Editing Course: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

The second day of my course was all theory. In an effort to retain the maximum amount of information, I intend to write about the theory topics here. However, I probably won’t write posts for the practical topics, which I notice will start from topic 4 onwards. We’ll see what happens when the time comes.

2: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

There are two types of editing:

1. *Substantive Editing for structure and substance.
2. *Copyediting for improvement of grammar, punctuation, factualness and formatting.

There are two types of proofreading:

1. *Proofreading to correct mistakes in text.
2. Comparative Proofreading to compare live copy (corrected text) against dead copy (original text that was marked up).

* The division between these can be quite grey though.


Substantive (or structural) Editing

  • Substantive editing is where there are changes presented to the author by the editor, in the form of suggestions or guidelines. The changes may be to do with character, situation or plot in order to improve or maintain the internal coherence in the story. Substantive editing is different to copyediting in that it is based on the editor’s creative input.
  • A structural editor only works with the author’s draft, and makes suggestions between the double-spaced text or in the margin.
  • The author should do their own substantive editing prior to submitting the manuscript to the editor.
  • There are no defined rules with substantive editing as there are for the copyediting and proofreading aspects. Therefore, to be a substantive editor is to be more highly skilled.
  • A good editor needs to be meticulous, apply commonsense, have determination, be patient and sensitive to the author’s intentions.



  • It is used to improve grammar and punctuation, correct factual errors, and ensure consistency of formatting (including headers, footers, margins, paragraph layouts and table of contents).
  • A copyeditor works with the edited draft of the manuscript (after the structural editor has finished with it).
  • A copyeditor does not usually write in the margins unless there’s no room between the lines of text.
  • In a distinct copyediting role, no substantive editing will be undertaken.
  • A copyeditor will likely correct and improve work based on established rules and guidelines.




  • Proofreading is the reading and correction of mistakes in a proof document (usually after it has been edited and copyedited).
  • Often clients confuse “proofreading” with an edit and proofread, so it is essential for the proofreader to know exactly what the client wants.
  • A “standard proofread” means checking for errors only, there is no copyediting improvements required and no structural information given.
  • The rate for a standard proofread is lower than that for copyediting and substantive work.


Comparative Proofreading

Once the editor or copyeditor has looked over the manuscript, the typesetter or author sets the work, making the suggested corrections.

The comparative proofreader then takes the corrected copy and the original copy and compares the two, checking that all corrections made by the copyeditor have been included.

This comparison between two texts is called comparative proofreading. It is a word-by-word, line-by-line check and is done with a ruler.

The job requires patience, concentration, a methodical approach and an eye for detail.

In Conclusion

Many publishers and corporate enterprises will outsource their editing jobs. A “complete job” often means “copyediting” and “proofreading” with a dash of “substantive editing” thrown in. For this reason, a professional editor should be able to do all the skills required for all of the above.

Learning to Detach Yourself when Receiving Critiques

April Hamilton wrote a very interesting post called When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door. This reminder comes at a great time because yesterday I sent one of my older short stories to a critique group for the once over.

Luckily for me, I’m not new to the game of critiquing and I’m not in the habit of flaring up when someone tells me something I don’t want to hear. In fact, if I receive a “that’s good” I feel cheated because I want to know what’s wrong and “good” isn’t the same as “great” which isn’t the same as “excellent”, so I’m wondering what needs to be done to make the story better. I want to hear the details, I encourage the reader to tell me whatever they are thinking. And just as the critiquer should view someone else’s message without trying to inflict their own opinion on them, the person on the receiving end must learn how to decipher other people’s suggestions. Because not all suggestions should be taken to heart or implemented.

Journey to Freedom is the title of the short story I have concerns with. It was originally written for a project that involved several writers, so it has had the benefit of other eyes apart from my own, but I’m still not 100% happy with it. For starters, it’s long for a short story. It comes in at almost 6,800 words and I’d like to cut it back to around 5,000 words. I’m hoping the critiques will help me work out where I’ve rambled on a bit much. I think the pace is OK, but I’m uncertain if readers will get the message behind the story, so I’m interested to see what comments are made (if any) about the theme/premise. And, of course, I want to be certain there’s no plot holes. To me, the story makes perfect sense, but what will other readers/writers think, see, not see? I eagerly await their responses.

What would the reader do?

Originally posted on another site on 2 March 2010.

Have you ever read a book and not accepted the character’s actions? Have you ever declared aloud, “That’s stupid, no one would do that.” I have. And I’ve heard other people say it too. But in all honesty, how do you know how you’d really react if confronted with a axe-wielding maniac or if you unexpectedly found yourself in an unknown world. How do you know how you’d truly feel if a stranger snatched your child from your side and took off with him? How do you know what you’d instinctively do if a gun was held at your head. How would you know, unless you experienced it yourself.

