anyone, try asking in writing groups or online communities. This can help you both find a proofreader and be assured of the quality of their work, especially if you can download a sample of what they’ve worked on.

If you don’t get any recommendations, check:

Compile a list of all the proofreaders you’re considering. Ideally, you’ll want to narrow them down as soon as possible, so keep anyone you have good recommendations for, and make sure to check reviews and testimonials. Information about their qualifications, experience, and any memberships can demonstrate the quality of their training.

Next, contact the proofreaders you’ve found. Knowing when you expect to need proofreading means you can ask straight away if they have availability around a particular date, ideally soon after your novel will be formatted.

Ask for a free sample proofread, usually up to 1000 words, and send them a sample of your novel from the middle of the book. This will give you an idea of how they proofread, and help them to give you an accurate quote on how long it might take them to complete your novel.

You should now know who has availability for your novel, whose attention to detail is best, and which proofreaders work within your budget. If none of the proofreaders you’ve contacted can fit you in, or you aren’t confident that they’re right for you, start your search again and repeat the steps.

Tips for deciding between proofreaders

  • Look at reviews and focus on any reviews that aren’t 5 stars – if there are any, you’ll need to know why they weren’t rated highly. If all reviews are 5 stars (the ideal!), look up the author’s work and check the reviews for their books.
  • Check their portfolio and look at reviews for books within your genre or their recent work. See if any of the book reviews mention how many mistakes there are. Or download book samples and read them. If you can spot more than 10 mistakes in their samples, pass on that proofreader.
  • See what qualifications they have. Just because someone has an English degree doesn’t mean they’re a proofreader. Instead, look for qualifications by organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (Proofreading 1, Proofreading 2, and Proofreading 3) and the Publishing Training Centre (Essential Proofreading, Advanced Proofreading).
  • Ask for a sample proofread and introduce mistakes, then see how many of the mistakes they catch. Do this for multiple proofreaders so you can see who performs the best. If they miss a few mistakes, their error rate should be pretty low, but if they miss all of them, the quality of their work isn’t good enough. If none of the proofreaders catch more than half of your introduced mistakes, it’s likely that the mistakes you’ve introduced aren’t what proofreaders look for, or they’d be caught when looking at consistency of the entire work.

How to hire a proofreader

The process of hiring a proofreader can vary between different service providers, but the essentials are:

  • Asking for a quote, which should include when the proofreader will receive files from you, when the deadline for their work is, and how much it will cost
  • Reading their terms & conditions, usually found on their website or sent to you along with their quote
  • Confirming in writing (typically via email) that you’re happy with their quote and when they can expect to hear from you with the files
  • Paying any upfront fee/deposit (usually a percentage of the quote), usually when you get in contact to send the files

Once you’ve sent your novel to your proofreader, all you can do is wait. You may be contacted during the period with queries, which are questions on how to handle particular corrections that come up.

If you have a style sheet, either one you’ve prepared and sent to your editor or one your editor has prepared for you, make sure to send this with your files, as this will help your proofreader carry out consistency checks.

On receiving your proofread novel back, you might have more queries from your proofreader about anything else they’ve found and not changed. You’ll also receive an invoice or details on how to pay for the service – make sure to pay this promptly! If you pay late, you may be subject to a late payment fee, usually upwards of 5% of the project cost.

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