If you’re a first-time author, you are forgiven for thinking that these two functions – editing and proofreading – are interchangeable. Or that a proof-reader should provide strategic content and flow rewrites and an editor should be able to do a final proofreading pass looking for the tiny but important typos and misplaced punctuation.
They are not the same. As an author, know that you will want to give your manuscript – and your readers – the benefit of both an editor and a proofreader. Here are four key ways these two skills differ.
Editing involves reading the draft manuscript and engaging the author in a conversation about things like:
Editing means getting into subtleties and nuance, e.g. making sure that the suggestions made by your turn of phrase are purposeful and on point. It involves ensuring there’s a logical, meaningful flow to your work and that you’re saying what you really mean to say.
Proofreading isn’t about strategy, or objectives, or subtleties or nuance. Proofreading is about surface details like grammar and spelling and other language mistakes.
Editing involves writing or rewriting sentences, sections, or entire paragraphs as necessary. It includes moving chunks of content around to improve clarity and flow. An editor will ask plenty of clarifying questions. An editor will write or rewrite as necessary, or suggest that you write or rewrite. In either case, your editor helps you stay true to the tone, character and voice of your project.
Editing certainly involves fluency with punctuation, but that’s not the purpose of an editor’s review of a piece of work. This is the domain of the proofreader! Proofreaders have an incredible and detailed eye for punctuation and will catch the eentsy weentsy things a computer’s spell- and grammar-checker miss.
It goes like this. Writing comes first. Review and rewrite by the author second. Editing is the next big chunk that likely involves more writing and rewriting, either by author or editor or both. Proofreading, we save for the last.
By the time you’ve got a completed manuscript, you and your editor are really familiar with the stellar work you’ve done together. So familiar, in fact, that your brains will not see what is actually there. That means you will both miss the little things like the placement of a semi-colon, the consistency of British or American spelling, or the treatment of numbers. It’s normal and it’s scientifically proven: after a gazillion passes over the text you no longer have fresh perspective. You need a proofreader.
There are editors who proofread and proofreaders who edit. The difference is in which job they’re hired to do and at what stage of the project you bring them in.
You won’t be surprised that the fees commanded by each discipline fall into line with the strategic complexity. An editor generally commands higher fees than a copy editor, who commands higher fees than a proofreader.
All three are important functions: for longer, book-length works, I recommend you hire both an accomplished editor and a proofreader.
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Boni is co-founder of Ingenium Books and an author, editor, and ghostwriter. She also manages communications and media for the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an award-winning former Canadian television reporter, news anchor, producer, and talk show host, working under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray, Boni covered politics, government, the economy, health, First Nations, and crime. She won several Canadian Association of Broadcaster (CAB) awards and a Jack Webster Award for best documentary. Boni also held senior management roles in government, leading teams responsible for editorial, issues management, media relations, strategic communications planning. Boni is co-author of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Start, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.
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