Have you ever wondered what, exactly, is the difference between “copyediting” and “proofreading” your manuscript––and whether you ought to invest money into paying someone else to help you with one or the other?  I’ve worked with many, many self-publishing authors who have asked this exact question, and over the years I have compiled what I hope to be an answer that is both comprehensive and workable for you.  So what exactly do these two terms mean?  Let’s start with proofreading.

PROOFREADING is a catch-all term for the kind of feedback you might receive when submitting an annual financial report to your teammates or supervisor for final checks before it lands on the desk of your company’s board of directors.  That is, a proofreader generally conducts a line-by-line review of your piece with an eye for spelling, punctuation, spacing, and syntactical issues in addition to double-checking your numbers and figures are accurate and correctly used.  Proofreading is an intensive and often gut-wrenching process, but it only touches on what many authors call “superficial details”––details that may cause a reader to become stuck or bothered while thumbing through your book, but aren’t likely to require substantial revision of really “core” material.  It’s all about correcting little glitches.

COPYEDITING, on the other hand, is an altogether wilder animal.  A copy editor will look at your grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and syntax––but won’t stop for breath before diving into your manuscript format, bibliographies, references, and citations (particularly if you’re writing nonfiction).  And that’s just the beginning!  A copy editor’s job encompasses many of these finer details, it is true, but it also entails sifting through endless details that you as an author are likely unaware of or don’t have the time and/or expertise to address without sacrificing valuable writing time.  Latin abbreviations?  Check.  Foreign words?  Double check.  Proper use of quotations?  Absolutely.  Because a copy editor is working alongside the author throughout the manuscript revision process––not just showing up to make final checks before printing, like a proofreader––he or she is in a good position to comment on much more comprehensive changes, like addressing continuity errors, inconsistencies in characterization, and matters of organization.  A copy editor keeps the big picture in mind when recommending changes.

And therein lies a key difference between copyediting and proofreading: proofreaders swoop in at the last minute and fix things before they go to press without altering the greater framework of a pieces, whereas copy editors work with you throughout the revision process both to fix minor details and to suggest further revisions that you as an author may or may not be interested in making.  A pronoun/antecedent error is always going to be an error, but some things come down to a matter of taste, and you have to determine whether or not to make certain changes based on what your original (and ongoing) vision for the piece happens to be.

copywriting vs. proofreading

With these differences in mind, how do you as a self-publishing author decide what services your book actually requires, and how do you go about choosing someone to meet those requirements?  In large part, the decision may come down to time.  And by that, I mean that it may come down to what stage of the writing process you are at.  Have you already finished your manuscript and brought it to a stage that you consider fully complete and polished?  If you have, and you are looking to publish immediately without entertaining the possibility of substantial revision or editing, then you probably need to look into hiring a proofreader to scan through your work for typographical errors and so forth.  But if you have a little time, and you’re looking to publish the best possible book that creates the most memorable and pleasant experience for your readers, I cannot recommend a professional copyedit enough.  There is literally nothing, in my opinion, that will set you and your book up for ultimate success than the insight of an expert whose trained eye and experientially-honed intuition may prove to be both your staunchest ally and your secret weapon in differentiating your book from all the others out there.  And that’s really what success in self-publishing (or any kind of publishing) boils down to, isn’t it?  You want your book to stand out from the pack, and there’s no better way to do that than bringing a copy editor in on the process.

I must admit that I am not entirely unbiased when it comes to this conversation––I do work for a hybrid self-publishing company that offers professional copyediting services, after all––but I do believe that the facts and the canon of success stories in self-publishing bear me out as truthful, transparent, and utterly in your corner on this particular subject!  Because when push comes to shove, it’s not about what I want for your book that matters, much less about the bottom line and making a profit.  It’s about realizing your dream and your vision for your book, and communicating that vision to your readers in the most beautiful, professional, and captivating finished product possible.  This is your book––and most importantly of all:

You’re not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

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