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Proof reading and editing. Stephen Cashmore 08.03.23

Avoiding pyjama clad doors.

A plucky group of Ayr Writers braved the freezing temperatures to listen and learn from Stephen as he led us through the mysterious world of proof reading and editing.

Introduced by Nigel as an evening of ‘getting things right’, we sharpened our red pens and prepared to learn from a master. Stephen is a mathematician, teacher, accountant, auditor and published author.

The group enjoyed a detailed and engrossing session. Stephen kicked off by sharing his background and the road he travelled to being a proof reader which included 2 years of rather expensive training and was followed by dealing with the devil that is ‘imposter syndrome’.

Stephen emphasised the key element of proof reading is never making assumptions.

It was clear proof reading is about much more than just looking for typos. As Stephens slides advised us, ‘It ain’t that easy’.

Stephen  went onto explain the ‘Three pillars’

Development editing

Denotes significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript discourse.  This includes assessing realism of characters and plot and  the smoothness of dialogue as well as reminders to authors to show not tell, and not try to be too clever. It does not include correcting grammar, spelling or punctuation errors.

Copy editing

Preparing the book for the next stage of the publishing process and does involve spelling, grammar and punctuation checks.  A good copy editor will also point out words that don’t look quite right and flag up ambiguous or awkward sentences. Authors should discuss in advance what they want the copy editor to do.

Everyone was gripped by this point with questions flowing. Stephen clarified a copy editor can give advice about flow and paragraph sizing as well as cleaning up overuse of adverbs and repetition of words. Effectively the Copy Editor can give the view of the reader.

Stephen gave the example of a text containing the sentence “She opened the door wearing pink pyjamas”. Leading to the title of the blog and illustrating how easy it is to get it wrong.

Authors should always remember the more you want done the more it will cost.

A skilled copy writer should be invisible in presence and not change the voice of the author. He noted that there have been occasions of the publisher having differing views from the author. Predictably the publisher usually wins.

Proof reading

Proof reading is akin to the head  chef on the pass, the food is bought, prepared, cooked and plated but still may not make it through the pass. Best understood as the bridge between author and publication, the final check for quality, catching errors not yet caught.

Stephen was asked if the proof reader can become so engaged in the book, they forget the job at hand and acknowledged, yes, this can happen.  If non-fiction better to do a subject you know nothing about and simply review the text.   With fiction a good tip is to print the document off and read each line with a ruler underneath, aiding concentration.

There is a move towards ‘Proof editing’ for which there is no real definition but really is an amalgamation.  Publishers may try to get editors to do both and is an explanation as to why there are more errors in books in modern times.

Stephen then shared his dire warning with the group. Do not even think about proof reading your own material.  And yes, the proof is in the pudding with this, Stephen does not proof read his own work, he does not run his own pass.

A tip when writing your own work is to put it away for a period and go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

We then enjoyed a break with the frothy coffee machine working and some tasty shortbread. Stephen also sold some of his books with all monies going towards the Syrian/Turkish earthquake appeal.

Our second half was all about clever tricks and Macros.

A macro is a command that allows increased functionality and automation of tasks. Macros can be set to catch common errors. Really a speedier version of find and replace.

Some Macros to look out for are Proper Noun analysis and Fredit which are  free and  PerfectIt which does have a cost.

Stephen generously offered to do a further session on Macros which I’m sure we will all welcome.

We rounded off the evening with a test. Stephen gave us out 2 versions of a poem, one correct and one incorrect and charged us with finding the errors on the incorrect version. Trickier than it sounds. Stephen then handed out his proof reader’s version complete with secret symbols in red pen.

All in all, a fantastic evening of learning. Thank you, Stephen.

Disclaimer. The writer notes this blog has not been subject to editing or proof reading and therefore all errors are the responsibility of the writer. What a subject for a first ever blog!

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