The Proofreader: Behind the Scenes of 1 Project


Last March, I got an email from a Palm Springs tour guide looking for a proofreader. John Stark had written what he believed would become the definitive tour book about Palm Springs. He would touch on the history of the area, write about the remarkable architecture, highlight the famous people who lived there, spotlight their houses, inform about the various geographic points, and tell stories of some of the many not-famous people who nonetheless built Palm Springs into what it was in its heyday and what it still is today.

All he needed was someone to look at it. And finish it in a month.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I had made numerous trips to the desert in my life, so I was familiar with the area. Plus, I could fit it into my schedule. 

“What to See in Palm Springs: Local Tour Guide Tells All” was published late last year. When I was done with my portion, I had proofread 163 different items. Some were several pages long, others were only a few paragraphs. John appreciated the work and complimented my organization, and it made me realize that most people don’t really know what a proofreader does.

So, let’s go behind the scenes.

A proofreader typically enters the process near the end, when the document is almost finished. In fact, sometimes the proofreader is the last person to look at the manuscript before it’s printed and published.

Proofreaders correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar; find and correct inconsistencies in terms, formats, and references. They are clearly more than just using a spell-check program.

John sent me 163 files, plus a master index of geographic areas where the sites are clustered. The first thing I had to do was figure out how to organize this project. He had sent me the files alphabetically. Why not present them in the book the same way? Since the information was the most interesting part, I thought it better to highlight, spotlight, and publicize the information over its location. John agreed.

Next came going through each item. This required at least two passes: to check for spelling, grammar, and awkward phrasing; and to check for facts. This took the most amount of time. Thank goodness for Google. It became very easy to check street names (avenue vs. street vs. boulevard, etc.) and to catch misspellings such as Smoketree Lane (it’s Smoke Tree). These kinds of errors would have destroyed John’s credibility and irrevocably damaged his livelihood.

I also filled in some gaps. What he called “Town & Country” is really the Town & Country Center. The Welwood Memorial Library is really the Welwood Murray Memorial Library. The Willow Inn is the Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. 

Some of the celebrities were fixtures in the desert, perhaps no one more so than Bob Hope. He owned three houses. Originally, John had written about all of them on one three-page file, emphasizing Hope’s third house, on Southridge Drive, and mentioning the other two as sidebars. I suggested he break them into three separate files. He agreed, so his book has more than 163 entries.

Once I went through each item, I would write down the correct complete name on the master index to help John ensure all the correct names were in one place. And I suggested a style to use when listing addresses: spell out street, way, lane, road, etc. in the name of consistency.

In fact, consistency is one of the most critical things a proofreader ensures: consistency of fact, style, and usage. John appreciated my “eagle eye” (he wrote that in the acknowledgements) and commitment to consistency.

I thoroughly enjoyed my month working with John. When I received a copy of his book, he had written the above message to me.

Aspiring authors: Do not overlook the value of a good proofreader. Work with a professional proofreader in Philadelphia and contact Lee today.

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