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Copy Editing Vs. Proofreading: Which Does Your Book Need?

Written by TGS

Last edited Nov 2022 — 3 min read

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You’ve just finished the final draft of your book. It’s something you’ve reached after catching your own wayward thoughts and course-correcting a thousand times. It is complete and reflects everything you wanted your manuscript to have. For this, you deserve appreciation. Congratulations! That was by no means an easy task!

But as you revel in the euphoria, you need to remember: you’re not quite done yet! You need to hold off on publishing your book for a little while longer.

We are not arguing against your brilliance.

However, completing your final draft is merely the beginning. Right now, your manuscript makes perfect sense to you… for better or worse. You may know your subject inside and out, and your confidence may shine through. However, the little grammatical flaws, uneven punctuation, and strange twists of phrases that were acceptable in your first copy may have grown so familiar to you that you can’t recognize them for what they are.

It’s time to get a new set of eyes on your draft. It’s time to hire an editor.

Now, understanding the different types of edits is one of the most challenging aspects of the editing process. There are line edits and copyedits, proofreading, and manuscript assessments, to name a few. For a first-time author, the editing process might be intimidating, especially if you’re unsure which one to use for your book.

Worry not; we’re here to help!

In this blog, we will:

  • Define copy editing
  • Explain what copy editors do
  • Define proofreading
  • Help you understand what proofreaders do
  • Explain the dynamic: proofread vs. copy edit
  • Help you determine what your manuscript needs

What is Copy Editing?

To someone who is new to editing, all of it must look the same. After all, the end result is always a piece of writing that reads flawlessly. And while that might be true, the difference between the different types of editing, essentially, is the route you take to get to that final pristine piece that you can share with your audience!

So, that brings us to the question: what is the definition of copy editing?

The practice of checking for errors, inconsistencies, and repetition is known as copyediting. Your manuscript gets polished for publication throughout this procedure.

Copy editing occurs after developmental editing but before proofreading. The goal of copy editing is to make the copy intelligible while keeping the author’s voice and intent.

Think of it like this: the copyeditor is your publishing collaborator. They ensure that your manuscript communicates the greatest possible tale, and so they are concerned with both the little details and the larger picture. Therefore, they must be precise and technically proficient while also being aware of the bigger ideas at work in their writing.


What will copy editors do for your manuscript?

In order to fully understand the copy editor vs. proofreader dynamic, one needs to get into the nitty-gritty of what each does. Essentially, a copyeditor checks for consistency, correctness, and completeness.

Many copy editors will recommend revisions to improve the manuscript’s readability and correctness, depending on the instructions. New authors frequently fear that an editor would cut through their work so much that it will erase all signs of their ‘voice.’ However, an experienced, professional copyeditor will be sensitive to the author’s distinct style, adjusting the copy in ways that allow their voice to genuinely sing.

Copyeditors look for the following things:

  • Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Correct word use (for example, not writing impact when you meant effect)
  • Provide basic fact-checking for historical data, quotes, URLs, and so on.
  • Consistent use of acronyms, capitalization, and number handling
  • Maintain consistency in chronology and character data;
  • Correct or flag problematic phrases; and
  • Create a style sheet to document editorial style, such as whether you used the Oxford comma or spelled out figures.

What is Proofreading?

Before we can get into proofreading vs. copyediting—pitting one service against another—to better explain which of the two you need, you need to first fully understand what proofreading is.

Proofreading occurs after the copy editor has done their work but before a book is published. The conventional typesetting process inspired the name of this phase. A “proof” is a sample version of a manuscript that is generated before books are mass-printed. Proofreaders would go over these proofs to find and correct errors before they were sent to print.


What will book proofreaders do for your manuscript

The proofreader’s task is to ensure that the book is of high quality before it is mass-produced. They check the original edited manuscript to the proof, ensuring that there are no omissions or missing pages. The proofreader fixes any problematic wording or page breaks.

Remember: proofreaders are not simply “cheaper editors” who can edit and proofread your work simultaneously. Because the human mind enjoys playing tricks on everyone, you really need a fresh set of eyes to read through your work for any faults that you or your editor might have inadvertently missed.

A proofreader’s responsibilities typically extend beyond what we’ve listed below. For instance, in the case of nonfiction or journalistic writing, they may also fact-check the text.

But generally, a proofreader looks for the following things:

  • Any grammatical, spelling, and punctuation problems overlooked by the copyeditor
  • Correct use of words Do you have a manuscript but don’t know if it needs copy editing or proofreading? Here’s everything you need to know to make the right decision!
  • Formatting concerns

Copy Edit vs. Proofread—which do you need?

As we said, many people don’t understand proofreading versus copy editing and generally take it to mean: identify what’s incorrect and fix it.

However, ask an editor, and they can talk to you for hours about how the two are different—this is not an exaggeration; as an editor myself, I say this from experience! While both are a type of editing, they are each suited for a specific stage of the publication process. Knowing which one to request can help you save time, frustration, and money.

If you’ve been paying attention, then you already know that proofreading generally looks for inadvertent mistakes and typos, whereas copy editing detects faults you may have made on purpose but are not aware of.

So, the next order of business is to identify which of the two services you need at the current stage of your writing.

That relies entirely on where you are with your book or manuscript. If you’ve just completed writing it, it should surely go to an editor. No questions there.

Have you done any self-editing? That’s fantastic, but your writing should still be edited by a professional.

If your work has previously been edited by a professional and you are convinced that it is suitable for publication, send it to a proofreader.

Due to a limited budget, some writers may choose to skip right to proofreading. Self-editing can assist a bit since you can pick out the obvious problems, which may result in fewer rounds of editing and therefore result in less money going out of your wallet.

If money is an issue, please talk to the editor. To make things a bit easier on your pocket, several editing and proofreading agencies offer packages or payment installment options.

It never hurts to inquire.

Final Words

Copyediting and proofreading should ideally not be an either/or battle; both are essential in the life of a manuscript and its author. Give your rough draft to a copy editor to check for mistakes, inconsistencies, and style. When you believe your work is complete, have a proofreader look over each page for a quality check.

Additionally, while the most well-known types of editing are proofreading and copy editing, they are not the only ones. Line editing goes beyond copy editing to address voice and style at the sentence and paragraph levels, and it might entail substantial reworking. Substantive editing goes much further, allowing the editor complete freedom to relocate and rewrite entire portions for greater logical flow and readability. Developmental editing brings the editor into the writing process, advising and guiding writers as they create and rewrite their manuscripts.

You need to assess the work you have put into your manuscript to be able to determine the next step that will take you toward success.