Back when I was doing proofreading and editing for free (because it’s fun, and because I had to get my comma-correcting fix somehow between paid projects) on peer-critique sites such as Urbis and WritersCafé, I used the tagline “mercenary proofreader,” and it stuck. My twin even suggested that I put it on business cards: Thomas Weaver, Mercenary Proofreader. Don’t let it scare you, though. The jokes about me being the Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (DOOM, I tell you!) really are just jokes. I’m a fairly easygoing guy most of the time, and I’m an editor because I love stories and want to help other people who create them.
What I do: As much or as little proofreading/editing as I’m asked for while keeping the author’s intentions for the story in mind. I prefer to take a minimally invasive approach to editing. I correct spelling and punctuation, and suggest a better word where the one used doesn’t fit. I point out places where the plot doesn’t make sense or where the story slows in a way that doesn’t seem to serve the overall pacing, and I suggest changes. I fact-check.
What I don’t do: I don’t rely on any spell checking or editing program; even the best ones cannot understand the nuances of language the way a live human (or close equivalent) can. If you hire me to line edit an otherwise finished manuscript, I won’t run it through Microsoft Word’s spell check and call it done, and then charge you $3 per page for the work. I won’t give your manuscript the Strunk-and-White treatment and tell you that you must conform to a style guide intended for journalism rather than for fiction. (In case you’re wondering, I find The Chicago Manual of Style matches what I do anyway.) I will not allow my pet thesaurus to sneeze all over your manuscript. I will not attempt to force my voice into your writing. If sentence fragments are part of your narrative style, I’ll help you make them work for you rather than tell you to get rid of ’em. It’s your story; I’m just here to help you tell it. I’ll even refrain from suggesting the use of semicolons if you tell me that you don’t like ‘em.
What genres of fiction I proofread/edit: I specialize in science fiction and fantasy, but I’m willing to consider most other genres of fiction on a case-by-case basis. I will not work on erotica or religious fiction. (That means any religious fiction, so don’t ask me to edit yours just because it’s Wiccan instead of Christian. Characters having religious views is fine — real people often do, after all — but I don’t want to deal with propaganda from an author.)
Substantial/developmental editing: Plot, characterization, pacing: the big-picture stuff. This comes first, although you may not need or want outside help with this part. If the story isn’t what you want it to be yet, the comma glitches and misplaced hyphens can wait for the final version. This level of editing requires me to work more closely with the author, and I am not comfortable doing it for non-SF/F.
Line editing/copy editing: Word choice, clarity, narrative voice, overall structure (and a bit of fact checking, too). This happens before proofreading, but after any substantial editing. This is the point where the story is complete, and it’s time to make sure the writing says what the author means it to say.
Proofreading: Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, etc. This happens last. Why fix commas in a scene that may not even be in the final version of the story?
On a manuscript the author has already gone over him/herself, I will combine proofreading and line editing. Substantial editing is always done separately.
In addition to a thorough understanding of grammar and punctuation, I have an eclectic knowledge base that comes in especially handy when editing science fiction or fantasy: I know the difference between passive voice and the necessary use of to be verbs; there are times when these verbs are the better choice. I’m not afraid of sentence fragments. Love ‘em, in fact. Sometimes, anyway, when they suit the narrative voice. I know that the Rule of Adverb Avoidance(tm) is both ridiculous and impossible to follow, because words such as not and however are adverbs, too, but I also know that adding an -ly adverb to the tag for every frakkin’ line of dialogue is bad writing.
I do not believe that said is dead, but neither am I opposed to effective use of other verbs in dialogue tags.
I will never do a global search-and-replace of which with that. These words are not truly interchangeable, and I know how they should be used… including the punctuation belonging with each.
I know the proper uses of semicolons — both of ’em. I know the difference between a kilt and a kirtle. I know that it is, in fact, much easier to hit a person wearing plate armor than it is to hit that same person when they’re wearing light leather. (This knowledge comes from personal experience, close observation, and common sense.) I know that flaxen refers to the color of unbleached linen, not to the color of flax blossoms. I know all the standard uses of italics. I know how to use hyphens. I know that Earth is not the “only planet in the galaxy,” nor even the only one of its type, because I keep up with science that science fiction authors need to know about. I know that a telepath can’t turn a light bulb on with her mind (unless she’s also a telekinetic), nor can she see the future (unless she’s also a precog). I know that the line down the center of a sword blade is not called a blood groove…
I also read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, so I’m familiar with the normal tropes of those genres, which means I can give pretty good advice on how to follow those tropes or subvert them (and I know the difference between a trope and a cliché, too).
My rates vary* according to how much/what kind of work is involved, and I offer a FREE SAMPLE EDIT on up to one thousand words (approximately four pages in manuscript format) so you can find out for yourself if I’m the right editor/proofreader for you. Contact me via email or a comment on this page if you’re interested.
(*My standard rate is $4.50 per page for copyediting and proofreading combined. I may charge more for a rush job if, for example, you’ve got a short story that you need edited within the next twelve hours or a 120K-word novel that must be ready in less than a week.)