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Editing Jobs Defined: What Editors, Copyeditors, and Proofreaders Do

Writers: Once your book is finished—edited, formatted, and proofread—it’s time to look at submitting it for publication. If your novel is accepted by a literary agent or a publishing house, you will most likely be dealing with an acquisition editor, a developmental editor, a copy editor, and/or a proofreader. What’s the difference between the different types of editors, and what are their functions? Here’s a quick breakdown of the publishing industry’s editing professionals:

An acquisition editor works for a publisher and makes the decision whether your work is something their house is interested in or not. He/she generally won’t offer much in the way of editorial comment, other than “please send more” or “no thank you.”

In developmental (or substantive) editing, the editor works closely with the author, offering suggestions on subject, format, organization, and general style. In some cases, this consultation begins before the actual writing. Throughout the editing process, the editor will suggest ways to improve readability, overall flow, and the general tone of the piece; he/she will identify gaps in the plot, pacing problems, and faulty character development. The focus is on the overall content, and the development editor will not be looking for spelling errors or punctuation problems.

Next comes the copyediting, which focuses more on the technical than the content. The copy editor makes sure your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct, your similes make sense, and your villain doesn’t tie up the heroine with “duck” tape. This editor will also check for awkward sentence structure, confusing metaphors, and subject/verb agreement. Consistency is also checked so that the spelling of the main character’s name doesn’t change halfway through the work and the name of the planet she lives on stays the same throughout.

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Copy editors in publishing houses often work off style sheets to ensure that the house style is consistent, and freelance copy editors usually defer to style manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style, unless otherwise instructed.

Proofreading is much the same as copyediting, unless it’s production proofing. Technically, production proofreaders check the final galley proofs before they go to print. They check for formatting issues (margins, fonts, headings) and catch any errors the copy editor may have missed. They may also check two manuscripts against each other for uniformity.

Also see: The Difference Between a Literary Agent and an Editor and Basic Vocabulary and Terms for the Publishing Industry

If you need help with submission strategies, query letters, or proofreading, Writer’s Relief has been helping writers get published for well over a decade. Give us a call!

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