The Different Types of Editing: Copyediting and Proofreading

If you’ve ever read a book without being distracted by inconsistent formatting, punctuation mistakes, typos, or any of the other errors that can crop up when it comes to writing, you likely have a team of copyeditors and proofreaders to thank. While developmental editing tends to be a more visible part of the traditional publishing process, copyeditors and proofreaders have an equally important role in preparing books for publication.

At large traditional publishers, the copyediting and proofreading teams are typically separate from the acquiring and developmental editing teams. Depending on the publisher, copyediting and proofreading might fall under a department called managing editorial or production editing. One of the reasons for this division is that copyediting and proofreading require specific areas of expertise: from grammar, punctuation, and spelling to an intimate knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style (the style guide most trade book publishers use).

While a copyeditor can definitely tell you whether you’ve placed a comma in the right place, they also consider areas like clarity (e.g. Does this sentence clearly convey the author’s intended meaning?); accuracy (e.g. Is this city name spelled correctly?); and continuity (e.g. Is the timeline consistent?). Copyediting can also include some light fact-checking, if needed (e.g. Did zippers exist in the 1600s?). Since a copyeditor hasn’t seen previous drafts of a manuscript, they are often able to notice inconsistencies that have been introduced during revisions and to ask questions that the author and developmental editor may be too close to the manuscript to see. 

As mentioned in last week’s letter, most manuscript copyediting is now done electronically; copyeditors enter corrections and queries directly in the Word file. Like developmental edits, copyedits are sent to authors for review. Authors may accept the copyeditor’s suggestions and corrections or choose to keep their text as originally written (such as by writing “stet”) in order to achieve a certain style, tone, or voice. For example, an author might use sentence fragments to convey a sense of urgency or deliberately use incorrect grammar to capture authentic dialogue.

After copyediting, the publishing process looks somewhat different for novels versus picture books and other heavily illustrated or designed titles, as well as for books that are independently published. For the purposes of this letter, I’ll describe the typical process I’ve seen for novels at large traditional publishers, though some of the specifics may vary by imprint.

Once the copyedits have been reviewed by the author, the text is typeset into page proofs. Page proofs are an exciting step—this is when a novel finally starts to look more like a finished book (with chapter breaks, headings, page numbers, and other design elements) rather than a Word document. The first pass page proofs are then reviewed by a proofreader and the author. First pass page proofs are usually the author’s final review of the full book.

The proofreader’s review includes checking the typesetting, ensuring that the copyedits have been entered correctly, and looking for errors that may have been missed during previous reviews. Any changes that are made at this stage are incorporated into the page proofs, which then become second pass page proofs. The proofs are checked again to ensure that the most recent changes have been implemented correctly, and the process repeats until there are no further corrections and the page proofs are deemed final.

First pass page proofs are usually the version of the text that is made into galleys or ARCs (advance reading copies or advanced reader copies). These early copies are shared with reviewers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, media outlets, and others that may need to read the book before publication. ARCs carry notices alerting readers that the text is an uncorrected proof, that it is not for sale, and that any quotes used in reviews need to be checked against the finished book.

While authors submitting their work to traditional publishers do not need to hire separate copyeditors or proofreaders, authors who are publishing independently should definitely consider doing so. If you are looking for an experienced book copyeditor or proofreader, ACES: The Society for Editing and the Editorial Freelancers Association are good places to start.

Your Editor Friend,


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