The Difference between Editing and Proofreading

Often when I see authors talking about editors, they use the words editing and proofreading interchangeably. However, they are very distinct services, and before you go shopping for an editor, it’s important you know what to expect.

There are three main stages of editing to consider when you hire a professional editor for your novel:

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is the first round of editing your book would undergo in a traditional publisher, and it is a good idea to replicate that when self-publishing, especially if it’s your first novel. Developmental editing focus on story craft: plot, structure, characters and their development, setting, world building, etc.

Developmental editors might fix the occasional grammar issue or tell you when you’re getting too wordy, but generally, they will ignore all of that to focus only on your story elements. This kind of editing often comes with a critique in addition to suggested changes and comments.


After you’ve made your final changes to the story itself, it’s time for your manuscript to go through copyediting. This stage is when your editor will check for not only grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also awkward sentences, wordiness, phrasing, and inconsistencies.

Copyediting is crucial. A professional editor can take your story to the next level. Have you ever come across a typo in a book or a place where the sentences just dragged on and on? It can drag you out of even the most amazing plot lines and distract from the best characters. Invest in your story.


Proofreading is the very final step before a book goes into layout and gets published. By this point, the manuscript should be almost perfect, and the proofreaders job is just to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

If you’re ready hire a professional to proofread a manuscript, there should be no more major changes to your novel. What you send to them should be almost what will get published, so you have to commit to no more fiddling with it. You’re done.

One thing to note:

You don’t just turn over your manuscript and expect a clean copy back. Editing is a collaborative process that involves you as well as your editor(s), and the manuscript will pass back and forth at least once, even if you just get it copyedited. So you’re going to have to make more revisions.

Does your novel need all three kinds of editing?

Not necessarily. Professional copyediting is the only stage I would say for sure is required for a good novel.

If you have really good beta readers and are secure in your story craft, you could skip developmental editing. And while I’d always recommend proofreading, a good copyeditor should take care of most (if not all) of the major concerns.

However, it is always best to have a professional give you an opinion. Multiple trained pairs of eyes on a manuscript and multiple revisions is what makes manuscripts into seamless novels.

Should I hire one editor to do all three steps?

It depends. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to have the same person proofread as edit, unless you want to wait a few weeks between the copyediting and proofreading stage. It really helps when proofreading to see the manuscript for the first time, or to take a break in between. But if you trust your editor, and they say they can do it, they probably can.

Every editor is different with what works best for them, just as every writer has their own methods.


No matter how good you are, you can never experience your book for the first time. If you want your book to be well-received, professional editing is not an optional step, so make sure when it comes time to choose your editor, you know exactly what services you’re getting and how many revisions are expected.

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