Why I didn’t hire a proofreader for my novel

The other day I read a blog about the importance of hiring someone to edit your book before publishing it. The writer couldn’t fathom any reason an author would not put out their best work which in her opinion meant having a professional editor review the book before publication.

While I agree that putting a professional, well-polished, grammatically correct novel should be the goal of all authors, I do, however, understand why someone wouldn’t hire a proofreader or copy editor.

Money. Pure and simple, I believe it is a financial issue. It doesn’t have anything to do with not valuing their work or not being a professional. Hiring a professional to review your book is not cheap.  I am one of those authors who didn’t have someone proof my first novel, Summoned, before I self-published it, and money is the reason why.

Now before we go any further, let me say that people throw around hiring an editor and a proofreader as if they are the same thing. While related, they are NOT the same. An editor is going to look for consistency and substance in addition to grammatical, spelling and factual errors. They are going to comment on improving the flow and consistency of your story. A proofreader is someone you hire after your work has been edited. They look for common grammar errors and typos.

Now back to my story…after the first few reviews of Summoned mentioned grammatical errors, I looked into having my book proofread.  The estimates for my 84,000-word novel were between $450 and $1400. It is hard as a newbie to justify shelling out that type of money. Yes, you want to be professional but think of how many books I have to sell to cover that cost. Summoned is available for $2.99, which means I make $2.05 on each book sold. Assuming I went with the low end of those proofing amounts, that means I would need to sell 220 books just to break even and that isn’t including cover design or any book promotions. I couldn’t justify that cost at the time.

And I am being a realist here because as much as I love my work and believe readers will enjoy it, there are millions upon millions of books out there. It is hard for an unknown to crack the bestseller lists or even make a decent amount of money. Roughly, half the self-published authors make $500 a year or less.

So since I wasn’t willing to shell out that type of money, but wanted to improve my work, I decided to invest in one of the leading grammar checking programs. After reading reviews and much research I went with Whitesmoke. Now this is a comprehensive grammar checker that will blow away what Microsoft Word does. Check out this comparison using actual sentences with errors. (NOTE: As of November 2016, Whitesmoke no longer works. Company may have gone out of business.)

Not only does it do grammar, punctuation and style, but it also alerts you to word repetitions and missing words. To use WhiteSmoke you must have an internet connection as their database of words and phrases is too big to be downloaded to your computer, plus they are constantly testing, improving and upgrading it daily.

Now I am not saying that Whitesmoke is perfect, and it can make suggestions that don’t fit into a fictitious work.  It is a time-consuming process as it reviews everything paragraph by paragraph. But when I ran it on Summoned I was amazed at how many things it caught. I then used it on Quietus (Book 2 in my trilogy) and The Search (my short story) before they were published. None of the reviews for either of these works have ever mentioned grammar or spelling being a problem. I am currently using it as I edit my upcoming book Destiny (Book 3 in my trilogy).

So should WhiteSmoke replace a copy editor? No. Could it replace a proofreader? Maybe.

But if nothing else, it can certainly allow those budding writers out there a chance to produce grammatically-correct material at a fraction of the price. Now helping them with the plot is a whole other issue.

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26 thoughts on “Why I didn’t hire a proofreader for my novel

  1. Good for you. I did much the same thing using several beta readers to catch plot problems and inconsistencies and ProWriting Aid for grammar, etc. You’re right on the nose about cost vs ROI. We can’t garantee breaking even, let alone making a profit, and, let’s face it, this is a business. We have to be choosey. I’ll be checking out Whitesmoke. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Thanks – I was worried other authors would think I was crazy but you are right – it is a business and a tough one at that.

      • Some will think you crazy, but don’t mind them.

        In an effort to start a new publishing cooperative (not using the word company at present), I’m working on an anthology with stories picked up from a variety of authors. I’m using volunteer beta readers. My plan is to use either a group of editors willing to be paid based upon royalties or at least someone who is willing to defer part of the payment until after the book has some success.

        My hope is that this system will result in the best work and encourage all to help in promoting the product as everyone who substantially worked on it will have a stack in the profits. (Sorry if that wasn’t worded well)

        Even if you hire an editor and a proofreader, there’s no guarantee they will do a good job. They get paid regardless. Yes, their rep may be hurt over time, but how many are hurt by bad edit jobs until then? I want to put some responsibility with the editor, in which case they may make more than their fee if the book sales really well.

        Will I start an Indie revolution? Hardly but one can always hope.

      • That should have been “stake” not “stack.”