Sitting comfortably in your lounge room reading about a character who experiences these things is not the same as facing the situation in real life. Yes, as you read, you might feel your heart quicken and you may even recognise a quiver of fear run up your spine, but that’s as far as it goes. You don’t have to rely on your legs to carry you to safety. You don’t have to hope your scream is loud enough to wake the neighbours. You don’t have to actually fear for your life or make a snap decision. And in that moment of terror, how do you know you’ll be capable of making a snap decision? You can’t know until you are in the situation.

I didn’t accept this until I reacted to the news of my son’s passing. Being such a practical, straight laced, focused person I never thought for a second that I would collapse in a heap on the floor. Yet that’s exactly what I did. I went down into the foetal position and sobbed. If anyone had suggested that I’d do such a thing, I would have smirked and said, “I don’t think so! That’s just not me.” And I would have meant it, but I would have been wrong.

It’s reasonable to say that you don’t think you’d react in the same way as the character, but you cannot say their reaction is totally wrong. Everyone reacts differently and that reaction can change due to their mental status at the time or the emotional investment they have in the situation or past experiences of a similar nature or just from shock. You might view the reaction of a character in a book as silly or stupid, you may even laugh, but if faced with the situation yourself you will soon discover that we don’t always react the way we think we will.

Many years ago, I wrote a rape scene. I have never been raped, but my instincts told me that I wouldn’t necessarily scream. I think I would, however, fight against the violation to the end and I guess I’d keep all my strength for that instead of wasting it on screaming. I hope I’m never in the situation to find out what I really would do. However, several critiquers told me that the scene was not realistic. They felt the lack of screaming flattened the scene and they urged me to do a rewrite. This brought to mind an incident when I was about 15 years old. I was sitting with my parents, watching a movie, when the loudest, most terrifying, scream penetrated our home and announced that someone was in desperate trouble. We rushed outside, as did a lot of our neighbours, to find a young woman running and screaming at the top of her lungs. The man chasing her quickly took off into the shadows, but was caught by police later. Upon seeing us, the woman made a bee line directly to my father and begged him to help her. She later told us that the man was waiting in the bushes near the bus stop and pounced on her as soon as the bus disappeared around the corner. Her wild screams saved her from events I would rather not think about.

Yet whilst I was thinking about the comments I received on my scene, I concluded that it wasn’t wrong. Just because the majority of readers felt they would scream bloody murder, it doesn’t mean I wrote the scene incorrectly. I decided to keep it as it was. Then…several days later I received an email from a critiquer who had read the scene but hadn’t offered her opinion, but she had seen what the others had said to me. She had taken several days to think about it and then she decided that for my sake (and for the sake of the scene) she had to speak up. She had been raped! She told me that reading the scene bought it all back – the emotion, the fear. She said that despite what everyone else thought, the scene (to her) was more realistic than any other she had ever read. Her experience was exactly like my scene. My words had connected with her on the deepest level and, although she was battling with past demons because of what she’d read, she needed me to know that my scene was good, that it didn’t need changing.

She understood that for me it was just a scene, but she opened up to me like I was another rape victim. My words connected us and she shared so much of her experience with me that saying I was grateful just didn’t feel right…or appropriate. I find myself wondering, all these years later, if she realised her emails boosted my confidence as a writer. If I could connect to one person in that way, perhaps I could connect to others…that thought drove me on.

But why have I brought this up today? On the train this morning I sat behind two young women discussing a book they had both finished reading recently. Unfortunately, I don’t know what book they were referring to, but what caught my interest was their conversation on how they felt the main character’s reactions were totally wrong. When I heard one of them say, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t react like that. Would you?”, it made me think of that rape scene. Surely readers don’t expect everyone to react in the exact same way they do. Do they? As a writer, I must chose carefully how I want my characters to react to the situations I put them in. Are they going to do what everyone expects of them, or are they going to react in the way befitting their personality? I will chose the reaction for their personality every time! To do anything else, just wouldn’t seem right.

Some Mad Hope: When Nothing Is Good

I often roam the internet, making my way from one website to another, reading hundreds of words written by other people.  Those words sometimes anger me, at other times they make me cry, but today I found words that inspire.

Some Mad Hope: When Nothing Is Good.

This is a post that reminds us about the small things in writing.  The things that can be tedious and time consuming, but are very important to all writers.  It reminds us that after hours and hours of sitting alone and writing, we then sit for hours and hours alone and edit, before we sit for hours and hours proofreading.

