Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Proof Reading or Copyediting?

Winter is in full swing and even though the days are gradually getting longer, spring seems an endless time away. I am determined to make good use of this too-dark-and-too-cold time of year. Since we are all trying to make progress on learning about the craft of writing, take a sip of your favorite hot drink and follow along with me to learn from our friend Sunny Carney the difference between copyediting and proof reading.

"I was thrilled and terrified when the package from the printer arrived. I opened the box carefully, to avoid damaging the contents. I closed my eyes, almost afraid to look, and slowly pulled out the book. I half-opened one eye. The cover looked good, so I opened the other eye. I pulled it out and skimmed through the interior, and was very satisfied—no, thrilled—with the appearance of the first proof of my first book.

I began with the proofing I knew was necessary from the course I took, first checking the front matter, then confirming that the chapters all started on the pages listed in the contents, and that they started on the right (recto), odd-numbered pages. Then I checked the placement and alignment of the headers and footers, and their consistency and accuracy. I was ready to start a read-through to catch previously missed typos and awkward phrasing that should be corrected.

If the book had been a formal, scholarly work with a bibliography, citations, and end- or footnotes, and an index, I would have checked those as well. Fortunately, my memoir didn't require those steps.

Next came editing. In traditional publishing, there are various levels of editing. Brief definitions are available on the Web site on the Services page, with a link to the longer Chicago Manual of Style definitions. What many writers are looking for when hiring an editor is Light (or Mechanical) Editing: punctuation and spelling errors; grammar, syntax, and usage errors; and making sure the author's word choices appropriately convey his or her message.

Moderate (Substantive) Editing includes more remedial actions, such as rephrasing awkward sentences and reorganizing or tightening the writing.

Heavy/Rewrites (Developmental) Editing is more intensive (and expensive), and can include both light and moderate editing, as well as substantial rewriting. If your book needs this level of attention, make sure you request a sample edit of a chapter from your book before signing a contract or paying a high price to someone who could make your book unrecognizable to you.

Proofreading can include light and moderate editing, as well as checking the final details before the manuscript is sent to the printer for publication. While it can include more, it should make sure citations refer to the correct reference in the bibliography or endnotes; verify that pages numbers in the index are where the topic actually appears; and verify the accuracy of everything from figure numbers and captions to the placement of images. If corrections have previously been submitted to the printer, the proofreader verifies that corrections have been made—correctly.

This is a brief, simplified explanation of what can be a long and occasionally contentious process when working with traditional publishers, so it's important to understand the differences, if only to know what stage in the process your book is at. If you self-publish, you need to be able to define exactly what you expect from a freelance editor or proofreader, get a sample before signing a contract, and maintain control over what a total stranger is doing to 'your baby'."