Let it go, already!
I finished proofreading a manuscript recently and handed it in to the publisher I was working for. And then I started to get my usual bout of nerves about what kind of job I did. Did I find everything? Did I overstep my bounds? Did I insert my opinion too much and change things that did not need to be changed?
Sometimes as a proofreader I spot something in the book that’s wrong, and I have to point it out.
Other times, even though I would not have made a particular punctuation choice had I been the author, I have to let it go.
Is it worth it?
The book had already been published a year or so ago, but it was being reprinted in a paperback format. My job was to check that all the text matched the original and that there were no formatting errors in the new version. I also read the entire text, looking for mistakes, and I marked up what I feel was incorrect. Whether mistakes are all “worth” fixing is up to the production editor and the budget for the book. I try to stay as hands off as possible because I know there’s a charge for every page that must be reset.
In this case there were issues with the manuscript. Plot points were out of order (not a lot; just one or two, but still . . .). There was a block of text that was duplicated on the next page. I had to circle that.
Then there were the multiple run-on sentences, and sentences where semicolons were placed where commas should have gone, and vice versa. I try to stay away from too much fiddling with commas—removing or adding them—because there are gray areas.
But I can’t always stay away. There was this sentence I stared at for a few seconds: “She swallowed and then caught herself and mentally shook the tears from her eyes before they fully developed and then opened the letter.” I thought, That needs a comma somewhere, right? As written, it’s the tears that are opening the letter. I stuck a comma in after “developed.” I found other instances where similar choices had to be made. Multiple times I felt the same angst: Change it or leave it?
At the end of the day, I have to let it go. Too much proofreading? Too little? I have done multiple jobs for this editor so I’m assuming she is OK with my work. I read the book as closely as I could and I stand by the lines I chose to fix or query.
The anxiety, I must confess, is something that’s been with me for most of my writing and editing life. Is it the nature of being a writer, a creative person? Will it ever go away? As I settle into my freelance life I’m hoping I’ll feel it less and less. When I say, “Let it go,” I am talking about the second guessing, the Monday-morning quarterbacking. I don’t mean I will stop scrutinizing the manuscripts and making them as clean as possible.
Art by The Graphics Fairy, via openclipart.org