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Understanding Editing

and Proofreading
An Explanation of the Various Roles for
Self-Publishing Authors
Laura Dowers

Copyright © Laura Dowers 2016
All rights reserved.

If you are a writer who is thinking of self-publishing, you probably want to produce the most
professional book you can. To do this, however, you need to take all the steps that a publishing
house take when they publish a new book.
And there are plenty of them, from the writing of your book, right the way through to
marketing to generate sales.
The self-publishing author has an awful lot to think about and do. Of all the steps in the
publishing process, perhaps the most important are the editorial and proofreading stages.
But of course, there’s a snag.
Many self-publishing authors are working within a tight budget and are looking for ways to
keep costs down. Doing one’s own editing and proofreading is one way to achieve this, but in
some cases, this may be a false economy. Errors in printed and digital books can alienate readers,
readers who were willing to take a punt on an independent author.
So, it may be better to outsource the editing and proofreading. But confusion about the roles
of editor, copy-editor and proofreader can lead an independent author to hire a copy-editor
when the person they really need is a developmental editor, or to expect a proofreader to do a
great deal more than check their final manuscript for errors. Such misunderstandings can lead to
high, yet avoidable costs for the author.
I have put together this booklet to explain the difference between the various pre-publication
roles. I hope they help you to decide which of the jobs - editing, copy-editing and proofreading you can perform yourself and for which you would do better to hire a professional.

The Editor
An editor will be working to improve your manuscript. An editor usually works on the
final draft of your manuscript, before you have formatted it for a paperback and/or an
These are some of the things an editor may do for your manuscript:

Improve/sharpen the focus on your book’s main and secondary themes/plots.
Advise if the story goes off course and help with suggestions to get it back on track.
Suggest changing the point of view (POV) or even the style of narration if it will
improve the story.
Suggest changes to characters to increase differentiation and ensure they each
have their own ‘voice’ and mannerisms to make them well-rounded and
Advise if motivation for characters is insufficient and suggest changes to heighten
tension and conflict.
Cut unnecessary scenes that slow the pace of your story.
Trim dialogue that delays action or is simply irrelevant.
If the manuscript is non-fiction, an editor will check that arguments and
conclusions are backed up with sufficient evidence.
Improve sentence structure for greater clarity and flow.
Red flag clichés, both in prose and in concept.
Red flag overuse of specific words and phrases.
Ramp up the entertainment factor by ensuring end-of-chapter hooks.
Ensure there is a good balance of fast and slower-paced scenes.
Ensure that the initial promise of the early parts of your book are not let down by
an unsatisfying ending.

You can choose how intensive an edit your manuscript needs. For example, if you’re at all
unsure about the plot and/or pace of your story, or if you’re worried that it flags in the
middle and doesn’t end satisfyingly, then you probably need a structural, substantive or
developmental editor.

The Copy-Editor
A copy-editor gets your book ready for publication. He or she works with the completed
manuscript when no more authorial changes are required.
If a copy-editor works in a publishing house, he or she will ensure that your printed book
adheres to the house style. Often, this includes the format of your manuscript, the layout
that will be used for your hardback, paperback and/or eBook. A self-publishing author will
usually have formatted their manuscript themselves or paid someone to do it for them.
Firstly, a copy-editor will confirm that the manuscript is complete by:

Checking chapter titles are correct and consistent and has consecutive page
numbers, running heads, table/figure numbering etc.
Checking that the Contents list matches chapter titles and page numbers.
Checks that footnotes/endnotes are correct.
Checks that any illustrations/graphics accompany the relevant text.
Removes extra/unwanted formatting.

Secondly, a copy-editor will work through the manuscript, checking for:

Spelling mistakes
Grammatical errors
Errors in style and usage
Incorrect use of bold, italic, capital letters and other punctuation marks.

A copy-editor will also:

Flag up any facts that seem doubtful and require corroboration.
Highlight weak opinions/arguments.
Expose plot holes.
Check consistency in POV, tone of voice, narration.
Highlight any poor/weak passages.
Keep an eye on the timeline of your plot to ensure it makes sense.
Alert you to inconsistencies in characters, such as name changes (a character being
called John in Chapter 1 and James in Chapter 20), appearance changes (a
character being black-haired in Chapter 1 and blond in Chapter 20), or out-ofcharacter actions/dialogue.

