Hello you ; )
Who are the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process? The answer to that question is – there are many. From long suffering spouses/partners, who witness their beloved vanish for hours each day, to friends who buck us up when we are in the midst of a panicked writer meltdown, howling ‘ I’M NEVER GOING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH!!!’
But today, I am going to focus on the godsend that is the professional proofreader. My proofreader to be exact. If you work with words in your profession, good practice dictates that if it’s going to fall on the public’s gaze, you should get two sets of eyes to check your work over before it goes out. You can be the most amazing writer in the world and still make mistakes. I’ll have made mistakes in this post despite my best intentions.
When I completed Gunshot Glitter, I proofed it to within an inch of its life, but I knew it would still be riddled with errors. Not just typos but omissions and my personal nemeses of getting - brought/bought, then/than and off/of mixed up. Not forgetting unintentionally missing words, word repetition and erroneous punctuation either! I remember in my first draft of Gunshot Glitter, I used the adverb ‘tremulously’ to death! I loved it for the delicacy and fragility it suggested. My emotional scenes were riddled with it!
Luckily, I noticed the latter, but when you write, you can be so caught up in what you’re creating you don’t notice you’ve used the same strong adjective or verb twice in one paragraph. You develop word-blindness, every writer does. Proofreaders are a fresh pair of intelligent eyes who can basically save your novel from looking like an amateurish mess. Essential, if you are self-publishing as I am.
But note, you should have two proofreaders if you can afford it or manage it. Proofreaders are human too and the hope is that what one overlooks the other will spot. Even then, I’m sure the eagle-eyed among you will spot errors in all the swish books published out there, and those are books that on average have been edited and proofed seven times before hitting the shelves. I was told that tidbit at the London Book Fair in 2011.
My proofreader is a professionally-trained Scottish lassie called Jill Blair. And guess who I have to thank for coming across her? Radox! Yes, Radox, purveyors of charming bath salts and bath confections. Back in 2010, they were running a two-part competition to name a new shower gel and also wanted a Facebook fan to judge the entrants. I ended up winning the latter. But on scanning the entries on their Facebook wall came across a cheeky post from a lady announcing she’d set herself up as a proofreader. I wish I could remember the exact way she’d wrangled that in on the post, where people were shouting out ‘ Carribean Crush!’ ‘Island Dream!’ and ‘Calypso Carnival!’ and the suchlike, but I can’t.
But I can tell you, I noticed her and I contacted her. I was still working on Gunshot Glitter and she was newly-qualified and looking for material to sink her teeth into, to practise her new found powers on, so we were perfect for one another.
The other thing that was awesome was that she was the first person to ever read the completed, unedited Master version of Gunshot Glitter, way back before my first Beta reader advised me I should cull it down by 50-80 pages ( I was horrified, but he was right). And my novel moved her to tears and made her fall in love with a character called Otis Valentine. The relief and pride I felt at knowing I’d pulled it off, I cannot describe it to be honest. When your debut novel is as morally challenging and as long as mine is, it is a huge gamble.
I see people saying a debut novel should be about 250 pages, well my loves, mine most certainly isn’t! It’s weird, debut novels have got shorter in the last ten years. Jill didn’t know me or owe me the gently, gently approach. She was wholly impartial. I really valued her feedback. Since then, I’ve had Gunshot Glitter read over by three, excellent eagle-eyed friends, Nerissa, Charlotte and Steve, who also pointed out errors and areas that needed tweaking. Massively helpful in shaping the final version. Thank you, I love you!!
Then earlier this year when I needed a final proof of the draft of all drafts, I was badly let down by someone who’d wanted the job; it really delayed the publication of Gunshot Glitter and this novel is like my life so I was very upset, and Jill Blair came to the rescue, she very kindly offered to do the work again. So thank you Jill Blair!
I’ve never read an interview with a professional proofreader, have you? And I reckon, to a good 90% of you, they’re a bit of a mystery as actual people, despite the essential work they do for us writers, so I wanted to rectify that. So read this and enjoy!
