In Your Corner : Decoding the Divide Between Copyediting and Proofreading

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.

GUEST POST: Rob Mangelson of Outskirts Press on Editing

Every once in a while, we have the pleasure of featuring a blog post written by an expert outside of our small circle here at Self Publishing Advisor.  This week, we get to hear from Rob Mangelson, an independent contractor and marketing professional affiliated with Outskirts Press, a hybrid self-publishing company based out of the Denver, Colorado area.  We’ve actually run across the folks from OP before–as recently as two weeks ago, as a matter of fact–but here we have a chance to catch a few words direct from the source, so to speak.  So with no further ado, here are some of Rob’s thoughts on the subject of editing.


A professional editor is your last, best hurdle before sending your book off to publish. While it may seem an optional service, there are compelling reasons why you may not want to think of it as “optional” – not when your reputation and product quality are at stake.

editing

It’s humbling to submit a highly personal work to someone we imagine gleefully buying red ink by the barrel. However, in this case, red ink is your best friend. Here are three ways your investment in a professional editor will pay for itself:

  1. An editor is your best beta-tester. Your book is your product, and there’s no better way to “test” your product before it goes to market than with a professional editor – more than one editor, if it’s feasible. A test run of how your product might perform in the marketplace more than pays for itself, allowing you to tweak your writing and marketing to reach the right readers and keep them hooked once you do. In a perfect world, every publishing author would have the luxury of both an editor and a team of beta readers, but if you have to choose, hire a pro.
  2. Editors help you get your point across. You know what you mean to say – but will readers understand the ideas you’re trying to get across? There’s no way to know until you get someone “outside your head” to view your work from the perspective of a potential reader. This is one of the main missions of the editing process, and one that ensures that your words have the intended effect on the intended target audience so you can resonate with readers – and sell more books!
  3. Editors see “invisible” problems. By the time a book is close to finished and nearly ready for publication, most publishing authors have gone through it with a fine-toothed comb, often multiple times. But no matter how thoroughly and how often you review your own work, even the most conscientious authors can become blind to errors in their own prose. Even a couple of minor errors in your book can destroy your credibility and hurt your sales, making the services of a professional editor well worth a modest investment.

Remember, editors are, like you, avid readers and writers with the added advantage of having expertise in their field. Use that expertise to your advantage to get the most polished product possible. You’ll never regret it.


Thanks for reading!  Keep up with our guests and our archival visits by watching this space every Tuesday!

Self Publishing Advisor

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6 Self-Publishing Don’ts

Unfortunately, some people have a negative perception of self publishing. This is because some self-publishing authors make detrimental mistakes that prevent their books from being taken seriously. If you want to be seen as a professional author with a successful book, be sure to avoid these six self-publishing don’ts:

1. Don’t attempt to create print-ready files if you don’t already possess that particular skill set.

You’re a writer; not a book designer.  Leave this task to the professionals and focus your time on writing and promoting your book.

2. Don’t skip the professional copyediting.

No matter how great of a writer you are, you cannot edit your own work! It is too easy to miss mistakes because you are too familiar with your work. This task requires a professional.  It is worth paying for professional editing services .

3. Don’t skip the custom cover design.

Most readers judge a book by its cover, so having an eye-catching, quality cover that professionally represents your book is essential. Most template covers will look and feel like a cookie cutter design, even if you make small changes to it.  Invest in a professionally designed, dynamic custom cover unique to your book.

4. Don’t forget the back cover text.

Once you are ready to self-publish your book,  one of the first things you’ll be asked for is your back cover synopsis and author biography. Don’t just throw something together without much thought!  Readers will look at this and determine whether or not they should buy your book.

5. Don’t rush.

Sure, you are excited to self-publish your book, but don’t rush. Producing a quality book  takes time. Be patient now, and you will be glad you did once you have a book to be proud of.

6. Don’t give up.

Some authors get so overwhelmed by all the options available to them when choosing a self-publishing company that they just give up. That doesn’t have to be you. Do your research, spend some time thinking about the decision, and then trust your gut. Don’t let fear stop you.

