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Copyediting or Proofreading? Getting the Most for Your Editing Dollar

13 May 2015

From The Book Designer:

As a self-publishing author, it’s next to impossible to manage all aspects of publishing a book by yourself. Inevitably, you’ll need to seek help with at least some stages of the process. And there’s a bevy of providers out there, eager to offer their assistance.

. . . .

Joanna Penn again warns authors to “do their due diligence” when seeking help with self-publishing. These comments are as true for editing as for any other author service.

How can authors know what they’re getting? Bottom line: if you’re paying someone to help you, that transaction must be transparent. You need to know exactly what the editor will do and what it will cost. In short, all the terms must be spelled out plainly.

Lately, most authors who contact us are requesting a quote for proofreading. And we could simply provide a quote for proofreading, but that wouldn’t be transparent. Why? Because when we look at the manuscript they’ve sent, it’s clear that the manuscript doesn’t need proofreading—it needs copyediting.

. . . .

The easiest way to remember the difference between copyediting and proofreading is to consider when they occur in the editing process. Proofreading is the final stage of editing. It occurs after your book has been formatted for print or digital distribution—after you get it back from your formatter or book designer. Proofreading occurs when your book is in its final form—in the environment in which your reader will read it.

For print books, proofreading will occur on a PDF. For an ebook, the proofreader will view your book as an epub or mobi file—on a Kindle, perhaps—and keep a list of any changes that need to be made in the master file. Any corrections that the proofreader suggests will need to be addressed by your formatter or designer. If you’re the formatter or designer, you’ll be the one making the corrections.

The proofreader will also look for errors that have been introduced during the formatting and design process. That’s right! Every time someone touches your book manuscript for any reason, the possibility of introducing errors exists. So the fewer changes you have to make at the proofreading stage, the better.

. . . .

When an author submits a manuscript to us for “proofreading,” this is the first question we ask: “Has your book been copyedited?” If it hasn’t, the process can become costly for the author.

Here’s why: editors generally copyedit a manuscript using a variety of automated copyediting tools. These tools not only help editors to be more accurate in hunting down errors, they also help them to be more efficient during the copyediting process. If an editor charges by the hour, you will want her to use the tools that will make the process more efficient, as this will be less of a drain on your book budget.

Most automated tools only work with Microsoft Word—the editor’s tool of choice. It follows, then, that the bulk of corrections should occur when your book manuscript has not yet been formatted as a PDF, epub, or mobi.

Further, copyediting can involve recasting and reordering sentences for clarity, a task you most definitely want to avoid when your book has been formatted or laid out.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer


27 Comments to “Copyediting or Proofreading? Getting the Most for Your Editing Dollar”

  1. What?
    You proof-read before another person sees the book. Copy-editing involves another form of proof-reading, one that also includes the publisher’s specific requirements (house rules).

    Stylistic issues should be resolved separately, preferably by the author.

    This other stuff sounds like what you do when you get the computer to spell check. (or, heaven forbid, grammar check). It simply doesn’t replace proof-reading by a reader.

    (and on an irate aside: Word has no idea about the difference between, say, “lie” and “lay”, and invariably substitutes the wrong thing. More often than not, it also knows nothing about subject-verb agreement. Do not use the grammar check!!!)

    • I have to agree with the OP here. Although an author or editor can look for errors at any point in the process, the proofread being discussed here is a final run for errors by someone who has neither written nor edited the book.

    • It has been my practice for many years to advise authors to have their book professionally proofread as the very last step in the production process, since that’s the only way to catch the many elements that are either added or modified while the book is in layout. Of course, proofreading by the author at any stage can’t hurt either, it’s just not a replacement for that final read.

    • No, no, I. J. Copyediting and proofreading are two different things. It is to your benefit to understand the difference if you are a writer.

      Both copyeditors and proofreaders must ensure that house rules are applied to the book. The copyeditor, however, should really do most of that application, as he or she is working with the manuscript. And the copyeditor does a whole lot more than your word processor’s spellcheck and grammar check.

      The proofreader is working with the layout, which potentially includes graphic elements. You really want both a copyeditor and a proofreader involved in your process.

  2. I learned this the hard way—by introducing errors while making my editor’s suggested changes, only to have to fix them after a friend spotted one and I found the others when proofing my print version.