Jill Blair is really cool and I loved interviewing her. Why not tell me about your proofreading story and how you came across yours or what your own personal Achilles heel is when you write?
Yasmin Selena x x
P.S. Gunshot Glitter – the cover is done and it is GORGEOUS. Thank you, Celene Petrulak! The ePub edition of Gunshot Glitter is coming out next month even if it kills me. Watch this space for a release date. And I am in the September issue of PSYCHOLOGIES, more on ALL of this very soon : )
Interview with Jill Blair
YSB: Hi Jill, welcome to Hello You!
Hello! Thanks for having me.
YSB: What made you decide to become a proofreader?
I was made redundant in 2007, and although I was lucky enough to find another job within a few months, I decided I wanted to set up a small home business so I would have something as a backup in case I ever found myself out of work again. Spelling and grammar errors always leap out of the page at me so I thought I might as well make use of my natural talents. That, and I like using red pens…
YSB: Sometimes good things come out of tough breaks I think. How did you go about doing it?
I enrolled to study a distance learning course with Maple Academy and undertook their Professional Proofreading and Editing course. It was very interesting to find out the standard markings used for corrections in the publishing industry. It was also nice to have it confirmed that proofreading really was something I excelled at. I was a big swot and got between 92% and 100% for all my assessments!
YSB: What exactly does a proofreader do? Is it vastly different to editing?
I’ve often heard the two described as proofreading being a science and editing being an art. I would have to agree. There are very firm rules to spelling, punctuation and grammar, but editing leaves a lot of room for individual style.
YSB: Do you have a process? How does it work?
It depends on the type of work I’m proofing really. If I’m checking a website it’s very different from a novel or corporate training manuals, for example. Looking at the case of a novel, I like to just start at the beginning and read it as I would read a book. This was I get to know the characters as any other reader would and any inconsistencies are more obvious. If there is a certain word that keeps cropping up spelled wrong then I will usually stop and do a Find/Replace on MS Word in order to catch all the instances where it is spelled incorrectly.
YSB: As a writer, I can work with or without music, when you proofread do you need silence to focus?
I am HOPELESS with silence! If it’s too quiet my mind drifts off to thinking about what I need to buy for dinner, or how overgrown my garden is, etc etc! I find that I work best with calm classical music playing fairly quietly in the background. Nothing with lyrics or I start singing along with it and lose focus again. Easily distracted, it said so on all my school reports!
YSB: Once you did the course was it easy to build your confidence, was there a point where you felt like a bona fide proofreader?
The course helped a lot with my confidence as I was having assessments marked by the tutors and getting really good marks. To be honest, though, I still doubt myself over every comma. Commas are the bane of my life. As much as punctuation has some quite firm rules, commas, especially in a novel, can be the essence of a writer’s style. Using them where they wouldn’t normally go can slow the pace of a sentence. Likewise, not using them where you would expect to see them can speed it up. I have been known to take commas out then go back the next day and put them all back in again, and vice versa. Oscar Wilde was once quoted as saying: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again”.
Oh, I feel his pain! I would love to one day sit with a writer to proofread their work so I can ask them if they meant to put a pause in or not.
I think I felt most like I was actually a proofreader when I had my first return business from a large corporate client. And even more so when they paid me!
YSB: I know exactly where you are coming from with commas : ) What’s been your most challenging proofreading assignment so far? Is it easy to ‘detach’ yourself from what you proof?
The most challenging has not been due to the quality of writing, rather the genre of the novel I was proofing. It was novel called The Realm of the Shadow, by Drew Bowler who is a friend of a friend. It’s well written, has an interesting theme and plot, but there are some truly horrific and very graphic sections. They include torture scenes and a part where children are being hurt. Drew writes in a very descriptive way so he conjures up a very vivid image in the reader’s mind. So although well written, it was the gory nature of some parts of the novel that made it very difficult to read. It genuinely gave me nightmares; I woke in a sweat several nights whilst I was proofing it! But I don’t think I would want to detach myself from that kind of reaction, it’s certainly made it stick in my mind anyway.
YSB: How long does it take to proofread a novel from start to end?