Flag up any libel/legal issues.

Whilst carrying out all of these tasks, the copy-editor will keep a style sheet so that his or
her own work is consistent. This style sheet will usually be provided to the client for
reference, along with the copy-edited proof.
A copy-editor will not normally:

Provide a final proofread.
Get involved in cover design.
Provide indexing.
Seek copyright, licenses or permissions for use.
Perform/offer extensive or substantial rewriting or restructuring.

Trained copy-editors will normally have worked for a publishing house or undertaken a
course to progress their career.
Unlike an editor, it is not necessary for a copy-editor to have experience in a particular
genre as their job is to be more technical with your manuscript, so you don’t need to be
too fussy over what types of book they have worked on before. Unless, that is, your book
is a technical or other form of specialist publication. In such cases, a copy-editor with a
knowledge of industry jargon, layout and industry-specific preferences may be very useful
to you.

The Proofreader
The proofreader provides your final check before you publish your book. You should
only hire a proofreader when your manuscript has been edited (either by yourself or an
editor) and when your book has been formatted and your content checked for accuracy
(either by yourself or a copy-editor).
A proofreader will be looking to ensure that your book is as free of errors as possible.
They will:

Check for spelling mistakes.
Check for incorrect word usage.
Check for incorrect grammar.
Check that page numbers, chapter titles and other headings are consecutive and
Check the Contents page reflects the position and names of chapters, headings and
Ensure consistency in spelling preferences, such as is rather than iz in words like
Makes judgement calls about changes, i.e. whether they are necessary, if they will
cause significant cost increases or major re-formatting etc.
Ensure that all tables/figures are correctly labelled/captioned.
Check for appropriate page breaks, and eliminate where possible widows or
orphans (single words or lines on the top/bottom of a page).
Removes unnecessary spaces.

A proofreader DOES NOT:

Check facts
Alter layout
Provide indexes
Check copyright/acquire licenses for inclusion of quotations, illustrations, photos,
graphics, etc.

Traditionally, the proofreader would mark-up a printed, hard copy of a manuscript with
the official BSI proofreading marks (
However, the advent of computers and sophisticated software has meant that these days,

mark-up is more often performed onscreen, proofreading a digital copy of a manuscript.
The most common forms of mark-up include Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function
and the use of Comment boxes or digital proofreading marks using PDF software.
Why is this better for self-publishers? Well, for an independent author, standard
proofreading marks are often of no use, as they are unlikely to understand what each
mark represents. My own preferred method of mark-up is Track Changes, as this allows
the client to see what changes have been made, but also allows them to reject any change
they are not comfortable with. I always provide my clients with two copies of their
proofread document - one with Changes Shown and one with Changes Accepted. The
latter gives them a ‘clean’ copy to read through without the distraction of changes, while
the former gives them complete control over which of my changes to go with.
Samples of these two methods can be found on my website here:

So how much can you expect to pay for an editor, a copy-editor and a proofreader?
There is no set fee for any of these professions; it is up to the discretion of the individual
to set their own rates. However, there is a recommended range of rates thanks to the
Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), who have been able to compile a table of rate
ranges based on anonymous submissions from editors, copy-editors and proofreaders
working with various publishing houses and independent authors.
As of March 2016:

A trained substantive/developmental editor will usually charge a fee of around £30
per hour.
 A trained copy-editor will usually charge a fee of around £27 per hour.
 A trained proofreader will usually charge a fee of around £23 per hour.
You may think these rates seem a bit pricey, but perhaps not when you appreciate that
each has undertaken training for the role, investing money and time learning how to edit,
copy-edit and proofread. And unlike in-house staff, freelance editors, copy-editors and
proofreaders have to pay for all their own overheads, which will be factored into their
Of course, there are trained editors, copy-editors and proofreaders who will charge
less than the recommended hourly minimum given by the SfEP. Why is this? Well, such
people may be new to their roles and are keen to build up a portfolio of work, working
with authors who are willing to employ someone with minimal experience for a lower fee.
Then there may be those who live abroad in countries that have a cheaper cost of living
than those based in the UK and can therefore afford to charge a lower rate.
Untrained editors, copy-editors and proofreaders, those who perhaps have only had
‘on the job’ experience and do not have industry-recognised qualifications should charge
a lower rate.
But please remember that it is often true that you get what you pay for and those
editors and proofreaders offering very low rates may deliver low quality work in return.