    Next time? A last-step proofreader. I’m not Microsoft. I don’t want my customers to be my beta testers.

  3. “As a self-publishing author, it’s next to impossible to manage all aspects of publishing a book by yourself.”

    I am going to disagree with the very basic premise here: managing all aspects is exactly what indies DO. This statement undercuts the self-confidence an indie needs.

    Every single thing that used to be done by a publisher is learnable, and a number of indies do indeed tackle every aspect.

    That’s not to say they won’t end up farming some pieces out, and have other ways of doing other pieces, but that statement makes it sound as if it is too hard. It isn’t. No rocket surgery involved anywhere along the line.

    It isn’t FAST to do everything yourself – but at least you win all the arguments.

    You might not be INTERESTED in some of these tasks. Your first efforts may or may not be successful.

    But everything learned makes the next time easier for you. Everything farmed out means you may have not learned it yet.

    This article is about editing, and the kind of help you can get. Editing is expensive and CAN be learned. Editing is particularly useful to learn.

    And all those software tools editors use? They are quite available to indies.

    The thing indies need the most, especially when they start, is confidence.

    • This. I hire out copyedits and formatting. I proofread every page, MOBI and EPUB, as well as making certain all the internal links work. I know how to format, but the time involved is more than I can justify – right now. That will likely change as I get more experienced. I can and do copyedit other people’s writing, not my own. It’s a matter of time and money budgeting and confidence to trust yourself and be willing to ask questions and learn: not impossible, just time consuming.

    • Alicia,
      You’re quite right. You can definitely learn how to copyedit and proofread. Editors have learned these skills; authors can, too (if they’re interested, and if that’s how they want to spend their time).

      Also, there’s a neat diagram showing the differences between copyediting and proofreading in the full article at the Book Designer site, if you’re interested learning more about copyediting and proofreading.

      You’re also right in saying that proofreading and editing tools are as available to indies as they are to editors. I’ve written about a bunch of these tools at techtoolsforwriters.com (look under the Proofreading category). Some of these tools are quite accessible and quick to learn. Again, check the original article, and you’ll get direct links to a couple of these tools.

      • Thanks. I have a friend who is going to rev up her skills and become a freelance editor – I’ll point out your site.

        I am a Mac user, and I write in Scrivener. I’m about to find out whether Scrivener’s ebook production (the feature I originally bought it for) is satisfactory.

        I know how to use Word, and Style sheets, and all that, but the few times I’ve had the misfortune to be involved in editing in Word with someone else, the whole interface is, well, not me. And their grammar checker? ‘Doesn’t do fiction well’ is the kindest thing I can say about it.

        But each writer comes to a comfortable place with her tools. Some people want to ‘just write,’ and they are comfortable with the interaction with an editor – so they should choose that.

        Maybe I’m too much DIY, but I’ve found every challenge involved in writing to be both surmountable and fun. And good for my brain.

        I will sing the praises of AutoCrit (on my blog); it suits me.

        Yes, there are a lot of things a writer should learn before publishing. But none of them are unmanageable for everyone, all can be learned in small steps, and are useful to know before interacting with paid assistants or swapping services with others (etc.). If nothing else than to give your assistants precise instructions.

        It’s a choice. I’m weary of people telling me I can’t or shouldn’t.

        If I do it myself, I will also accept criticism when/if it comes. And continue learning.

        I don’t think I’m up to neurosurgery or law, but I’m fine with publishing. It doesn’t require long years of school to learn any of its components. It doesn’t matter how much time I take – and I don’t have to do it in a particular order, nor by rules.

        The only thing that matters is the product.

        • I use Scrivener for everything. I bought the ‘For Dummies’ book so I can find all the little gizmos in it. I love the epub functions. All my ebooks have turned to great.

    • Anyone can learn to edit, just like anyone can learn to practice law. But I believe that the old saying, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” applies to editing, as well. You simply cannot be objective when editing your own work.

      If you’re going to treat writing as a business, then hire professionals to do the things that you can’t or shouldn’t do for yourself.

    • You cannot proofread your own work. No matter how good you are, a competent proofreader will be better. You see the words you think you wrote. Proofreaders see what you wrote.

      And no matter how good your proofreader is, nobody’s perfect. I found some that my proofreader missed. We’re a good team, and he’ll be with me for the rest of my novels.

      • I’m curious what the acceptable “even my paid editor is human” errors-not-caught rate is?