Depending on the quality of the writing, an average speed for proofreading is anything from 1000 words per hour for something with few errors, to 2000 words per hour for work needing serious corrections made. As this is still a part time venture for me, I also have to factor in fitting it in around all the day to day house chores as well as my 9-5 job. An average manuscript of 300 pages in MS Word is around 120,000 words, so it can take a few weeks to proof.
YSB: What are the most common errors you come across when you work? As writers what are we most guilty of?
The thing I see most of is repetition. Writers tend to have a few words that they like using but can overuse them. It’s when you close read the novel as a proofreader that you notice them cropping up over and over again.
I would have had a field day proofing 50 Shades of Grey, but it would probably have taken me about 3 years to tidy up all the repetition of words…
Another one is continuity. It surprises me how often I see character’s names changing throughout the story. We might start off with Mrs Wilson but suddenly in chapter 5 she becomes Mrs Wilkinson, then back to Wilson in chapter 6.
YSB: God, I did the latter with something I just wrote, my friend Nerissa pointed it out! I know you proofread part time at the moment, what is your main profession?
I work for my local council, in a community use high school. My job title is Admin Assistant. My role involves a bit of finance, HR, marketing, and lots of other bits and bobs. In the past I’ve also tutored my own arts and crafts class for kids in the evenings there as well as covering an art class, a drama class, shifting furniture… It’s never dull! I’m very lucky; I love my job, I work close to my home and to my son’s school, I am now working term time and it’s very flexible.
YSB: What kind of books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I’m a big fan of the classics but I’m on a mission at the moment to read all of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. I’m on the 6th one at the moment and trying to read them all before his new one is released in November. I like being able to visualise the places in Edinburgh that he writes about.
YSB: I’ve got his first couple of books; still not got round to reading them though. If you were going to the Moon and could only take 5 books what would you take and why?
Oh blimey!!! Killer question! (It’s taken me 2 days to decide on these 5, they’re not in any particular order but are a bit of a stroll through my life…)
1. Anne of Green Gables – L M Montgomery – the book of my childhood. I still sometimes pick it up and read it even now and it always takes me back to a wonderful place. I adored Anne’s spirit, I related to the trouble she got in to and her fiery temper!
2. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen – I adore Austen, her books have so much silliness in them! She was such a witty, clever, independent lady and I love all of her novels. Pride and Prejudice is just an absolute classic. I feel a particular connection with it as I wrote a lengthy response to personal reading based on it as part of my 5th Year Higher English exam. I got to know it inside out and loved the variety of characters. I tend to like the bad boys so I would have to put Mr Wickham near the top of my favourites!
3. The Crow Road – Iain Banks – I read this when I was about 17 because a bloke I fancied said it was good! I loved it. It was a time when I was very much finding myself and taking myself out of my safe and comfortable life at home with my family and discovering the world for myself. The book took me completely out of my comfort zone of reading the classics. It conjured up some gruesome and violent images that I hadn’t experienced before, and yet I felt so much pain for Frank as he discovers things about his father towards the end of the book. This book takes me back to my teens, and great years they were too.
4. The Rainbow – D H Lawrence – If ever a book made me realise how much I have changed over the years as I’ve grown older, it’s The Rainbow. When I first read it I was a hormone fueled, horny teenager with a big hopeless romantic streak and I enjoyed the fact that it contained lots of swearing and sex and rebellion and love stories. But over the years I’ve re-read it a few times and always find something different. Some scenes which, as a romantic young fool, seemed sensual and passionate, with older eyes seem awkward and stifled and I notice the tensions in the relationships more. The Brangwen family are a firm favourite of mine. In fact, if I can find The Rainbow and Women in Love together in one book I’ll be cheeky and take that to the moon!
5. Skipping Christmas – John Grisham – a lovely little comedy novel and completely removed from Grisham’s usual law based novels. It was later made into a movie called Christmas with the Kranks, where a family decide to skip Christmas as their daughter is away traveling. The grief they get from their neighbours always makes me laugh. But this book is mainly on my list as it reminds me of my dad. We both loved the book and a few years after he passed away, I opened Skipping Christmas and one of Dad’s train tickets to his work fell out of it. It’s still in there. I read it every Christmas and have a little cry because I miss him so, so much, and a little giggle because he found the book so funny. Wonderful memories.
