Proofreading May Not Be What You Think It Is: The 3 Stages of Book Editing

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“All three types of editors—developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders— work closely with authors throughout the process, and self-publishing authors always have the final say on all editorial decisions.” —Erin Willard, copyeditor

Proofreading-1 of 3 Book Editing Stages

Proofreading May Not Be What You Think It Is: The 3 Stages of Book Editing

Before I became a copy editor, the term proofreading to me meant a final review of written work to make sure it made sense and had no errors. “Hey, would you mind proofreading my (fill in the blank—term paper, resume, email to the teacher, etc.)?”

But proofreading means something much more literal in the world of book publishing. It means reading the proof, or the galley: reviewing a manuscript after it’s been formatted and is otherwise ready for print or online production.

Proofreaders review and revise at the print, or virtual print, level.

First comes developmental editing

As you can imagine, proofreading comes toward the end of the book development and production journey. It’s actually the third editing stage in the manuscript editing process.

The first is developmental editing. Often referred to as “big picture” editing, a developmental editor takes an author’s draft, and sometimes just an author’s idea, and works with it and with the author to get the overall structure and content into its best possible form.

Although not all authors use developmental editors, I strongly advise all authors to have their manuscripts reviewed by one or more people who don’t love them. In other words, you can’t expect a friend, relative, or loved one to give you completely honest feedback, let alone trained feedback.

If you choose not to work with a developmental editor (or you’d like to but can’t find a good fit), alternatives include a writing coach, a writing group, or beta readers. It’s vital to have this done before moving on to the next stage of editing.

Then copyediting

And that next stage, the second (and clearly the best) stage of editing, is copyediting! That’s what I do.

Copy editors have been trained to spot and suggest revisions for issues that affect readability, including sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. To date I’ve never seen a manuscript that hasn’t needed at least a light copyedit for spelling and punctuation.

Spellcheck will not always save you. I promise you, the best copy editors have no interest in imposing unnecessary and/or ridiculous grammar and punctuation rules upon your beloved manuscript; we just want to fix the little bits that would cause your readers to stumble and burst the lovely bubble of reading you have created for them.

Finally, proofreading

Once all those little bits have been smoothed out, a manuscript usually goes to a designer and a formatter (like AuthorImprints!) before it enters the third stage of editing, the aforementioned proofreading.

Besides keeping a lookout for the few typos that may have somehow slipped past the author and the copy editor, proofreaders sometimes review for issues like kerning (the distance between letters and words) and stacking (when the same word shows up at the beginning or end of a line three or more times, so it looks like a stack of, for instance, the word and), and whether the running head (the title of the book, across the top of the page) is consistent.

Proofreaders also get to sprinkle fun words like kerning into their conversations, and now you can, too.

All three types of editors—developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders— work closely with authors throughout the process, and self-publishing authors always have the final say on all editorial decisions.

Going through each of the three stages of editing in the correct order is crucial for ensuring you’ve given your beloved manuscript its best chance to succeed out in the world. Don’t skip a step, and don’t ask for a proofreader when what you need is a copy editor.

Your manuscript is counting on you!


Erin Willard is a member of the AuthorImprints team. Learn more here.

2 thoughts on “Proofreading May Not Be What You Think It Is: The 3 Stages of Book Editing”

  1. Good information! I read a lot of ebooks (often free ones) and I am dismayed and often lose interest when there is poor grammar and punctuation. One real irritant is the author’s use of words and phrases that are too stilted or totally out of context with the time period or character.

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