Writers who have written a good portion of their memoir will sometimes begin to wonder if it is time to hire a writing professional to work with them to get the manuscript out into the world. At this stage, they ask, “What’s the difference between proofreading and editing? And, how do I know which one I need?”
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is the more technical, nutsy-boltsy end of editing. Someone who is an editor will often also undertake to proofread a manuscript. Proofreading is concerned with mechanics: spelling, punctuation, noun/verb agreement, other grammar problems, nuts and bolts consistency (abbreviations, digits vs. numbers that are spelled out as words, etc.), obvious breaks from styling (inconsistencies in fonts, line spacing, spacing between words, and margins, etc.), and factual errors (dates, place names, historical facts).
Obviously, proofreading requires a solid foundation in grammar, vocabulary, and general knowledge. It requires an eye for detail. Proofreaders refer often to the following in hard copy or on the internet: a dictionary, an atlas, and an encyclopedia.
What is the difference between proofreading and editing exactly?
There is a huge difference between proofreading and editing.
Proofreading is often what clients say they want when they really are looking for editing. The use of the term may simply be a misnomer on their part.
Yes, editing can contain everything listed above as proofreading (although editors are usually upfront in telling you you need to hire a proofreader after they are through with your memoir). Editing is however a different process. It is really about what you are saying—and by extension how you are saying it. Editors look for
- solid development in time line,
- cause/effect relationships, details of setting, etc.,
- clarity of writing (including rewriting suggestions or actual rewriting to eliminate obscurity, imprecision, evasions),
- appropriateness and consistency of point of view,
- the pacing of the story so that parts that lag are excised or made more dramatic.
Editors will critique the manuscript as a whole and its likely impact on readers, assess its pitch to the intended audience (does this match the interests of the author’s focus audience or does it miss it?), rewriting suggestions to bring out the author’s intent, suggestions for writing in scenes, and suggestions to shape the story more effectively.
Before hiring a professional editor to work with your manuscript, make certain you understand the work your manuscript needs at the point you are with it. It is a waste of time and money to get a line-by-line review of the copy—spelling, grammar, punctuation—when what you need is developmental editing—a helping hand with making the story more vivid, interesting and meaningful. You do not want to have all your periods and commas in place when what you really need is better text—those changes to create a better text will subsequently need to be proofread again.
A usual error is to believe you are ready for proofreading when what you need is an editor. Most writers think they are further along in the process than they are.
Editing is a developmental experience
Working with an editor is appropriate as you are working on revisions of the manuscript. (If you need help wit the first draft, you ought to engage a coach.) Editing is a developmental experience. Your story will be the deeper and more interesting for it.
Proofreading is a service you need when you are confident that the text conveys the story you want to convey and that it embodies your theme. It is last in the line of services you need to hire before sending your memoir out into the world.
Good luck with your writing and remember to respect the difference between proofreading and editing. Your memoir will be the better for it.
For a detailed look at how The Memoir Network approaches editing, click here.