What's the Difference Between a Proofreader and a Copy Editor?
No matter how good an author’s grasp of spelling or grammar a good proof reader is essential. There is a recognised problem which causes authors to miss errors or omissions in their own work. As we write, our minds remember the words we are placing on the page, not necessarily consciously and we’d be unlikely to be able to recite them, but they are there. When you read back the words from the page and you come across a typo or missed word, your subconscious very helpfully corrects that word or puts it in for you. Your mind expected to see it, so there it is. For this reason, it is very difficult for an author to see their own slips. We need the help of an independent set of eyes from somebody who doesn’t know what you meant to say, only what exists.
Once upon a time the big publishing companies used to employ in-house editors and proof readers to catch those little slips and trips but nowadays, with ever advancing costs and retreating profits, the onus is firmly with the author. Modern word-processing software is very good at spotting most errors but is not good enough to be print-ready, human intervention is still necessary.
Proof reading and copy editing are often confused so it’s useful to understand the difference.
A proofreader will check each sentence for spelling and grammar, rooting out homophones and correcting homonyms. Proofreaders will normally take a manuscript and point out all the changes they suggest but not actually make them, leaving the final decision to the author. Modern proofreaders will often use the Track Changes facility in Word to make the job of accepting the suggestions much easier for authors.
A good proofreader will usually charge by the word and a mid-sized novel is likely to cost around £400 – £500. We are currently offering Proof Reading to our authors for only £225 for a novel of around 100,000 words.
Copy Editing is an entirely different service. Whereas a proofreader concentrates on spelling and grammar, a Copy Editor adds to that a full assessment of the internal structure of the book. So they are looking to see not only if the words are correctly spelled but how each sentence or paragraph hangs together. A piece can still be perfectly grammatically correct but make no sense to the reader. It’s the Copy Editor’s job to pick these things up and untangle the meaning.
Good Copy Editors will also check internal logic. If your character can’t swim in chapter one, you can’t have him rescue a drowning girl in chapter twenty, unless he takes swimming lesson in between of course. Copy Editors will also check things like character’s names, timelines and geography.
Sometimes a Copy Editor might also suggest rewriting quite large tracts of text if they feel it would help a book’s chances.
Copy Editing is a very specific skill and good ones will often charge a thousand or more for an average manuscript. For our current authors, this can be added to their package for only £525 for a novel of around 100,000 words.