Copyediting and Proofreading
Not all copyediting and proofreading terms mean the same things to the same people. Proofreading, in fact, is one of those terms. Proofreading is not interchangeable with copyediting.
For those involved in either tangible book publishing or ebook publishing, proofreading is defined as checking the final form of a book before publishing — checking the “proofs” — and it takes place after copyediting and after formatting. With ebooks, this means checking the book in full-text format; with tangible book publishing, it means checking the typeset pages, often in PDF form.
My focus is copyediting, though in certain circumstances I also provide proofreading as a separate service. I will not, as a rule, proofread a manuscript that I have copyedited; it’s always best to get as many fresh eyes as possible on a manuscript before it’s published.
What I Do
So what do I do when I copyedit a book or short story manuscript, or a draft of a blog post, website page, or newsletter? I perform mechanical, language, and content editing, and I usually prepare a style sheet for myself and often for the author. To make sure we’re on the same page — feel free to roll your eyes at that — here are my definitions for those (and a few related) terms:
This is the level of copyediting with which most people are familiar. Light copyediting services generally include correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This is the level that many authors think is needed for their manuscript when they contact me, which should be after the manuscript has been reviewed by a developmental editor, a writing coach, a writing workshop, beta readers, or a combination of some or all of these.
Medium copyediting services generally include light copyediting tasks, plus correcting for better syntax, checking for consistency and clarity, applying specific format and style guide requirements, giving style and content notes, and creating a style sheet (see below). This is the level that most manuscripts actually need by the time they reach me, which should be after review by a developmental editor, a writing coach, a writing workshop, beta readers, or a combination of some or all of these.
Substantive copyediting services generally include light and medium copyediting tasks, plus suggesting shifting and polishing the provided words and thoughts until they are in their best order, tense, and voice, just as you the author had always intended, ensuring a flowing and distraction-free experience for your readers while preserving your unique writer’s voice. This is the level that some manuscripts need by the time they reach me, which should be after review by a developmental editor, a writing coach, a writing workshop, beta readers, or a combination of some or all of these.
All my editing is done using Word’s Track Changes tool, so that you will always see every change I suggest, and you will always have the opportunity to accept or reject each proposed edit. If you aren’t familiar with Track Changes, please do your best to learn about it and get comfortable with how to use it. Reviewing an edited manuscript can be stressful for an author; knowing how to use this tool will reduce some of that stress.
A style guide is a tool that helps ensure consistency in usage. Usage, as opposed to grammar, covers issues like how and when italics, hyphens, and commas are used; whether or not certain terms are capitalized; and if it’s acceptable to always use he as a generic pronoun when referring to all people (it isn’t). There are a variety of general style guides available, the most popular in the US being The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. Some publishers, publications, websites, and self-publishing authors have their own style guides.
Often created and updated during copyediting, a style sheet is a page (or sometimes several pages) which notes all the editorial choices made by the author and the copy editor about such matters as spelling, punctuation, format, and abbreviations within the manuscript or draft. It also includes the spelling of all names and unusual words, and in the case of fiction manuscripts, it can include descriptions of the characters and their relationships to each other.
In ebook and tangible book production, the style sheet is a consistency aid for everyone involved, from author to designer to formatter to proofreader. For blogs, newsletters, email blasts, and other fan or potential-fan communications, the style sheet helps ensure consistency and branding across all communications, underscoring your professionalism as a writer.
The style sheet that I create for you is yours to keep for your reference in your current and future books or other writing, or I can create an entirely new style sheet, listing all your new choices, for each of your new projects.