One of the hats I wear is that of copyeditor. Sometimes people think I am a proofreader. There is nothing wrong with being a proofreader, but proofreaders and copyeditors are not the same thing — and I must admit that with my master’s degree and teaching and school administration credentials (not to mention my grammar books), I get insulted when I am called a proofreader. A true proofreader performs rather mechanical tasks. Part of the misunderstanding is that the role of proofreader has become muddied since the advent of technology and print-on-demand.
There are actually several types of editors: substantive, technical, content, developmental, line, copy, tempo, and proofreaders. And there is certainly some overlap among them.
When I was a technical writer, we had substantive, technical, and copy edits:
- The substantive editor saw the manuscript first and commented on the content and presentation, not so much the nitty gritty of grammar, punctuation, etc.
- In technical writing, we had editors who made sure that the technical content was correct, since they were tech people and we were, for the most part, writers.
- The copyeditor did the final edit of grammar, punctuation, typos, word usage, consistency, clarity….and a good copyeditor can usual find some technical inaccuracies as well.
Now, I am involved in writing books and self-publishing. The main types of editors we hear about now are developmental and copy.
- A developmental editor works with the writer to develop the book. I have never used one and was always under the impression that novelists used them more than nonfiction writers. Developmental editors deal with early drafts of novels and help the writer with content, flow, superfluous information, and the elements of fiction such as back story, point of view, etc.
- The copyeditor then sees the book when it is in good shape and performs the same tasks as copyeditors have always performed: grammar, punctuation, typos, word usage errors, capitalization, consistency, clarity, and any inaccuracies they can find or question.
So what are those other types of editors? And what does a proofreader do?
- A content editor is a substantive or developmental editor. They are all concerned with the book as a whole.
- A line editor is a copyeditor. They primarily look at the manuscript line by line, although they really do look at the book as a whole as well.
- I have now heard of a tempo editor, a new one for me. A tempo editor works with the author on the flow and pacing of a story.
Now, what does a proofreader do? Many people think a proofreader is the same as a copyeditor, looking for typos, misspellings, grammatical and punctuation problems. Not really.
A proofreader does exactly what the name implies. However, with digital publishing, there really aren’t proofs anymore. Manuscripts used to be typeset, and the printer would send proofs — otherwise known as galleys or blues (they were blue) — back to the author or publisher. Enter the proofreader. The job of the proofreader was to compare the final manuscript, before printing, to the now-typeset manuscript to make sure nothing happened in the process of typesetting. For example, words may have been left out, or a line might be missing, or a word could look fuzzy…..in other words, errors made by the printer. In fact, it was not really the time to catch typos and punctuation errors because fixing anything once it was typeset was costly. If it was a printer error (marked by the proofreader as PE), the printer would fix it at no change. However, if it was a typo or other type of author error (marked as AE), the printer’s client (author, publisher, newspaper, company, etc.) would bear the cost of author error. Often it was decided to fix problems, but it would cost the client.
Because of technology, we don’t really have many problems in proofs any longer. However, even in print-on-demand and self-publishing, authors are encouraged to get a proof, which is generally just a copy of the book, to make sure everything is okay. In converting to e-book from print book, it is also wise to check a proof, since things can definitely happen in the conversion.
Since there are no real proofs today, authors often think copyeditors and proofreaders are pretty much alike, but in truth they used to be separate functions. Now, an author himself or herself will generally check a proof if he or she is self-published.
Note: I have never been traditionally published, so most of what I say is based on my experience as a self-publisher. And no offense to proofreaders, who these days usually do just about the same work as copyeditors!