New authors who come to me for editing or proofreading services are often confused about the difference between the two. This is probably because what we in the business call ‘editing’ is called ‘proofreading’ in the outside world. But they are two different things, and this article aims to help you to choose which service you need.
Do you need line / copy editing, substantive editing or proofreading services? Read on to find out the difference and work out whether you need to ask your editor (whether that’s me or somebody else) for proofreading or editing?
What is editing?
Editing is all about the words and content of your book – not its layout and presentation.
Editing is usually done in Word, using the Track Changes feature so that your editor can mark up suggested deletions, additions and changes, as well as making comments about various aspects of the text, and you can see exactly what they’re suggesting and choose whether you accept or reject the changes.
What is line editing / copy-editing / editing?
Line editing, or straight editing (which most people think of as ‘proofreading’ is done, as I said, in a Word document version of your book.
It covers identification and resolution of:
- spelling mistakes
- sentence structure (repetitive structures, etc.)
- wording (repetitive word use, etc.)
- consistent spelling / hyphenation / capitalisation throughout the text
- comments where wording is unclear and suggestions about changes
Ask for editing / line editing if … your book has been written by you and you’ve gone over it at least once yourself, and had your beta readers read the book for flow, characters, plot, etc. It’s the stage before preparing the book for publication and will make sure that everything’s correct and consistent as far as it can be.
Note that in English, many of these areas do not have a strict right or wrong, especially in terms of capitalisation and even some spellings, and things like use of -ise- and -ize- spellings. Your editor should create a style sheet for the project, which lists the editing system they use (e.g. Oxford, Chicago Manual of Style etc.) and any choices they made within the text.
What is substantive editing?
Substantive editing means your editor digs around in the very substance of the book, looking at aspects such as:
- Missing or repetitive sections
Your editor will typically go through and mark up with comments, they may also produce a report on the book as a whole with suggestions for changes – which may be major or minor
Ask for substantive editing if … this is your first novel, you haven’t had it beta-read yet, it’s a long and complicated work and/or you need a thorough going-through of the book. This will often be more expensive than line-editing, and it doesn’t include the items listed under line-editing – it’s hard for an editor to see the wood AND the trees at the same time, so if you have a substantive edit, you will probably need a line edit at some stage, too.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is generally done just before the book is published (in print or electronic form). It concentrates on the look and layout of the book more than its content (this is why you have an edit done first, then a proofread).
Proofreading is carried out on the final form of a book, often a pdf or maybe a printed version, and the mark-up will be done using pdf marking-up software or pencil marks in your print copy.
Proofreading covers identification and resolution of:
- Book layout – does each chapter start on a right-hand page in the print version?
- Page numbers and headers – do the page numbers run consecutively? Do running headers reference the appropriate chapter title? Are footers correct?
- Contents pages and indexes – does the contents page include the correct page numbers for each chapter start?
- Page layout – are there any odd gaps on the pages, is there a heading on one page and its paragraph on the next? Are any illustrations correctly placed and referenced? Are any footnotes correctly laid out?
- Paragraph layout – are three any odd gaps or spaces between paragraphs? Have words that belong in the same paragraph got separated? Are all paragraphs in the appropriately sized font?
- Consistency – a final check that numbers, dates, heading styles, hyphenation etc are consistent (using the style sheet that the editor created as a guide)
It would be extremely difficult to do a full edit at proofreading stage because, as with line and substantive editing, your editor/proofreader is looking for different things. It is also best to have a different person do your proofread than the person who edited your book – for the same reason that no one can really edit their own work: they will be too familiar with the text and are more likely to miss errors.
So do I need an editor or a proofreader?
This is the basic order in which the process goes:
- Write the book – author
- Edit the book – author
- Substantive edit – by an editor
- Edit the book based on the substantive edit – author
- Beta read – friends, family, other people in your industry / genre
- Edit the book based on the beta read – author
- Line edit / edit / copy-edit – by an editor
- Edit the book based on the line edit
- Prepare book for publication – author or book designer / formatter / both
- Proofread – by a proofreader
- Edit the book based on the proofread (may need to go back to designer / formatter)
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