Book Editing: What Is Your Process for Copyediting and Proofreading?

3 Aug

Last week when I posted about manuscript preparation, I became distracted at one point by a style guide put out by the University of Colorado at Boulder. In particular, I was distracted by the section Proofreader’s and Editor’s symbols, those fascinating little marks that indicate changes in a text. I had never really thought of editing and proofreading as distinguishable activities, needing separate, but similar marks.

I hadn’t thought of distinguishing editing and proofreading simply because they are similar; they occur, technically, at different times in production, and in my case are done by the same person — me.

Technology itself has upped the ante on copyediting, making copyeditors not just grammar, punctuation, spelling and style wizards, but also design and layout technicians. Once you’ve gotten to the point of design and layout, you begin to merge proofreading into the picture; you have a text close to what you’ll have in its final version.

When I begin my initial copyedit, I like having the text set up in a version that’s as close as possible to a proof copy. That set up, for me, works as a visual aid. And the process of combining an initial copyedit/initial proof seems to be effective. When we get our proof copies, they seem cleaner, with fewer corrections needed before the final text is sent to print — of course barring any changes the author wants to make.

Is this kind of process common to other book editors? The above process is one that I brought with me from my newspaper work. What processes do other editors use? Is there a process that’s more effective? Maybe copyediting and proofreading should be kept separate.

What is your process for editing a book?



7 Responses to “Book Editing: What Is Your Process for Copyediting and Proofreading?”

  1. Dave August 9, 2007 at 12:11 pm #

    When I worked at a prepress house, the production process for textbooks was split up this way:

    The project editor and the managing editor reviewed the files from the author and/or publisher, then set up the production schedule. The book designer or layout technician reviewed the publisher’s guidelines or set up their own, including text styles. At that point the raw text, often still in a basically unusable MS Word format, was edited and formatted by the copyeditor.

    The copyediting dealt only with making the text meet the publisher’s standards of consistency, correctness, and accuracy. The purpose of formatting was to prepare the file for layout by specifying style names and modifying anything that would be lost or corrupted when it was imported into the layout program.

    When copyediting is done on paper, the symbols are different because the copyeditor can, and sometimes must, use more concise symbols. The symbol set is also more restricted because the book copyeditor is not dealing with layout or compositorial errors. (See Karen Judd’s book, Copyediting, for an explanation of the distinctions between copyediting and proofreading. )

    Proofreading followed layout, and consisted of checking layout against the publisher’s conventions as well as ensuring that the copyeditor’s corrections were made. Secondarily, the proofreader was expected to make sure that the publisher’s and the copyeditor’s conventions were followed consistently in the text; however, that was primarily the copyeditor’s responsibility. That was why the copyeditor made more than the proofreader and was expected to complete somewhat fewer pages per day.

    The mark of a worthless copyeditor was one who read like a proofreader, correcting only simple grammar and spelling mistakes and not imposing global editorial conventions, thus forcing the proofreaders to set conventions and waste time searching for all the relevant occurrences. The mark of a worthless proofreader was one who didn’t know the text and layout conventions well enough to read quickly or couldn’t read at an adequate level of detail.

    Interestingly, many textbook publishers considered copyediting to be an optional or completely expendable process; they were primarily concerned with getting the layout right.

  2. Shannon Eileen December 6, 2007 at 9:00 pm #

    Panther Professional Editing Services is the best. Their prices are reasonable and turnaround times fast. They will assist in proofreading, editing, formatting, pagination and grammar/spell checking for technical, business, professional and academic papers. Our editors are experts in APA, MLA and Chicago writing styles with various educational backgrounds from Bachelors to Doctorate. If you need an APA editor contact them. If you need a graduate paper edited according to MLA, contact them. They are there to meet your editing needs.

  3. rob burton April 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    i’ve just finished my first novel and i’m looking for an editor. i wonder if you provide a free sample edit to show the difference you can make to my MS and a quote for the whole book.
    genre – fiction
    length – 121000 words


  4. Allena February 18, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    I do both and have never seen them as very similar at all. Even after editing for years, I had to re-learn everything in order to proofread. Proofreaders, I feel, are dealing at 50% or more with layout- margins, orpahns, widows, running heads. By the time proofreaders are called in, really, the editorial needs to be done, because any significant changes that a proofreader makes at this point in the game is going to result in expenses for the publisher.

    I like how you left Panther’s “infomercial” in your comments. Odd.

  5. Mark Long February 18, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    Hi Allena,

    You’re absolutely right . . . proofreading ends up having much more to do with format/design issues as opposed to copyediting that has more to do with shaping the actual text content before it even gets to the layout stage. That’s why with our editorial interns we have them start by looking at page proofs for big picture stuff–margins, header/footer/label/subheading styles–and so on before turning them loose on raw manuscripts themselves.

    (As for the Panther ad . . . well, it’s a hard world out there with folks trying to make their way in it. Given the crazy/scary stuff we see caught in our spam filter, it was pretty tame relatively speaking.)

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