  2. Joan Lindgren says:

    I have read many books which would have benefited from a program such as Whitesmoke. An investment in such a program would provide less arrows!!!!!

  3. Curious: which version of Whitesmoke did you get?

  4. Jean Oram says:

    That’s cool. I didn’t know there were advanced programs like that out there.

    Editors and proofreaders can be very expensive, plus you never truly know if they are going to be the best fit for your work until you’ve paid them. Ouch!

  5. Alan says:

    Just be aware that once Whitesmoke has your email they will spam you to death for literally YEARS. I still get their spam now, from trying a demo about 6 years ago.

  6. writerchick says:

    I agree with you and in fact stumbled onto this post while searching for proofreaders. I just got a quote from an editor and almost passed out. Is white smoke easy to use. I’m a bit reluctant to use programs that have to be used online, especially with novel manuscripts which are very big files. Any recommends for programs that can be downloaded to your computer? Anyone?
    Thanks a bunch,
    Annie

    • The program Whitesmoke is on your computer but it compares what you wrote to its database on the internet. It does it paragraph by paragraph so not a lot of data sent at once. It is a bit time consuming to use since it does go paragraph by paragraph. I have liked using it and though I don’t always follow its recommendations since some of them don’t work for a novel.

  7. fredphillips says:

    The timing of finding your blog was awesome! I’m in the process of deciding how to publish my second book, including having it proof read. The cost of having the manuscript proof read is substantial. I did all of the editing and proofreading on my first book and despite all of the editing and proofreading, I still ended up with nine mistakes in the final published copy. I think most readers will tolerate one or two mistakes, but likely not nine. So this is a dilemma, because as you point out, the number of books I need to sell in order to cover the cost of proofreading is substantial. I plan to check out Whitesmoke, but I also think a proofreading cooperative might work [somebody proof reads my book and in return I proofread their book … It could work if anyone is interested in giving it a try].

    Cheers!
    Fred

  8. Nilou says:

    Have you tried grammarly? Slightly more expensive, But I want to know if that makes a difference?

  9. I’m working on my first ebook. My friend recently self-published and inspired me to finish my product. She hired a professional, yet I still found way too many errors when reading her book. Who do most of you use for editing and proofreading? I do pretty good myself since I’m a court reporter (it’s a big portion of my REAL job). Another question, where can I go to find someone to just READ my book and give critique and feedback to see if I’m on the right track here? Thanks!

  10. Thanks for writing this blog. I just wrote my first novel and had it proofread by someone who did an horrible job. So my first 50 books have errors…subtle errors…but errors non the same. So before I print more and go mainstream I wanted to fix everything, I’m going to give WhiteSmoke a try.

  11. Oh, I am so pleased that someone realizes that money is a BIG issue with self published writers. I have recently been involved in a thread on this very thing. Almost none of the other contributers seemed to realize this problem.

    I would love to have my books edited professionally, but, like you, I cannot afford the outlay, and since I would be unlikely, statistically, to recoup that money, I have to do it myself. Also, for some reason, my family is not interested in my writing and don’t help me as beta readers either.

    I have looked at the cost of editing and proof reading both, and even the cheapest are too expensive for me to warrant the outlay. In 2 years I have made less than £100 on my sales. AS I am retired and on a fixed income, paying $400, which is the cheapest I’ve come across so far, is out of the question. Other writers don’t seem to appreciate this.

    So thank you for your blog and I’ll definitely look into Whitesmoke.

    By the way, I’ve just had a small extract looked at for free with another on-line proof reader and it says there is plagiarism in my work. Definitely NOT the case. I can only think that the program has looked at my novel on Amazon or Smashwords where it is already published. If not, then I don’t know where it’s got it from!

  12. Oh, yes, the poor jobs done by many an editor/proofreader. Even some trad published books are full of errors.

  13. Pauline Talbot says:

    Wow,
    I know this is an older article but I am so grateful i ran across it! My book is out now and published. after several reviews that commented on grammar and more I decided to check into proofreaders and editors. you are so right, they are costly and I did not, as a newbie writer have that kind of money, but I want my work to present its best self. Thank you so much for this information and I will be checking into Whitesmoke.
    Best regards,
    Pauline T

  14. […] ready to submit or publish our book, we usually take great pains to proofread the text, whether we do it ourselves or hire someone else to do it. Even then mistakes slip through the cracks. But beyond your book, do you proofread […]

  15. Jessie says:

    Wonderful article and oh, so true. That you for putting this out there for others to read so that they do publish and don’t wait to have enough money to hire an editor or proofreader before doing so.

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