      • Set your finished book aside for a month and work on something else, then back to it if you have problems mentally autocorrecting. I do so and by the time I get around to reading a finished piece it practically feels like someone else’s book and I notice far more than I would have if I’d tried to proof it immediately.

    • I am going to disagree with the very basic premise here: managing all aspects is exactly what indies DO.

      Agree. Of course it can be managed, and compared to many projects found in business, it’s a pretty trivial management problem.

      • Exactly. But I think Joel meant manage in a different way than this. More like “manage to do it yourself” and, as Birch says above, the proofreader or editor who prooofreads or edits themself has a fool for a client. At least IMNSHO. 🙂

    • “Editing is expensive and CAN be learned.”

      Editing can be learned, yes, and I encourage you to try. The more you know, the less you’ll have to spend. But self-editing isn’t a substitute for professional editing. It’s hard to know what you don’t know yet, and, as others have said, you’re too close to your own work to recognize all of the problems.

      People have been giving me money to edit their words for the last 18 years. I’m good at it. If I ever finish the manuscript I’m working on, you’d better believe that I’ll be paying other professionals to look at it.

  4. If I had more time, I would make this shorter, but here’s my comments:

    As a self-publishing author, it’s next to impossible to manage all aspects of publishing a book by yourself.

    Manage is one thing a self-publishing author has to do. Manage means to oversee the process in all its stages. I suspect you mean something like “perform all the tasks involved in” publishing a book, such as line-edit and create the ebook.

    (Aside: Personally, I will always outsource ebook creation. I’m not up on the technical specs of making sure my work will not break on all the devices, and will pay someone to do the thinking for me.)

    So the fewer changes you have to make at the proofreading stage, the better.

    They suggest proofreading at the ebook stage. I would disagree. I would hate to burden the ebook maker with a bunch of corrections that he or she was not responsible for introducing in the first place.

    The ebook needs to be checked, of course, but it should be for the parts of the book that the maker has to create, such as links and proper formatting of the chapter headers and any oddities (such as italics) in the text.

    If the proofreader can’t work from the original file, it’s possible to create an ebook yourself. I create a KindleGen file and proof the book on my Kindle. Since I also format the trade paperback, I do that first. This way, any errors I fix at that stage get copied over to the ebook file.

    It seems to work. My last book (“Sherlock Holmes Parodies and Pastiches 1900-1904”) required only two changes by the ebook maker, one of them mine.

    The two sentences below appear at different points in the post and appear to contradict each other:

    For print books, proofreading will occur on a PDF. For an ebook, the proofreader will view your book as an epub or mobi file.

    Even if your book has already been laid out for print by a designer, proofreaders would like to receive the Word file as well.

    Which do they want?

    • Gonna disagree with you Bill. I think proofreading the ebook is essential. It’s not that big a deal to make corrections and run new conversions. I have a fairly easy system in place. Even when writers find a lot of goofs, it rarely takes more than an hour to get everything fixed and run. And it’s not at all uncommon for a writer to publish an ebook and THEN discover an error. Those can and should be fixed, too.

      I also recommend the writer proofread or have someone else proofread all formats. Even if the ebook is proofread, the print layout should be proofread, too. Mistakes happen. It’s inevitable.

      As for your last bit about asking for the Word file, too, that’s easy. Sometimes dumb things happen. Like a clumsy Find/Replace operation or dropped text. Having the original text on hand can save time.

  5. I hire out. I admit it. I’m simply not objective enough about what I’ve done to be the editor. My linguistic quirks are usually fine, but sometimes they aren’t. I can’t see them because, well, they’re mine. Editors *mostly* do.

    Proofers are invaluable.

    But almost invariably, even after an editor, a last pass edit and a proofer, somewhere there will be a typo that makes it past all that. Almost always. I’m usually ready and with a completely cleared schedule for the two days after a release so that the moment that email pops, I can fix it and get a new version uploaded.

    • Is it a shame to “admit it”? I doubt anyone is objective enough to do a satisfactory edit on his or her own work. I applaud your decision to hire copyeditors and proofreaders.

  6. I’ve hired some supposedly fantastic freelance editors and been seriously burned. I guess in my dealings with them there was a hint that being an Indie publisher meant they didn’t have to do their best job. There were a lot of things they missed for the $. Important errors they overlooked and I only found once published. I’m talking $450 – $1700 range here for the editors, and some of them have spent a long time in traditional publishing.