When I read, if I see a single mistake my reaction is, “haha, a mistake!”  When I write, I’m conscious of this but it doesn’t stop the errors getting through.

The author of the post “When Nothing is Good” is correct when she says that nobody notices when everything goes well, but those same people are quick to jump up and down when something turns pear shaped.

I’d like to be remembered for a good story, not for a story full of errors, so I edit and edit and edit some more.  When a story flows nicely, the reader is taken on a lovely journey.  As writers, we have to ensure the reader is so absorbed in the story that nothing can distract them, especially typos, poor formatting and bad grammar.

Mirror Image: Positive Feelings

When I left the train this morning, I did so knowing that the third edit of Mirror Image had been completed. There is something about this manuscript that makes me feel quite positive. I believe it has a lot to do with the theme, which I haven’t publicly shared as yet, but I have a strong feeling this manuscript will be well received by agents. Of course, the standard of my writing will then have to carry it to higher places, such as to the desk of an editor of a publishing house.

When I read what I’ve just written, my first instinct is to cringe and think to myself that I’m vain for thinking such things and I could be sorry I wrote this post at some time in the future. Yet, I’m not a stupid person and I am not vain. It is simply a matter that I truly and wholly believe in this manuscript. I know there is a market for it. The truth of the matter is that it will all come down to two things…1) my writing, and, 2) the cover letter, which I wrote months ago.

There is a quote on my desk calendar today that reads:

“Ideas often flash across our minds more complete than we could make them after much labour.” La Rochefoucauld

How fitting that saying is when I compare it to the cover letter for Mirror Image, where the wording flashed across my mind at the strangest of moments and I had the sense to quickly write those words down. It was complete in a matter of minutes, when I would normally labour for days or weeks over a letter of such importance.

They say you must grab the reader’s attention straight away. Well this letter does that with the first sentence. I know it absolutely. If I were ever to doubt anything (and I do, often) it certainly would never be this letter.

But I jump ahead of myself. First the manuscript must be polished and then polished some more. The third edit is done and I’m really happy with what I have, so it is time to give it to a reader and see what happens from there. Just as I know that my cover letter is perfect, I also know that the reader will have plenty to say once he has read the manuscript. I predict that he will try and persuade me to change certain aspects of the story (and I know exactly which ones), but I will remain strong and focused (unless he can convince me otherwise). I look forward to his feedback. In fact, I crave it.

I feel excited. I am working on something that means a lot to me. I have poured my heart and soul into this manuscript and I feel…that I am on the right road. It is a good feeling.

How Do I Edit?

Benjamin Solah added a post by the same name – How Do I Edit? – to his blog earlier in the week. I found it interesting to read about how someone else tackles the editing process and then I started thinking about how I would answer the same question. I admit it isn’t easy to answer but I’m going to have an attempt at doing so. This might end up being a long post.

My answer relates to novel length manuscripts. To make my answer less complicated I will talk primarily about my current project – Mirror Image – but the steps below are generally what I do for all my projects.

When I start a new project I usually create a document, setting the page specifications to conform to publisher requirements, and save the document in a folder with the same title as the manuscript – in this case Mirror Image. This folder will be found within My Writing folder. So the location would be… My Writing>Mirror Image and the saved document would look like this… Mirror Image V1 10.1.09. I like including the date as it is a reminder of when I started writing the story.

When I move onto the second draft (or first edit of the completed manuscript) I will save the document as Mirror Image V2 29.5.09 and version 1 will be moved into a new folder within the Mirror Image folder called Old Versions. I don’t like clutter or the risk that I might open the wrong version by mistake and not realise what I’ve done. However, I do like to keep old versions in case I go mental and ruin a story by over editing it…or heaven forbid, I delete it by mistake (this hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility is always there). All future edits will be handled in the same way until I end up with a lone document entitled Mirror Image Final 15.7.09. This is the version that will be submitted to publishers.

But how do I get to that version?

The first edit is always done on screen. I read through the document making minute changes such as typos and easy to fix plot errors. I make notes about the not so easy to fix plot errors or character inconsistencies. My only thought in this first edit is to get a handle on how the story reads and you can’t do that if you spend months fixing mistakes, so I want to read the story through in no longer than a week or two.

The story firmly planted in my mind – major mistakes and all – I then let the story sit for a while. Not too long as I find I lose momentum. A couple of weeks to a month is generally long enough. During this time, I’m still working on the story mentally. I’m thinking about how those major inconsistencies and errors can be fixed. Do I need to do a bit of replanning? Or do I need to rethink my characters? Is more research required? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions then I’ll get started on that, otherwise, I’ll just think about how to make everything more realistic, smoother and truer to what has been planned.

