Many is the time I’ve had to say no to a job.
It was not because I didn’t want to take the client on – sometimes I’ve kicked myself because the job was right up my street. It also wasn’t due to a full calendar. It was because the timescale was so ridiculously short I wouldn’t have had time to do the job needed.
Proofreading, editing or indexing a document isn’t done by a computer program, it’s carried out by an actual human being. Asking a professional to carry out some work on a book assumes a couple of things:
- The professional has enough time to read through the document
- The professional has enough time to digest what has been written
- The professional has enough time to carry out the task at hand.
Take for example a straightforward proofread (not an edit) of a 100,000 word document:
The proofreader can usually read through the document and digest the content at the same time as carrying out the proofread … but there needs to be adequate time to do this.
My reading time for a well-written piece of prose averages out, very roughly, at around 6,000 words per hour. This is for reading a document without taking much in the way of notes. To proofread a well-written document roughly averages out at between 3,000–5,000 words per hour. Note the words ‘well-written’ – for a less well-written piece of writing the average hourly word count will go down. It has been known to average between 1,000–2,000 words per hour for a dense or badly-written text.
So, taking these word counts, a 100,000 word document, in good condition, could take between 20 and 33 ½ hours to complete (for the proofread only, without any of the extra time needed for communication, admin etc.). It may be faster or slower, and it’s likely to be nearer the 30 hour mark, but this is just to give you an idea. There is no way that I could take on a ‘last minute’ job and have it ready in a few days. Well, I suppose a few 12 hour days would do it for a very clean document, but I’m not in the habit of doing a long day, especially on the same piece of work … it wouldn’t be my best work, and I only like to give clients my best work.
More and more I’m seeing prospective clients asking for quick turnarounds, often unfeasibly quick, for very low fees. It makes me think that these people believe that we just put their writing through a spell-check.
I’ve noted before about the fast, cheap and good model. So, let’s break down an average proofreading job.
- The document is received.
- The proofreader does a preliminary scan through the pages – we need to know that everything is there and in the correct order.
- The proofreader gets to work, seeking out spelling errors, formatting mistakes, wrong captions, headers and footers, chapter headings, end matter (references, notes, bibliographies, indexes), page numbers etc.
- Once the document has been proofread the document is usually scanned one last time, very quickly, to make sure everything is in order.
- The document is sent back to the client.
- The proofreader then deals with any queries, notes etc. brought up by the client.
Other proofreaders tackle a job differently, but mostly this is how we do it. When we are editing (which is what I do most of the time), the job takes longer and is more indepth, addressing more issues and often dealing with more author queries.
Taking the 100,000 word document, and going through steps 1–6 above, you can see why even a proofread can take time. Does 3,000 words an hour seem too little now?
Add to the fact that many of the ‘rush jobs’ offered have ridiculously low fees, you can see why many professional proofreaders will not take on a job with a very quick turnaround. It just isn’t worth the long hours for the low fee.
So, when you are preparing a novel length document, here is one way to ensure that you allow enough time to hire a professional proofreader:
- Make your document the best YOU can make it before handing it to a professional. The better the writing, the quicker the turnaround. Make sure you have the manuscript edited before seeking out a proofreader.
- Once your document is ready, look at the word count. To get a nice (but very rough) average divide your word count by 4,000 and you will get a rough, acceptable timescale. Then add 1 hour per 10,000 words.
For a 100,000 word document you should then allow a minimum of 35 hours (25 & 10).
- Take this as a minimum time to allow at the end of your project (plus any time you will need once the proofread has been completed).
Of course, this is a very rough approximation for proofreading a novel length manuscript. Every project is different. This is why proofreaders and editors ask to see your document, so we can gauge just how long it will really take. However, by doing some quick maths you will have an approximate timescale and won’t ask for the impossible.
By understanding how long an edit or proofread will take you can ensure that you have enough time to complete your project without rushing, and you will also avoid those ‘rush job’ charges should a professional decide to take on your manuscript.
As you read this I’m on my way to the SfEP conference in Birmingham, I may take a while to reply to your comments. If you are an editor going to the conference say hi!