The other day I made a big mistake. Not just any old oopsie mistake, but a spectacularly embarrassing one. However, I was able to see a huge proofreading and copyediting lesson in this situation that I want share with you about being paid to read.
I recently held a free masterclass on how to start a side hustle freelance proofreading and copyediting. In one of my slides, I introduced a free bonus that I had created just for people who enrolled in my training program, High-Level Proofreading Pro. The bonus was a spreadsheet pack for managing money, and in the slide were the words “asses your financial goals.”
Read that again if you have to. Really, it was supposed to be “assess your financial goals.”
Can you believe that? Asses!
And do you know what? I didn’t notice until it was too late. In fact, my assistant didn’t, either. As soon as I saw the word asses I thought, Oh sh*t!, but I kept going in my presentation.
Why did this happen? Well, the slide had a last-minute change (just as I was going to record) and my assistant quickly read it over before showing me for my approval. I read it over quickly since I had looked at the same slide in its many iterations before. That was my big mistake.
Here’s how and why we missed the typo: we were reading. Let me explain.
Being Paid To Read Is Different From Reading For Fun
The problem is that we had our everyday reading hats on and not our proofreaders’ reading hats. People think proofreading and even copyediting is “just” being paid to read. However, that’s not entirely true.
Aside from sharing such a funny mistake, this opens up a great opportunity for me to give a lesson on a very important skill that proofreaders and copy editors must learn. And that is how to read differently.
You see, reading as a proofreader and copy editor is very different from reading for leisure and enjoyment. They are two different hats, and knowing how to do the former is crucial to your success when working with content.
Without knowing how to read with a critical, assessing proofreader’s eye, you will miss issues like inconsistencies, misspellings, and incorrect formatting.
I also want to point out that while it is a proofreader’s and copy editor’s job to polish and refine content, it is impossible to catch 100% of the errors on your own. In fact, in publishing, there is an error catch rate; it’s understood that every book may be published with a few errors.
Please don’t be horrified at this fact. We are all only human, even proofreaders and editors. We actually do a better job than nonhuman software programs that are designed to catch errors in content.
Let’s get into the differences in reading styles as a proofreader and copy editor and that of a person reading for pleasure.
Reading For Money And Reading For Fun Are Two Very Different Things
Yes, proofreading involves a lot of reading, but you can’t — and shouldn’t — read at the same pace or in the same manner as you would for pleasure.
When Andrea Jasmin, a graduate of High-Level Proofreading Pro, started working on her first book copyediting project, she quickly discovered this. She says:
As soon as I started the process, I quickly realized that it wasn’t really the same as curling up with a book to read for pleasure because I needed to read with an editing eye. I often sat at a desk or on the floor [to work] versus a comfy reading spot. I almost always set the mood with oils in a diffuser and a cup of tea.
Reading for fun involves getting absorbed in the story or content and allowing your brain and your heart to experience the story or message. You’ll likely have an emotional or logical reaction to the content.
Reading as a proofreader or copy editor means sitting down, alert and focused, with a critical eye and suspending all bias of what kind of writing style you prefer. You’ll also likely have a reaction of some sort to the content you’re working on because a part of you will still react, but you will prioritize readability and style before emotion and preference.
If you’ve never read like this before, there are editorial processes that will train you, and which I also teach in my course. Like I tell my students, the more you read this way and are aware of what you should be looking out for, the easier it’ll become.
How To Train Your Eye For Proofreading And Copyediting
I want you to try wearing a proofreader’s or copy editor’s hat the next time you read. This is different from reading for fun and spotting errors as you go. As a proofreader or copy editor, your job is to seek out the errors, not “happen to catch them.”
The next time you read something, shift your experience from that of someone reading for fun, to someone being paid to read. You’ll probably read slower, and you should be reading without bias. When you see an error, stop for a moment and look at it. REALLY look at it.
Ask yourself if you still understand the meaning of the sentence or phrase, despite what you believe is an error. And if you think you spot a typo, double-check the spelling in the dictionary, even if you think you’re 100 percent right.
I can’t tell you how many times people assume a word is incorrectly spelled without knowing there are acceptable alternative spellings. Case in point, almost every day I get an email telling me I’ve spelled “enroll” incorrectly, with two Ls. Admittedly, to be sassy, sometimes I spell it “enrol,” with one L. The truth is, both spellings are correct!
One is US English and the other is UK English. Being Canadian, I often switch between language styles, which is a result of my educational background and my proximity and exposure to American culture and content.
How Not To Proofread And Copyedit
A lot of people assume that proofreading and copyediting involve having opinions like:
- If I don’t like how a sentence is written, I’ll change it and make it better.
- This scene doesn’t pop, so I’ll change the adjectives to make it more impactful.
- Why use this many words when one word will do?
The above thoughts are not part of proofreading or copyediting, and they’re not what clients want.
If you can’t suspend your personal bias when working on other people’s content, then you’re going to struggle as a proofreader and copy editor. You need to approach projects with a professional eye and with your personal preferences set aside. Remember that every writer is unique!
Get into the practice of not judging and you’ll start to shift your mindset to that of a pro proofreader and copy editor.
This is part of developing a strong arsenal of skills and knowledge that’ll allow you to instinctively know how heavy of a hand you need to use. Proofreading and copyediting are like trade skills. There are specific tasks to do and industry standards and knowledge to be gained.
If you want to learn more, I have an info-packed free masterclass on how to start an editorial business! You can watch at your convenience by clicking here.
So what do you think — are you going to try reading as a proofreader or copy editor?