Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A Day in the Life of ... A Proofreader

Next in our series of nosing into the life of a publishing professional, Julia Gibbs shares the secrets of a proofreader.

If you’re thinking of engaging a proofreader to work on your book, or you’ve seen one advertising their services, do you wonder what they do, and how they do it? Sometimes people think we’re like school teachers, marking work out of 10, with critical comments in the margins. But we’re not – we know that everyone, including us, needs a proofreader for their written work, and we're not going to make you stand in the corner for making too many typos! We love what we do, whatever genre the book we’re currently working on, and we take pride in giving your work that final polish.

I started working as a proofreader simply because I find the English language (and what I know of one or two others!) absolutely fascinating. If you have a minute, let me share with you what a normal working day might be for me.

7am: Get up, make cup of tea, look at emails. At least 90 minutes of my regular day is admin – sending work to clients, answering queries from possible new clients, scheduling future work, advertising my services and clients’ books on Twitter. It’s not until around 9am that I can start on whatever book I’m currently working on. I’m not going to tell you I must have classical music playing in the background or fresh flowers on my desk, etc – I don’t need anything apart from my laptop, in fact when I’m working I shut out everything else. I can work on a train or in a bus station waiting room.

10am: I try, at least 4 days a week, to go to my local dance school, where I attend Fitsteps and ballet classes. This is essential because my work is sedentary – not only is it not healthy for me to sit on the sofa practically all day, but also I find I work better if I take a breather.

1pm – stop for lunch. I give myself a proper lunch hour like I had when I worked in an office, although unlike when I worked in an office, I watch TV! At the moment I’m hooked on Homicide Hunter and White Collar.

2pm (latest) – back to work! I pretty much work through until 5.15pm. It’s a fact that you can’t concentrate for more than 90 minutes, so it’s important to know when the brain needs a break. I’ll either get up and do something like hoovering or putting the washing on, or phone my writer sister (author Terry Tyler,; mind you, when I do this she normally effectively tells me to clear off because she’s redrafting/on a creative roll/in the throes of working out plot points etc. I should know better, I know what authors are like!

5.15 pm – Everything stops for Pointless on BBC1. Having been a big fan of this programme for ages, I was lucky enough to appear on it a couple of years ago. Here’s the link to my blog post with all the inside info on what it’s like behind the scenes, for fellow aficionados!

8pm – after dinner, if I’m spending the evening on my own, I will usually work for at least another hour. I go to bed no later than 10.30pm, because I’m by nature a morning person and like to hit the ground running early.

The books I work on vary enormously. There’s no such thing as a writer who doesn’t make mistakes (this includes me – imagine how circumspect I have to be in my Twitter or Facebook posts!)

The reason for this is that when we read our own work, we see what we expect to see. Unless we are reading slowly and really concentrating on a sentence of, for example, 10 words, we only actually read the 1st, 5th and 10th word, and our brain fills in the blanks to make sense of it.

In an average book of, say, 80,000 words I can find anything from 400 to 10,000 corrections that need making. The advantage of hiring a proofreader to look at your work is that they are a fresh pair of eyes, and have no preconceived ideas about what you’ve written.

What I love about being a proofreader:

· Never knowing what book I’m going to discover next

· The challenge of finding errors and explaining what I’ve changed and why

· Occasional hilarious typos – I wrote a blog post about this

· Sometimes actually meeting the people I work for and with – a bit of a shock to those of us who work from home, alone on their computer. I have a tendency to overcompensate for the declining sartorial standards this involves, by getting all gussied up like the Duchess of Windsor if I ever go to meet clients – as in this photo of me preparing to address Wokingham Writers’ Group! See photo, me with the lovely Rosie Amber, who oversees an enormously successful review team -

· Pretty much everything really

I’d like to thank all of my clients, past present and future, for making my waking hours so varied and interesting. I never know what world I’m going to step into next.

Julia Gibbs





  1. Really lovely to see Julia here today, she's one of life's gems.
    Off to share this post, many thanks for the shout-out.

  2. Thank you so much, Rosie, and I'm glad to have met you. And an enormous thank-you to Words with JAM and Triskele Books, for asking me to take part.

  3. And I thought i was a workaholic!!

  4. Brilliant! OH does mine...and interesting to see what he finds when I THINK I have spotted everything.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. Been planning to be a professional proofreader someday.

  6. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
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  8. Learning to proofread your work yourself is a a must-have skill. But, it always helps to have a second pair of eyes review your work to make sure you haven't missed embarassing typos, or grammatical and syntactical errors. I'd suggest for this. It also saves you a lot of time to have your work formatted according to the right style. Saves you a lot of time and allows you to focus on your work.

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