Wednesday, 22 July 2015

What to look for in a proofeader

The other day, I had my very first interview for promotional purposes. I tell you, it was something. I'll share the videos with you as soon as I have them, so watch this space. Anyway, the interview is what inspired this post.

One of the questions was about my support structure. You know, the people who help me get through the process of writing a book. One of the biggest favours I ask these people is to proofread my work. I call it a favour, because it really is. They have to take time out of their lives to do something fairly important for me. And because this proofreading thing is important to me, it means that the people I ask to do it are too. 

You see, they have to be people I trust. Completely. The obvious reason for this is that you don't want your manuscript floating around freely before it gets published. Or after it's published, for that matter. The proofreaders need to be willing to keep your work secret, so that other people will ultimately buy  your work and not get it for free from the actual proofreaders

The trust thing also goes deeper than that, however, which is why I chose this theme for a blog post. My personal group of proofreaders consists of a few members in my family and circle of friends whom I can trust, as above. :) They also meet the following criteria. 

* Proofreaders must have at least some skills in the language that you write in. (DUH) EG, if your novel is in English, your proofreaders must understand and be able to read the language. It's a bonus if they pick up mistakes as they read. 

* Proofreaders must be of various ages and both genders. I always include people in my target age group and people who are older than that. For example, if I write for young adults or teenagers, I want people who are no longer young adults to read it too. You get a broader range of feedback that way. This also goes for gender. If my novels are typically more targeted on women, I want men to read it too. 

* Proofreaders must be willing to share their ideas and feedback with you. You need people who are willing to be brutally honest with you, as well as more tactful people and those who will gush about your manuscript enthusiastically. Why? Well, the gushing group will keep you positive and motivated. Because of them, the criticism you do get back will be more manageable. You'll feel more sure of yourself when people are overwhelmingly positive about what you've written. Obvious, eh?

The tactful ones will put the faults they find softly. This is important, because you won't lose hope with this group, but you'll still see where you need to improve. Tactful people will often tell you what they loved, as well as what they hated about your work, where the gushers tend to be overwhelmingly positive and the brutally honest ones tend to be more negative. This isn't always the case, but in my particular group, it is. 

The honest people in your group may be the most important in a certain sense. These people will tell you exactly what is wrong with your novel and why, sometimes in the most heart-wrenching manner. It hurts, I know. But often, they find things that no-one else sees, or what the others aren't willing to point out to you. You know, to spare your feelings. It sounds terrible, but having my work torn to pieces has actually helped me write better a time or two. Sometimes, standing back and looking at your own work objectively helps you see where you need to improve.

As far as ideas goes, some of my best story arcs have been suggested by the proofreaders. Obliviously at times and specifically at others. An innocent question from a proofreader can unravel your mistakes in the plotline fairly quickly, while their suggestions can fill those holes perfectly as well.

* Proofreaders must have diverse knowledge lines. What I mean by this is that they must know different things. In my group, I have teachers, ex-military, a virologist, a few creative people, stay at home moms, developers, science enthusiasts, geeks, romantics and cooks, amongst others. Their collective pool of knowledge is mind blowing and they have each contributed to the stories I write immensely.

* Pick proofreaders who love to read, as well as proofreaders who don't. If your book can inspire someone who doesn't particularly like reading to finish your work, half the battle is won. Try to pick people who like your genre, but don't discard those who don't. One of my proofreaders only likes Western novels, but still reads what I give him. This means feedback from a fresh perspective.

If you have some criteria for proofreaders, please share it with me in the comments! I hope this helps you choose the people to trust with your novel.