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Dear Gotham: My publisher has talked to me about editing, copyediting, and proofreading. What distinguishes one type of editing from another?
All three play a role in the publishing process, and the differences between them can be hazy for new authors.
Editing (otherwise known as developmental editing) is the kind of wide-ranging, big-picture feedback that authors traditionally expect from their editor. It might get into the minutiae of sentence construction and comma placement, but is more likely to focus on the essentials of plot, pacing, and tone, and might encompass major revisions and changes to the book’s structure.
Copyediting is more focused in its approach: it aims to make sure that the book is interesting, coherent, and accurate sentence-by-sentence. Copyediting is usually done by a freelancer, who will often raise questions of grammar, style, and usage. In a nonfiction manuscript, a good copyeditor may also check facts, names, and dates; ask for sources; and standardize references and citations.
Proofreading is the narrowest of the three. (Though no less important!) Traditionally a proofreader is hired to review the book once it has been copyedited and typeset. A proofreader will catch any lingering errors and typos, as well as any mistakes that might have crept in during the typesetting process.