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Take My Advice: Don’t give unwanted advice

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My topic this week was going to be “how to write an ebook”, for no other good reason than I’ve been asked to write two in the space of a few weeks. Although I know what I’m doing, I thought it might be interesting to pop onto the internet and have a look through what other professionals advise when tackling the newest beast in the marketing-thinly-disguised-as-self-promotion-o-sphere.

I noticed two things: first of all, there are a LOT of people offering advice on how to write ebooks. So although I’m much funnier than all of them (it’s good to hide lack of talent behind a veneer of cheap laughs, I always find), I bottled it and decided not to overcrowd the internet with more unwanted drivel by writing such a guide myself.

The second thing I noticed was that people seem to like picking holes in “how to” articles. Sometimes the comments are fair, well written and thoughtful. Sometimes it’s someone trying to be funny. And sometimes it’s someone being a superior smartarse. Worse still, they’re being a superior smartarse to plug their own services.

So it was on this occasion. I found an excellent article about ebooks – so good, in fact, that I not only bookmarked it so that I can refer to it again later, but I also forwarded it to a couple of acquaintances too. In the comments section, however, was the aforementioned smartarse.

Or smartass, actually; he’s American. Not only an American, but in what some might call typical LA style, he bigged himself up as being "one of the top professional proofreaders in America." Not just LA, mind. In AMERICA.

I mean, wow. Awe-inspiring, isn’t it? And even more amazing is that one of the top professional proofreaders in America graced LinkedIn with his presence and chanced upon a “how to” guide – and then sought to offer his services. How lucky are we mere mortals?!

Here to save the day, it's...

Let’s call him Captain American Proofreader for ease. That’s nice and snappy and not at all long or sarcastic. (It so is, for all you Americans-who-don’t-get-sarcasm.) So I clicked on the profile for Captain American Proofreader and had a look at his list of superpowers – also known as his summary. This is what I found:

"Are you tired of finding errors in your work? Having one typo will make you look unprofessional, sloppy and amateurish. It's not worth the risk, you could lose your clients. I'm here to make your day less stressful and more productive!

I'm [Captain American Proofreader], one of the top professional proofreaders in America. I freelance for ad agencies all over the country. And I guarantee my work! 

I have the most current version of Adobe Acrobat to work on pdf files fast and efficiently. And I have a color-coded system on Word that I designed that’s real easy to work with when proofreading Word documents. If you prefer Track for Changes, that's fine too. 

I use all the stylebooks most commonly used in advertising/marketing/design — the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and Gregg Reference Manual — for correct spelling, style, symbols (smart, dumb quotes, ellipsis, dashes, etc.), content, kerning, consistency, punctuation and grammar. I also check for proper trademarking too. 

Recent work completed: 

<tedious list of clients I’ve never heard of, bar two>

If you're interested in me helping you with the proofreading, you can reach me at [Captain-American-Proofreader]@yahoo.com and I'll tell how I can help you save a lot of time, stress and money!"

You can remove the fork from your leg now

I spotted reams of errors in that self-satisfied and self-promoting piece of guff. Not that I'm showing off, but I'm going to list some of them:

- “It's not worth the risk, you could lose your clients.” The comma is incorrect. A semi-colon is perfect but a dash and even a full stop (at a push) are also fine. A comma is not.          

- ..to work on PDF files (capped, because it’s the abbreviation for Portable Document Format) files QUICKLY (not "fast") and efficiently.

- ..that's REALLY (not “real”) easy to work with. Even ignoring that he's American, "real fast" is still grammatically incorrect because "real" does not mean the same as "really"; it's just a lazy contraction. Making something common usage doesn't make it right.

- “Track for Changes” >> surely he means “Track Changes”, as shown in the Word toolbar. That aside, it also makes much better sense. You want to track (i.e., monitor) your changes, not lay down a railway line for them.

- Errant apostrophe after “Style”.

- If you're interested in me helping you > it should be “my” helping you. It may sound wrong to the uninitiated, but once again, common [mis]usage doesn’t make something right.

Clunt Eastfield stars in All-American classic Unforgivable

Ignoring the fact that I don't like the style (and not just because it’s smug and self-adoring), so many errors in such a short précis is unforgivable for any proofreader (or copywriter or editor) – especially if they're bigging themselves up as one of the top proofreaders in the country.

Oh, two sundry questions: why would one of the top proofreaders in America have a mere Yahoo address? Why not his own website, or at least a bespoke email address?

Secondly, why would he only charge $49 an hour? Remember we’re talking about one of the TOP proofreaders in America here. I know one much-revered proofreader in the UK (who doesn’t blow his own trumpet, incidentally) who pulls in a six-figure annual salary. For the industry, that’s unheard of, so he must be blinkin’ marvellous.

Let he who is without sin cast Sharon Stone

Back to Captain American Proofreader, though. What also surprised me was that the author of the excellent “how to” article about how to write an ebook seemed grateful to this trumpet blower for suggesting that her article needed proofreading (which it didn’t). He rather condescendingly told her that he would email her privately “so as not to embarrass her”! And all this when the very first entry in his list of experience states that he worked on a billboard ad CAMPAIN! Oh, the irony…

So what’s the moral of the story? By all means talk the talk, but make sure you can walk the walk. Otherwise you will lose credibility instantly – at least among those in your field. Thank goodness I’m not a proofreader on the other side of the pond, otherwise Captain American Proofreader might well have a battle on his hands!

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, blogger, editor and proofreader*

* Not the best in the UK – or at least not claiming to be – but apparently better than the person claiming to be one of the best in America.

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