    Mostly, I found they did the most ridiculous things like underline all my italcs, or trying to do something, anything, to the pages to justify the fee. One even changed my verbs to something else that she preferred and added ‘only’ three times to just about every page. There was nothing wrong with my verbs, she just wanted something to do, I think. She also substituted ‘eyes’ for ‘gaze’ as in ‘she dropped her eyes’ instead of ‘gaze’.

    Then, you hear everywhere what Indie authors need. Isn’t it funny how the ones who mostly spout this make money from Indie authors? Hilarious. You need awesome cover art from a professional, never mind if the actual experience is less than you imagined it would be, and trying to get something fixed is the biggest hassle in the world. Plus, they charge through the nose for it.

    Editors, cover artists and other freelancers want Indies to cough up the money, because they explicitly state that there is no other way . . . again, like publishers who want to slow ebook adoption, readers and writers find another way. We learn our craft. We learn our grammar. We do swaps with very talented and skilled professionals who are writers. We grow and learn all the time. We can learn cover art, we can also learn to format.

    If you don’t have the time to learn what you need to and swap, then hire out. But as someone who has been burned, it’s been an expensive lesson that even though you hire a professional editor, they will probably only make one good suggestion, and then charge like a wounded bull. They’ll also limit what they do, saying you need to spend more for other things, which might be a quick read through for the “Indie” publishers.

    It has been a shocking experience once I realised how easy it is to do cover art and formatting. There’s just a steep learning curve at the start. Plus, there are so many writers who know their craft and are willing to trade critiques. Any questions about grammar are easily answered with a quick Google search.

    At least I can say I tried it, and now I know better.

    • I gave out sample chapters to four different ‘editors,’ and hired none of them. They meant well, but I need an editor with a higher skill set than mine. I’m not about to pay someone to introduce errors into my text, just so I can say it was ‘edited’ by someone else.

      DWS is right, there is no sense in hiring an editor who doesn’t write, or worse yet, doesn’t have the skill set to write well.

      I have a copy editor who does excellent work, and I will stick with her.

    • You raise an important point. Not every editor who hangs out a shingle is any good. Some of them are so concerned about getting every little technical thing right that they ignore what sounds good. Some aren’t good at preserving the author’s voice. Some simply don’t know what they’re doing.

      The lesson isn’t to stop hiring editors, but to screen them carefully. If you ask for a sample edit, most will be willing to do it for free or for a small fee. This doesn’t guarantee perfect results, but you’re more likely to find out whether the person underlines italics and substitutes the word “eyes” for “gaze.”

      My sympathies, Katie. It infuriates me when I hear stories like yours.

  7. Sure — points taken. Yes, you can learn to edit. As you say it’s not rocket surgery. And yes, you do need to be a project manager if you’re going to produce a quality book. Word choice? Maybe — it’s the actual performing of all the self-publishing tasks that can become unmanageable, and many independent authors are seeking assistance with some of them.

    If you read the article in full, you’ll see that its point is not to suggest that self-publishing authors can’t do whatever they set out to. They can and are taking on all these roles.

    But whether you perform all the tasks yourself or hire out for some of them, it’s still in your interest to understand the terms and stages of the editing process. So that you can make informed decisions about what your book needs next.

    Based on the queries we receive — and some of the comments in this thread — it’s clear that there’s still a fair bit of confusion about what’s involved when a book gets edited.

  8. Good insights. This principle applies to higher levels of editing as well. If you hire somebody to copyedit your work when what you really need is developmental or substantive editing, you may end up with a very clean manuscript that still has huge problems with structure, dialogue, exposition, etc.

  9. I just did both these things myself and seriously, all I’m thinking is NEVER again. I just didn’t know any better to be honest and wanted to give everything a go.
    I will hand the whole bloody lot over to the professionals next time round. Hang the expense! They deserve every penny. This was like some form of endless medieval torture to me.
    Any spelling or grammar mistakes still lurking in there I am going to attribute to a Tolkien like elvenish language thing I have made up specifically for the book and hope that flies. 🙂
    Bottom line, I agree that we should have the confidence to do it and get good at it, but is this the best use of our time? And “good at it” is not going to be up there with someone who excels at it naturally.

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