What to Do When You Can’t Afford a Proofreader

If you have been searching around for a proofreader lately, you may have found that many are outside your budget (like, waaaaay outside). At the same time, knowing that you’re human and all, you understand that you need someone with even a little expertise and experience to look over your work to make sure it’s as clean as possible. Here are some cost-effective alternatives to hiring a proofreader that can work for you as long as you’re willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease and time.

Be Part of the Proofreader’s Marketing

Showing off your skills when it comes to proofreading can be difficult. You can stage some markups, but it’s not quite the same as being able to show someone what that last Toni Morrison book looked like before and after the proofreader got their hands on it. Try asking the proofreader if they would be willing to take on your project with the understanding that they can use your original, error-laden text as part of their marketing for their business. They still may not proofread your work for nothing, but you may be able to work out a significant discount, or at least a flexible payment plan.


Recruit Volunteers

If you are a Volo Press Proofer reading this, you know what’s coming!

Another option for lower cost proofreading is simply to recruit avid readers who can help review your work for mistakes. All I did was put up a Craigslist ad and I had over 10 people sign up within about a week. You could ask friends and family members (the ones that don’t kiss your ass just because they know you) and co-workers as well. You’d be surprised–I know I was–at how many people are not just willing, but excited to help you with your project. Don’t underestimate the kindness of strangers!

And while I mail printed manuscripts to my crew, you could also email a digital version to them, or share a Google Doc with them and let everyone read and comment throughout the day. If you have a little bit of money to offer them, I’m sure they would appreciate it. I have so many, there’s no way I could pay them all more than, say, a dollar! But I do my best to offer my Proofers a worry-free experience by giving them everything they need to complete the project without them having to buy their own tools (i.e., an extra envelope, return postage, a highlighter, and a red pen that are theirs to keep), offering prizes for various project-related accomplishments (such as a quick turnaround or finding the biggest mistakes in the piece), and making sure that I credit them in each book. Play around with these ideas until you find something that works for you.


DIY Proofreading

It’s not impossible to do your own proofreading, it just usually isn’t as effective as having someone else look at your work. This is because, psychologically, you always understand what you meant to say because you’re the one who wrote it. This means that it’s easy for things like missing words and commas in strange places to slip right past you. However, when someone without your brain reviews a piece, it is a lot easier for them to spot certain kinds of errors.

If you think you really have no other option than to proofread your own work, there are a couple of ways you can make that endeavor more successful.

One method it to read aloud. When you have to read the words out loud, you’re more likely to catch when a passage is unclear or a word that you used in a sentence doesn’t quite fit.

The other is to read at about half your normal pace. Slowing down makes it a little easier to find the mistakes you would normally miss because you’re reading too fast.

One more strategy is to read the piece multiple times. I usually try to take at least a 48-hour break between readings. I’ve found that stepping away from a piece allows me to come back to it with eyes that are more fresh.

Of course, the triple threat is always the best. If you read your piece slowly and aloud at least twice, no one can fault you for whatever mistakes do slip through the cracks. These methods take a level of patience and commitment that would drive most people up the wall. But, being the literature freaks we are, it’s a labor of love that we gladly engaged in.


If you are ready to do any or all of these, kudos to you and good luck! If I just stressed you out by telling you what it might take to side-step hiring a proofreader, I’m always available to help with your blog posts, dissertations, resumes, or novels. Visit my proofreading page to learn more about proofreading at a penny per word!

Happy writing!

What to Do When You Can’t Afford a Proofreader was originally published on Volo Press

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