The second edit is where the major changes take place. Depending on what the problem is I might follow a single thread and change it before turning my attention to something else or I might attempt to make all changes as I work my way through the manuscript. In the past I have removed characters, inserted new ones, deleted plot threads as well as created them and I have deleted entire scenes, rewritten others completely from scratch and adding new ones. Editing can be a complex, time consuming procedure, but a writer must be prepared to do whatever it takes to improve the storylines and plots within a manuscript. It is hard work and often monotonous.

At the completion of the second edit, I’ll move quickly into the third edit, which is a repeat of the first edit – mainly fixing up typos and minor errors. Again, I’m concentrating on how the story reads and how everything fits together.

Once this is done, I will consider asking readers opinions. With Mirror Image, someone I trust to be honest and constructive has asked to read it when I’m ready to share it. However, with other projects, I normally turn to writers I know and places like Critique Circle (which was more than helpful when I got to this stage with Cat’s Eyes). I find the feedback from readers invaluable and the manuscript always improves because of it.

Depending on the feedback given, I may have to repeat edits two and three above.

When I’m satisfied that the manuscript has been polished to printing stage, then that’s what I do. I print it out and read it (with red pen in hand). I’m always surprised by the number of typos I still find, but that’s the way of a writer.

Unless I discover something terribly wrong with the manuscript, in which case I could possibly have to do edits two and three all over again, which would be unfortunately at this stage, I would now move onto what I would hope is the final edit stage.

This is when I read through the manuscript, yet again (usually on screen), and make adjustments to anything that I feel isn’t quite up to standard. I will make the changes noted on the printed copy and I might even try to improve word usage (if I think it’s required). With luck, I will be happy and that will be the end of the editing, however, sometimes more read throughs are necessary. How many? As many as it takes!

So, for me, it wouldn’t be unusual to do at least six edits on a novel length manuscript. This is, of course, if I get the storylines and plots just about right on the first draft. Major problems will mean additional edits have to be done. I think I average eight edits for most of my projects.

Storyline B Complete

Just a quick post today.

It’s been a few weeks since I started edited one character’s storyline (let’s call it Storyline B). In my mind, I envisioned the job as being huge and was certain that I would hit a brick wall…and stall! However, like all things that seem too hard, it wasn’t. In fact, the edit went quite smoothly and is now completed.

The Storyline B edit provided a new profile for a secondary character, removal of one thread in the storyline and an overall stronger storyline for this particular character. Having said that, I need to see how it fits with the rest of the storylines, but I’m confident I’m on the right path now.

With this done, I only have the main character to tackle (Storyline A). This, of course, is the majority of the story so it will be a big job, but after working on the secondary characters for a few months, I feel I have a much better “handle” on the entire story. To be honest, I’m looking forward to starting the Storyline A edit. But I’m looking forward to merging all the storylines once again, when I’m finished.

An Economic Downturn Plus

Due to the economic downturn I’ve found myself with less to do during work hours. For the first few days this week I turned my mind to all those rotten jobs – the ones marked “too hard” or just “too bloody boring”. Of course, the jobs deemed too hard never are. They are usually just fiddly or time consuming, but once you get into them they are soon finalised and put away forever. The “too bloody boring” jobs were a different matter. They had to be done, so I forced myself to get stuck into them, but it was difficult to stay awake long enough to see the work over with. I couldn’t believe how fidgety I got and how heavy my eyelids became. However, I did survive the boredom and finished them too. This done, it meant I was left staring at the four walls…and the time dragged like you wouldn’t believe. How I hate that!

I don’t usually write during work hours. There’s too many distractions and I can’t concentrate (yes, I tried it many years ago, but quickly gave it away). However, out of extreme boredom, I decided to revise my habits until the work picks up again.

As you know, I recently finished recreating a character who has a major part in Mirror Image, but she isn’t the main character. Early this morning, I emailed that character’s scenes to myself and when I had finished everything I had at work, I opened the file. Now, remembering the new storyline and character traits, I must edit her scenes. I don’t expect it to be easy, but the end result will be worth the…pain, frustration, time. So far the edit is working out fine, but I haven’t got to the really juicy parts which is where I know whole sections will have to be deleted and rewritten.

Then, of course, I’ll have to go through the rest of the manuscript and fix up everyone else’s perception of this character. I think I’m dreading that more than the scene edit. But it has to be done and once I get that far, I’ll be close to the finish line so I’m hoping that will spur me on.