Worth Every Penny: Why Pay for Proofreading and Copyediting? by Kathy K. Grow

20 Jan

Kathy K. Grow

Kathy K. Grow

“She’s the best proofreader I’ve ever seen.” A prominent editor recommended Kathy K. Grow to me with those words. I followed the editor’s recommendation and ended up agreeing with her assessment. Kathy proofread and copyedited my book, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, and I’m exceptionally pleased with the result. I’m delighted to welcome Kathy K. Grow as a guest blogger on Your Shelf Life. When Kathy’s finished imparting her wisdom, I’ll give you an example of how true it is from my life.
Sandy Nathan, Your Shelf Life


Proofreading—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors

Copyediting—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors, and basic style (not content)

The much-in-demand executive leadership coach with impressive and impeccable references—let’s call her Diana—wanted to put some of her wisdom down on paper. She hoped not only to bring in additional dollars, but also (her real goal) to help clients and other readers benefit from the tough life lessons she had learned.

So, Diana wrote a book, a good one. She was an excellent storyteller, able to pull persuasive and universal messages out of her experiences.

She began with an epigraph, a quotation from a major writer with whom, for many reasons, a person in her position should have been very familiar.

And Diana misspelled that writer’s name.

Fortunately, she had decided to spend the money to have her book proofread before sending it on to a publisher. When I returned the manuscript, her reaction was immediate: “Just your catching the misspelling of that name was worth every penny.”

But . . .

Are you saying, but I can spell? And I don’t make grammatical errors? And by the time I’ve finished reading my manuscript for the hundredth time, I’ll have spotted any typos?

If so, I (self-servingly, you may think) respond: Ha!

That’s what I thought, too, until I wrote a 125,000-word regional history. After six other people—a mixture of friends, family, subject-matter experts, and one real live copyeditor—read it thoroughly and marked every problem and correction, I was humbled.

I was also so sick of reading my own words that I couldn’t see them anymore. What I perceived at that point in the process was what I knew I meant, not necessarily what I had written or what someone else might understand from reading those same words.

By the time I sent my masterpiece to the printer, I was profoundly grateful for the help of those proofreaders and editors, and the one I had to pay was—yes—worth every penny.


But, but . . . what if I’m just self-publishing a back-of-room book to sell to people attending my presentations? Or what if I’m getting a manuscript ready to send off to publishers who will have their own editors? Or what if my book’s only audience will be family and friends? Do I really need a proofreader or copyeditor?

Self-Publishing for Back-of-Room Sales: Do you want to follow a bang-up presentation with a take-home full of factual, typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors? What do you want your listeners to say about you and your services and products when they talk to others?

Manuscript for Publishers: Over-the-transom discoveries happen less and less often; authors have to send in books that stick out, that grab the attention of those in a position to make them succeed. But they must stick out and grab attention by being beautifully, imaginatively written, full of truth and useful information—not for reading like bad high school term papers. You want to delight professional readers, not irritate them.

Book for Sale to Family/Friends: Okay, this depends entirely on your real purpose and your resources. After all, most readers of such works already have a vested interest in the story being told, and will wade through whatever is there to read it. However, some works originally distributed only to a narrow audience have later been picked up by major publishers. More important, wouldn’t you feel better about a book that is the best it can be, for those you care most about?

And right there is the real reason to scrape up those pennies: because writing a book—no matter what kind—is hard work. If you didn’t care about your subject matter or your story, you wouldn’t have spent all that time and energy, would you? You wouldn’t have made all those sacrifices.

After all that, don’t you want the finished product to be excellent? To be done right?

Yes, Really

If I’ve encouraged you to think of the writing you are doing as worth proofreading or copyediting, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

And, yes, I’ll admit that goal serves my purposes as well as yours!

But I wouldn’t be doing what I do for a living if I didn’t believe I really was providing a service not only to authors, but also to readers. (In fact, I actually think editors are working for readers; it’s just that authors pay the original bill! But that’s a topic for another day.)

I care about words . . . I love books . . . I want to help others make their words and their books communicate as clearly and engagingly as possible.

The written word should be apt, appealing, and accurate, and professional copyeditors and proofreaders can help that be true of your written word.

Even if they catch only that one, potentially humiliating error.

Believe Diana, the great writer I told you about earlier—getting every word of your book right is worth every penny!



Here’s a true story from my publication history. I once “saved money” by not having the advanced reading copy (ARC) edition of my novel, Numenon, professionally proofread. After all, the book had been edited to death and I’d read it a dozen times.

We had 100 copies printed at very high cost. When I got the ARCs, I breezed through a few pages, then pretty near fell over. The book was riddled with errors no one had picked up before.

Well, okay, it was an advanced reading copy and not the final book. It was intended just to be sent to reviewers.

JUST to reviewers? Who would choose to review it (or not), based on its professional presentation? When would clean copy matter more?

Bottom line––we still have most of those 100 copies. I could have paid a half-dozen proofreaders for what that print run cost. Ouch.
The experience shook me so much that I had Numenon professionally proofread twice before its final publication and public release. Double ouch.

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