Christine Haritakis is a proofreader and copy-editor, who worked in the travel industry for over twenty-five years before embarking on a freelance career.
Christine proofread and copy-edited my novel Victim Mentality, and so I thought it’d be interesting to have a conversation with her about how she approaches the process.
Thanks for making the time to meet with me, I know things are pretty hectic at the moment! So, if we start with the basics, what’s the difference between proofreading and copy editing?
Proofreading is a close and thorough reading of written material to check and correct any errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Copy-editing is the technical preparation of material for printing/publication. For example, marking up headings, lists, quotations, illustrations, tables, captions, etc. Checking organisation of material and structure, choice of words, ambiguity, errors of fact and contradiction, spelling, punctuation and grammar.
In the publishing world, proofreading and copy-editing are two different stages in the publication process.
Outside of publishing (and this is where it gets interesting) – most people really need a combination of both: a proof-edit.
Thanks, that’s a really nice explanation. So how would, say, copy-editing differ from substantive editing?
The difference between substantive editing and copy-editing is that they are different stages in text publishing.
The three main stages are: substantive editing, copy-editing, and proofreading.
Substantive editing deals with the first draft, so to speak. The editor works closely with the author and is tasked with reviewing the work as a whole on a conceptual basis; addressing the structure and organization of the material; the content; the style and language; any obvious flaws (in plot/or argument) and to ensure the material is appropriate to its intended audience.
Copy-editing is mechanical and adheres to the application of rules. Although certain functions overlap, for example, the copy-editor will also be checking for organization of material and structure, clarity, ambiguity, repetition, errors of fact and contradiction, the main difference between these two processes is that substantive editing is entirely analysis-based requiring judgement; whereas copy-editing is concerned primarily with the technical preparation of material for printing/publishing, including overall checking of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Both types of editing are, however, vital in text publishing.
So do you ever find yourself reading a newspaper or reading a book for leisure and spotting mistakes? Or are you able to turn your internal editor ‘off’?!
I don’t think I’m wired to be on ‘off mode’! I love reading, so if it’s for pleasure and I spot an error, I actually get annoyed because my leisure time is limited and more importantly, it impinges on my concentration of the text; hence the necessity of proofreading before publication! I would love to just read a book or article and ignore any mistakes, but alas, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.
Fair enough. And I don’t think I have an off mode either, in spite of wishing I did…!
So a lot of people reading this are independently-published authors, are there any common mistakes that you see that would be helpful for them (us!) to bear in mind?
Well, I would be disinclined to call them mistakes, as such; generally it’s a mixture of typos, transposed letters or words ,generally created because the author doesn’t want to lose their train of thought, concentrating on the text rather than the technical aspects of grammar. Although, in terms of punctuation, apostrophes seem to present the greatest problems. (There was a chap in Bristol, who was so infuriated by the incorrect use of apostrophes on shops’ signage, he resorted to going out at night with a paint brush and correcting every offending site!) On the whole, it’s preferable for the writer to produce well-thought-out and interesting material, then have it checked for errors by a professional proofreader before publication.
Yes, I would agree with that. I always think it’s best to get the first draft written and in existence, then worry about the editing!
So I know that you used to work in the travel industry and were involved in sales and marketing. What tips would you give in terms of writing marketing copy, or book blurbs and things like that?
With marketing copy, the most effective way to get a message across, is to be clear, concise, and precise. I generally use bullet points (it’s easier on the eye and does not detract from the content).
I have also used this device for web content in conjunction with running text – this breaks up the page and together with pics, gives a kinder, cleaner, and refreshing look to the page. I think it’s vital that copy provides essential information for people to make an informed choice – for example, for a holiday, it’s all well and good to wax lyrical about sun-soaked beaches fringed with clear turquoise water, but the person reading it may want to know if it’s safe bathing for their children or whether there’s wheelchair accessibility!
Whatever type of copy I write I always try to ensure I have furnished the reader with information I would like to know/see myself, were I reading it.
Yes, that makes sense. I suppose it ties in with the whole sales idea of focusing not on the features (the clear turquoise water) but on the benefits (the fact it’s safe for the children).
So, what do you think are the most common misconceptions about editing and proofreading?
A lot of people are not quite sure what editors or proofreaders do – the actual mechanical process, I mean. Others have a vague idea it’s about checking for spelling mistakes. I meet a number of writers, whose first reaction is ‘I use spell check, so I know there are no mistakes.’ However, the English language is so rich and complex, we tend to forget its many pitfalls, in terms of using the correct words in context, punctuation, and grammar. A new trend I’m noticing now, is the mixture of British English and American English spellings in material I’m proofreading. I accept that the English language is ever-evolving, but it’s disconcerting when material is devoid of consistency. Glad I’ve got that off my chest!
And I’m glad I could help with that!
Ok, so lastly, as a reader what are a couple of your favourite novels? And why?
Without doubt, my favourite novel is Anna Karenina, because it’s pure genius in every literary aspect.
There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of excellent novels it’s so difficult to choose; so amongst those, I would say Maupassant’s Short Stories and The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. Both master storytellers, so insightful and unflinching in their depiction of raw realism, deception, hypocrisy, vanity – showing all manner of human emotions and deeds, and unforgettable characters in every respect!
I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Cairo Trilogy but haven’t read it as yet – I’ll add it to my To Be Read pile!
Thanks again for meeting with me Christine, it’s been really interesting finding out more about your process.