I am frequently asked what the difference is between proofreading and copy editing. Then there is content editing. What is the difference between copy editing and content editing? Contrary to what most authors think, there are distinct differences among the three.

A manuscript should ideally go through each one of these stages in order. Many authors seem to be of the opinion that proofreading is what they need (and all they need). In thinking this, they mistakenly want to pay for proofreading when what they really want is content editing.

Content editing is performed at the rough draft (production) stage of a manuscript. A good content editor will check the manuscript for style, voice, consistency, and overall narrative flow.  They will make suggestions as to point of view, character development, audience, plot issues, etc. This is a very in-depth analysis of a manuscript. The content editor is trained to spot inconsistencies and other problematic issues with the construction of the narrative.

Copy editing is the next step in the editorial process. The copy editor is responsible for reviewing the grammatical structure of the manuscript, fact checking, and overall consistency of the manuscript (again, in the production stage).

Proofreading is the final stage of the editorial (writing) process. Proofreading is done AFTER the rough draft (production) stage. The manuscript has been reviewed by the content editor for overall narrative flow, and it has been copy edited for serious grammatical issues and correct facts. The proofreader is the final ‘eye’ of the manuscript. They check for typos, anything the copy editor may have missed, layout of the manuscript (are page numbers correct, are paragraphs indented, are fonts consistent, etc.). The proofreader is NOT the one who will tell you that your character is flat or your plot line is skewed.  This is sometimes called line editing or final review.

Can you get all three from one person? Yes, but it is advisable to have a separate proofreader from the person who did the content and copy editing. Why? Because the proofreader offers a final ‘fresh’ eye on the manuscript. Having a separate person do the proofreading ensures that issues that the copy editor may have missed are picked up, ensures that the manuscript is laid out correctly, and ensures that pesky typos in the layout stage are caught by ‘fresh’ eyes.

Do I Need a Proofreader or a Copy Editor?

Online publishing is full of unedited manuscripts. I have even found books formatted for Amazon Kindle, the Nook, etc. published by major houses to be rife with typos. It is a sad thought that our children are reading these manuscripts on their mobile devices and being exposed to improper spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. As an English teacher, I cringe every time I find an error.

I finished writing my book; should I hire a content editor, a copy editor, or a proofreader? Ideally, I would say you need all three. Realistically, at the very least hire a proofreader (the least expensive route). There are some people who advertise themselves as proofreaders, get paid as proofreaders, and perform all three functions. Again, I don’t recommend you hire them. Each job is distinct and involved, and someone offering to do all three for very little money is not likely to give you quality. You get what you pay for, right?

I only have enough money to pay for one. Which should I choose? Go with a copy editor. The copy editor is going to clean up your manuscript. Sometimes – if they like you (ha ha just kidding) – they are going to throw in some advice if they see major issues with the content (but don’t expect them to rewrite it for you!). THEN, get a family member or friend to read over the final manuscript to catch any glaring typos, etc.

Why is proofreading so important? Your copy editor (or content editor) is going to suggest changes to the manuscript, and you are going to make their changes if you agree with them. In the process of making changes, you risk creating typos and misspellings. Remember, the content and copy editing is done DURING the production of the manuscript. The proofing (line editing, final review) is done AFTER you have made all the changes and the manuscript is ready to go to the printer – final eyes!

I have read some beautifully crafted stories on my Kindle – many of them free – but they are not going to make it because NO ONE PROOFREAD THEM! One or two typos is not so bad, but I find it so disheartening to read a great story and get stopped in my reading ‘flow’ over and over again by grammatical errors and typos. I won’t read anything more from that author because it was just so draining to wade through all the messy sentences.

PROOFREAD, I beg you!

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