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I hired a proofreader (typos, commonly confused words, minor grammar issues etc) to look at my work, which I plan to self publish.

She found most typos, but from a 66,000 word novel, missed about 10. Things like using 'its' instead of 'it's', 'you' for 'your' etc. I found these on my own last read.

Now I realise nobody is perfect, but if I'm hiring a professional proofreader, how many errors are acceptable?

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At the risk of seeming facetious surely the answer to this is: Below the number of errors judged to be leeway for human error specified in the Service Level Agreement clause of the contract you had with the proof reader. –  One Monkey Nov 22 '12 at 14:51
Your question is ambiguous. Errors found, or proofreading errors (that is, missing an error in text)? Because the first figure strictly depends on how many errors you make, and the second is somewhat hard to figure out... –  SF. Nov 22 '12 at 15:28
I suspect that the question here is really, "are these many errors acceptable?" –  Neil Fein Nov 22 '12 at 18:01
@NeilFein, yes, that is the question. She only offered to do one round with me, and I was wondering if this many errors are acceptable? As if you look at book reviews(Amazon, Goodreads), many people will give you a low rating for even this many errors –  aaa Nov 23 '12 at 9:15
No way to tell from the information given. You should at least reveal how many errors the proofreader found. If she missed ten but found a thousand, I'd say that's pretty good work. If she missed ten and only found twenty, I'd find that rather slipshod. –  J.R. Nov 26 '12 at 9:25

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Ten out of 66,000 words would be acceptable to me, particularly if the proofreader has only gone through it once. You always catch more on the second round because on the first you're reading for both structure and sense, and the second time is primarily for structure.

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Is the proofreader a professional proofreader unsaddled by being asked to do a copyedit at the same time? Or is this solely a proofreading run? I'm honestly curious. –  Neil Fein Dec 19 '12 at 6:24

I wouldn't even allow one mistake. I am a proofreader and I do not rest until every error is corrected... No matter how many words. He obviously didnt do what you asked for. Find another proofreader.

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That would mean going through a lot of proofreaders. I agree that ten errors seems a bit much, but I'm skeptical that you're able to ferret out every single typo in every single manuscript you work on. A book without even one typo (or at least something that's questionable) is exceedingly rare. –  Neil Fein Nov 28 '12 at 19:42
Would it be rude of me to point out that you missed the apostrophe in "didn't"? :) –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 29 '12 at 11:00
@LaurenIpsum - I think it wouldnt. –  Neil Fein Nov 29 '12 at 14:26
However, it's important to recognize the differences between proofreading and copyediting; problems generally arise when one person is expected to fill both roles. spiceyokooko's excellent answer is a good counterpart to this one. –  Neil Fein Dec 19 '12 at 6:23
@LaurenIpsum I wonder if Jack did that deliberately as a joke... –  MGOwen Jun 24 '13 at 3:55

This is a difficult question to answer because an awful lot depends on your own personal expectations of what you expect a proofreader to achieve.

Having said that, a good proofreader should find all mistakes in a proofed draft, no mistakes should be acceptable; otherwise, what are you paying them for?

On the other hand, in my experience (and in my opinion) proofreaders are asked to do too much. If you want someone to check your grammar, correct word use, sense and consistency etc., hire a copy-editor, that's not the job of a proofreader.

I accept that the dividing line between what a copy editor does and a proofreader does is blurred but it's important to understand the distinction between the two to get the best results from both disciplines.

If you ask a proofreader to take on part of the role of a copy editor as well as proofreader they will make mistakes.

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You're working with a human so you'll usually be disappointed if you expect perfection. But as the author you are right to have high standards.

There are proofreading techniques, such as breaking up chapters and long paragraphs so errors stand out. Perhaps your proofreader is early in their career, perhaps not.

Instinctively I'd suggest a few rounds of proofreading. Two or three.

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Perfection is a very difficult standard to achieve.

I think the more practical standards are:

  1. At what point does the number of errors in the text become distracting to the reader? Ten typos or grammar errors in a 66,000 word novel doesn't sound to me like something that would be really annoying.

  2. What is typical in the industry? What's the average number of errors per 1000 words or whatever in the average published book? Does anybody have any statistics on this?

Bear in mind that if a proofreader misses an error, it's likely that many readers will not notice it either.

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I'm a bit late on this answer, but my experience with a proofreader at an academic publisher is that they can do much better. My proofreader made one mistake, changing a technical term into a more common homynym, but I only found two or three things she missed, and these weren't misspellings but rather inconsistencies in punctuation. (I should say that the manuscript--85,000 words--was very clean copy to start with.) I'd have been bothered if things like you're/your had been missed, though. That's what one is paying for: to appear literate. :-)

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