Proofreading and Copyediting. The Difference is Important

Novels are carefully crafted works of art. Rarely—and ideally never—does your first draft make the final pages of a published book. Instead, every word undergoes several levels of editing, each one uniquely focused on a specific aspect of the story. Knowing the difference between proofreading and copyediting can save you time, effort, and money.

They may include:

Understanding why each type of editing is important and where it fits into the novel creation process can make the whole writing-a-book thing a lot less overwhelming. To that end, let’s break down the key differences between two stages that often get mistaken for one another: copyediting and proofreading.

What is copyediting?

The word copyeditor tends to conjure up an image of a red pen and a sharp eye, ready to mercilessly pounce on any typos or grammatical errors you foolishly left behind. While it’s true that spelling and punctuation are addressed during this stage, it’s a lot more multifaceted—and a lot less terrifying—than many people realize.

In the copyediting process, a professional editor examines every element of your story to ensure it flows and reads smoothly. This includes checking for:

  • Logic or continuity errors
  • Spelling, syntax, punctuation, and grammar
  • Technical consistency amongst things like capitalization, font size, spelling, and hyphenation
  • Factually incorrect information (like historical dates or geographical locations)
  • Legal liability
  • Any other inconsistencies

Think of your copyeditor as (to borrow a phrase from NY Book Editors) your partner in publication. A knowledgeable ally who’s as invested in your success as you are and is dedicated to making sure your novel is the best it can be.

What is proofreading?

Much less intensive than copyediting, proofreading is the final step in the editing process. Typically conducted after typesetting and before your book goes to print or digital publication, this stage involves a careful review of the formatted book, looking for any errors that may have slipped through earlier steps.

Proofreaders check for:

  • Missing pages or accidental omissions
  • Incorrectly formatted text, like headers and footers
  • Typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation errors
  • Inconsistencies in hyphenation, fonts, sizes, spacing, formatting, page numbers, and column lengths

Proofreaders are the stern gatekeepers of your book’s quality—that final safeguard against rogue typos and formatting errors that could try to sneak their way into the published book. It’s the final assurance of quality that your novel will look as polished and professional as it deserves.

What is the difference between copyediting and proofreading?

Overlap is common between these two stages, but they serve two entirely different purposes.

Copyediting is an intensive process that examines the depth of your book for accuracy and consistency. It’s like the major remodel of your novel—the deep clean you know will make your book shine. In contrast, proofreading is a more light-touch review of the final draft. It’s like giving everything one last check before it goes out into the world with your name on it.

Both copyediting and proofreading are essential steps in the book creation process. Together, they make sure your published work is an accurate, clean-cut reflection of your original vision.

When should you hire a copyeditor?

Copyediting should happen after your book’s developmental edits have been completed. If you’re hiring an authenticity editor—someone who reviews your manuscript’s accuracy in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and culture—that should also take place before you move on to copyediting.

Both of those levels typically result in some major rewrites or reconstructions of your original story. You don’t want to copyedit a version of your book that’s going to change drastically in the next round of edits.

When should you hire a proofreader?

Proofreading should be done after copyediting and formatting. At this stage, the book’s design and layout have been finalized in terms of fonts, font sizes, formatting, spacing, and any other elements that may affect the text’s final look. Your proofreader needs to see the final version of what will be published in order for accurate checking and correction.

Do you need both copyediting and proofreading?

Yes! Copyediting and proofreading both serve essential functions in the book creation process. While their purposes may overlap, the depth of each one is significantly different, and putting your novel through both will result in a much higher-quality finished product.

Other resources

It’s never easy to put your book in the hands of strangers, which is why it’s essential to find editors who are the right fit for you and your novel. Familiarizing yourself with the editing process and knowing what to expect can help you find the perfect partner in publication.

Here are a few additional resources about copyediting and proofreading that you may find helpful:

If you still have questions about copyediting, proofreading, and what it all means for your book, I’m here to help. Click here to learn more about my editorial services, and feel free to book a consultation call to learn more about how I can help you bring your novel to life. 


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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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