There are many great self publishing success stories! You can be one of them by avoiding these mistakes.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order 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, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Professional Copyediting is a Self-Publishing Must-Do

Many authors ask me questions like “Do I really need to hire an editor?” and “I had my friend who is an English teacher read it. That counts as editing, right?” While having friends, family, colleagues, and even your writing group is a great way to get feedback on your manuscript, it does not replace the need for a professional copyedit.

Many services offered by self-publishing companies could be considered optional depending on your goals and personal skills. Copyediting is not one of those services I consider “optional;” authors who want their work to polished and professional must hire a professional copyeditor.

So how is a copyedit different than having trusted friends and family read your book?

1) Copyediting requires special skills.

Even friends who are writers or teachers probably don’t have the training necessary to perform a quality edit. (Unless you happen to be friends with a copyeditor.) Copyediting is different than proofreading. The copyeditor doesn’t just look for obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. He or she also corrects style issues, picks up on inconsistencies, and corrects less obvious mistakes.

2) They can look at your work objectively.

Writers who self-edit their work often miss mistakes and inconsistencies because they are too attached to the story. They know what they are saying, so they don’t read through the eyes of a reader who doesn’t know the story. Similarly, friends and family may be afraid of hurting your feelings or be to proud of your work to review it objectively. Copyeditors don’t have a personal attachment to your story and review the manuscript as a professional rather than a friend.

Before you hire a copyeditor, it important to remember these tips:

  • Proofread and spell-check your work before sending it to an editor.
  • Remember that editors are human and many work with about a 5% margin of error.
  • There are different levels of editing intensity: basic, moderate, and extensive. (Basic copyediting typically catches about 70% of errors in a manuscript.)
  • As a self-publishing author, don’t focus on what the editor didn’t find, but rather what was found.
  • Review your manuscript again after you receive it from the editor to check for errors they may have missed.

While copyediting won’t make your book flawless, it will substantially increase the quality and professionalism of your book.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order 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, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing: 10 Things You Need to Know

If you are new to self-publishing, it can seem a little overwhelming at first, but there are plenty of great resources to help you decide if self-publishing is right for you and to answer all your questions on hot topics such as copyediting, copyrights, and book formatting. Below is a list of 10 must read articles for self-publishing authors. Each gives you helpful information to ensure you have a great self-publishing experience.

1. 4 Reasons to Fall in Love with Self-Publishing

Not only is self-publishing a huge trend among first time authors, but it is also becoming increasingly common for writers who previously used traditional publisher (and had great success) to switch to self-publishing. This article discusses the top four reasons why writers love self-publishing.

2. The Cost of Self-Publishing

The cost of self-publishing is a common question, and concern, for many writers. This article provides an honest look at the cost of publishing your book.

3. 5 Self-Publishing Mistakes You Can Avoid

Sometimes self-publishing gets a bad rep because of the amateur mistakes some authors make. This post will help you avoid those mistakes so you can be seen as a professional and your book can be taken seriously by readers and the publishing industry.

4. What is an ISBN?

This article explains what an ISBN is, if you need one, and how to get one.

5. Paperback vs. Hardcover: Which is Better?

This post discusses the pros and cons of paperback and hardcover books. It will help you decide which cover is best for your project.

6. Should You Create Your Own Cover?

A great book cover can significantly impact your book’s success. This article breaks down the pros and cons of creating your own book cover or hiring a graphic artist.

7. The Importance of a Compelling Back Cover Synopsis

The back cover of your book is also important. This article explains the importance of a compelling back cover synopsis and provides tips on creating one.

8. Copyediting 101

This article explains how copyediting is different from proofreading and why it is a good idea to consider hiring a professional copyeditor.

9. Top 7 Book Formatting Questions for Self Publishing Authors

One of the most popular topics I receive questions on is book formatting. This article tells you what you need to know.

10. Top 6 Self-Publishing Copyright Questions

Copyright is another hot topic among authors. This great article answers the most common questions, such as what is the fair use law and how do I know if something is copyright protected.

I’d love to know, what other questions do you have about self-publishing?

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.