YSB: As a kid I was besotted with those LM Montgomery books. Anne of Green Gables was lovely! Good choice! ; ) I saw on your FB you are fan of the band, Gun. I had no idea they were still together. What other music do you like and how did you get into them? I’ve got Better Days on 7” somewhere.
I love my rock music, it just lights a fire inside me like no other type of music does. I have such a varied music collection (including a lot of country and classical, plus a bit of pop) but give me some screaming riffs and something that makes you punch the air uncontrollably any day! GUN have been around in various forms since the official split (check out El Presidente, fab!) but have only recently brought out their first new album with their new lineup and it rocks!
Check out the first single from it, Break the Silence. Turn it up loud and bounce! They are a great Scottish band and I went to see them loads in my teenage years in the 90s when they played a lot of gigs. I once won a competition on local radio to go to a festival they were playing at in Lisbon, Portugal and then backstage afterwards. It was a brilliant weekend. I’m going to see GUN supporting The Cult in Glasgow, in September. My younger brother bought tickets for me and him to go for my birthday, I can’t wait!
YSB: What else do you enjoy doing in your free time? I believe you’re a bit of a whizz in the kitchen! You have a cooking website, tell me more about it. Where can we find it?
I do, I find cooking so relaxing. I would happily spend the day in the kitchen messing around and trying out new recipes. I’m quite a haphazard cook, I like to tweak recipes and play around with them. I started my home cooking blog at http://pots-of-love.blogspot.com/ mainly because I had come across so many fantastic food producers in my local area. I love writing and I love cooking, so I thought I would combine the two and give the local foodie guys a shout out on my blog. And it means I am constantly discovering new products to try, cook, eat, and write about. And I do love my grub!
YSB: Do you have a favourite chef? Who is it and why?
Not one in particular. I like Tom Kitchin, Nigel Haworth, Michael Smith and lots of others. But really, I just have a lot of respect for chefs who use good, local, seasonal ingredients and don’t ponce about with it too much. I saw Eric Lanlard on stage at Taste of Edinburgh recently and he was great, such an amazing pattisier. I’ve only recently discovered the joy of making my own pastry and he really inspired me to try some new things out.
I’m not really into the current craze for molecular gastronomy but I would make an exception if I could try the menu which Alan Murchison put together for Great British Menu this year. His fish course of grilled mackerel, beetroot meringues, horseradish ice cream & fruit caviar just sounds like perfection to my taste buds and it looked absolutely stunning.
YSB: Is there a recipe you’d like to share with my readers? I quite fancy the sound of nice, easy pudding actually!
The best and easiest pudding as far as I’m concerned is a fruit crumble, preferably rhubarb. Yum!! Rather than stewing the rhubarb in a pot and risk it going watery, chop up a dozen or so stalks of rhubarb and put them in a roasting tin. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of water over it and about 8-10 tablespoons of caster sugar, it depends how sour the rhubarb is to start with really, or how sweet/tart you like it. Roast it in a medium oven, about 180C/Gas 4, for about 10 mins. Put it all in an ovenproof dish.
Then for the crumble, rub 100g of butter into 200g of plain flour and 100g of Demerara sugar until it looks like breadcrumbs. Sprinkle it over the rhubarb and bake for about 40 mins or until the crumble is toasted and the fruit is bubbling up. A bit of ground ginger is nice in it too, or if you use apples, cinnamon and nutmeg is nice added to the fruit. If you like a chunkier crumble, add a handful of rolled oats into the crumble mix. And always serve it with a disgusting amount of custard!
YSB: I so approve of disgusting amount of custard!! And to close, where can people find out more about your proofreading services?
I have a website which details my rates, testimonials from some nice people I didn’t even have to pay to say nice things, plus contact details at: http://www.jillblairproofreading.co.uk/
Thank you very much Jill. Thank you for all your help with Gunshot Glitter : )