Writing Wednesdays: The difference between editing, copy editing and proof reading

In this post, I explain the differences in the different stages of editing, including proof reading and copy editing.

Editing can be a hard a process - and personally, it's something I find really hard work. But there are a few different types of editing, so in this post, I'm going to talk about those.

Now I've talked on my blog before about how to edit your novel, dealing with your second draft, and why you may never be done editing your book - so this post is going to be a little more informative than advisory. And I'd just like to say that this is by no means official and the way editing works for every author - it's just based on my experiences with my books.


Usually, after I finish writing a book, I go back over it to do some edits. I'll look more at some of the character development, parts of the storyline, things like that. It's a much more in-depth process, going over everything about the story.

Once I've sent a book to my agent, she'll send me back some notes - and similarly, when a book is shared with my publisher, my editor there sends me back notes - which can take a couple of forms...

Overarching notes from the editor

Sometimes in this portion of editing, I'll get a long email or a couple of pages sent over with broader notes. 'Can we make more out of all the romantic moments between Characters A and B? Not sure you've build up the tension enough to this big event. Can we condense these chapters? Character C is falling a bit flat - can we see more of their personality? Maybe they're involved in that key scene in the book.' 

With this, the broader notes around the characters and storylines are things you take on board and keep a particular eye on when you go back over your book.

Personally, this is the part of editing I find the worst: it always feels like a lot of hard work, a lot of effort, and really needs you to think about what's going on in the book. I'm always relieved once I've got through it!

In-line comments

So I'm pretty sure these also work in things like Pages on Mac and similar programmes, but I use Word for all my books, so I'll refer to that one. If you go into the 'Review' panel, you can track changes (more on that later) and add comments in-line with the text.

Sometimes - usually in the second round of edits, after I've dealt with the overarching notes on the story - my editor (or agent, if she's the one working with me on the book at that stage!) will send the document back again with in-line comments. They'll suggest things about particular parts of the text and you'll also be able to see some of the changes they make. Speaking of which, let me explain...

Tracked changes

You can choose to view all the 'markup' on your book, which is usually what your editor will use so you can see everything they've changed. It'll colour-code depending on who's working on it so you can all see who's made what changes. 

You'll be able to see anything your editor suggests deleting, or moving to a different part of the page, or if they've added anything in. Usually, when you get the in-line comments, you'll also have some tracked changes, because this is where your editor will have gone through the book and left feedback as they go through. 

With overarching notes and in-line comments, you and your editor may go back and forth several times before moving on.

After you've dealt with all of those notes, though, and you've all agreed the story and the book are pretty much there, that's when you move on to the next round of edits...

Copy editing

Once the story is pretty much there, it'll be passed on for copy edits - which are often taken care of by a different person at the publishing house. Importantly, here, it's a pair of fresh eyes on the book. It's not about the content and the story quite so much as the writing, at this stage.

The copy editor will go through the document and tidy up the writing. Maybe you've missed out a word, lapsed into the wrong tense. They'll catch you repeating yourself ('You've used the phrase 'sort of' about eight times in these two paragraphs. I've highlighted them all. Maybe just keep the first and fifth?') and they'll notice some errors in consistency - like when timings just don't work out or you've suddenly changed someone's last name.

I've just finished copy editing the sequel to The Kissing Booth at the time of posting this - and honestly, copy editing is always the easiest part of the entire editing process for me. Mostly, all the changes are fine and something I'm happy to accept - and whenever there's a comment where I need to pay a little more attention, it's nothing major.

Proof reading

Hurrah! Your copy edits are finally complete and you've moved onto the proofs stage of editing! I've usually gotten paper copies for this for my books, and this is something I find much easier to do on paper than on my computer. This stage of editing is very much just about checking for any formatting mishaps, anything that's meant to be italicised, looking out for any typos, and things like that. 

In a way, it's more light-touch than any other edits up to this point, but it also requires a closer eye to look over the book. And, again, the publisher usually has a separate editor to look at proof reading your book - yet another fresh pair of eyes!

And... that's that! Once you've finished going over the proofs, it'll be sent out for printing!

Like I said - this is hardly official or how it is for every author, but is typical of my experience in the publishing world. So next time you see one of your favourite writers talking about notes from their editor or copy editing, hopefully this has helped to demystify it a little!

If you've got a suggestion for a Writing Wednesday post or topic you'd like to see, I'd love to hear it - just let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, where you can find me @Reekles!

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