Finding editors, copy-editors and proofreaders
Trained editors, copy-editors and proofreaders normally fit into two categories: those
with publishing house experience and those who have achieved qualifications in pursuit
of a freelance career.
When it comes to an editor, ideally you should look to hire someone who has plenty of
experience in your particular genre. An editor who has performed many edits on romance
novels may not be a good fit for your science-fiction manuscript and vice versa. Review
their portfolio, which they should exhibit on their website, and read the testimonials from
previous clients.
However, everyone has to start somewhere, and there is nothing wrong with giving a
newly trained editor a chance to gain some experience with your manuscript. Just be
aware of what to expect from an inexperienced editor. For example, the edit may take
longer than you might expect, as they may not have had a chance to develop a
streamlined way of working with manuscripts. It is also possible that the advice and
corrections you get will not be as good nor as thorough as a more experienced editor.
If you find an editor you think you would like to work with, it is worth asking them to
carry out a sample edit free of charge. Most editors will be prepared to do this, especially
if they lack experience. Having a sample edit performed will give you an idea of how they
will handle your manuscript.
Ask for their editing preferences. This information includes the expected duration for
the edit, which reference materials (dictionaries, style guides) they use, and how they will
perform the edit (on screen using Word’s Track Changes, PDF Comment boxes, or markup written on a hard, printed copy). If you have a particular preference for elements of
your text, such as wanting certain words capitalised, be sure to inform your editor of these
before work commences.
You should also establish how the two of you are going to communicate. For example,
will you discuss the edit over the phone, via the internet (Skype, Google Hangouts etc.),
or by email? Do you want your editor to give you regular updates of how the work is
progressing? Do you want them to submit their edit to you chapter-by-chapter or wait for
the entire manuscript to be completed?
Finally, if you are planning to spend a lot of money on hiring an editor and want to
ensure it is being spent wisely, don’t be afraid of asking the editor for references from
previous clients.
Much of the above also applies to your choice of copy-editor and proofreader. However,
whilst the relationship with your editor is likely to be quite personal and involve a great
deal of communication, this is not often the case with a copy-editor and proofreader. This
is because they are not dealing with your story in an authorial sense, but in a technical

one. Good grammar is good grammar and layout is fixed and logical, so there are far fewer
instances where consultation with the author is required. In most cases, you can send
your manuscript to a copy-editor or proofreader and simply let them get on with the job.
This can lead to a tendency for an author to prefer lower rates over higher ones, but
before you do this, just apply a little common sense. For example, if you have used an
online site to find a copy-editor and proofreader and their first communication with you
is by email, run your eye over how well the email is written. Poorly phrased writing and
an incorrect use of language could flag up a non-native English speaker, for example,
which may be a real problem, especially if your manuscript contains slang and
colloquialisms. Check out reviews and testimonials for copy-editors and proofreaders, as
these should give you the best indication of which one is a good fit for you.
If you’re serious about having a professional work on your manuscript, then the best place
to start is with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders Directory, found on their website.
In this directory is listed every member of the society and you can read their profiles to
see their experience. Only those who have received training and gained a certificate by
completing and passing an industry-recognised course will be present in this directory, so
it is likely, though not always the case, that the fees charged here will be around the
recommended minimum.
Other reputable sites include Find a Proofreader and Freelance Proofreaders.
Alternatively, you can post a job on an internet freelance job site. Web links can be found
at the end of this booklet.
And just a word of warning: many of the very best editors, copy-editors and
proofreaders are booked up for months ahead, so if you do want to hire someone at the
top level, do your research early and book them before your manuscript is ready for their

I hope that this overview of the three main pre-publication roles has helped to clarify what an
editor, copy-editor and proofreader does, enabling you to determine which, if any, you need to
hire to help you produce a professional book, one capable of rivalling any produced by a
traditional publishing house.

Society for Editors and Proofreaders
Find a Proofreader
The Publishing Training Centre
Editors’ and Proofreaders’ Alliance of Northern Ireland
Freelance Proofreaders
NUJ Freelance Directory
Editorial Freelancers Association

Upwork (formerly Elance and Odesk)
People Per Hour

Society of Authors
Writers and Artists
Writers Online and Writing Magazine
Writers Forum Magazine

LD Secretarial Services
Blue Laurel Services for Authors