Editing Is NOT Proofreading!

When I tell people that I edit children’s books, I usually get a pretty positive response. People often say things like, “How fun!” or “That sounds interesting!” It makes good convo fodder at a party.

Sometimes people follow up with questions about what editing entails. But more often than not, they offer follow-ups such as, “You must correct a lot of spelling errors,” or “I bet punctuation mistakes drive you crazy.” Truth be told, they’re right on with that last remark (as I discussed in an earlier post). But editing actually has very little to do with fixing punctuation or correcting spelling. Those tasks most often fall to the proofreader instead.

How else do editing and proofreading differ? Let me count the ways.

1. Editors handle a book at an earlier stage than a proofreader does. Editors see the manuscript right when it comes in from the author. Proofreaders see a manuscript only after it’s been edited. They refine the text by fixing those aforementioned spelling and punctuation errors.

2. Editors work with authors to shape a book. Proofreaders don’t. Instead, they often hand over a proofed manuscript to the editor, who incorporates the proofing changes.

3. Editors deal with issues related to organization, presentation, and rhythm of language. They might rewrite sentences, paragraphs, and entire chapters to help address such issues. Unless something’s way off (like if you’ve mentioned photosynthesis in chapter one but don’t tell young readers what it means till chapter three), proofreaders typically don’t.

4. Most proofreaders know all there is to know about formatting source notes, when you should use small caps verses regular caps, and when it’s right to spell out numbers instead of using numerals. Editors tend to be up on this stuff too, but it isn’t our area of expertise. We rely on a proofreader’s knowledge to make our manuscripts the best they can be.

Editing and proofreading are two very important—but very different—tasks. Perhaps I’ll carry this list with me to ward off misconceptions the next time someone asks me what I do. Now that’d make me the life of the party!