March 8, 2023

The Spectrum of Editorial Roles, Part 3: Preparing for Publication


There are so many people who can help in the creation of a book, and it can be confusing for authors to keep track of the differences between all the different kinds of editing, coaching, and other help available. That’s why in this series, I’m breaking down the different roles to help you understand who might be able to help you with your draft. 

In Part 1, I wrote about the people who can help you with the creation of the first draft—those who help you with the structure and ideation at the beginning of the process. Then, in Part 2, we talked about the editors who help you refine your writing to the point that you’re almost ready for publication. 

Now here we are, in Part 3—where you are officially preparing your manuscript to be published. 

Here’s a look at the overall process again:

Preparing for Publication: Copyediting and Proofreading

In the final stages of manuscript refinement, the goal is to catch every possible mistake before the text is immortalized in the printed pages of a book, or however it is released for public consumption. 

There are two vital and distinct roles that encompass these final stages: copyediting and proofreading. Contrary to prior stages of manuscript development, where lines are regularly blurred between roles, copy editors and proofreaders do NOT do the same thing. There are some similarities, and both are extremely detail-oriented, but they are not the same. Let’s take a look at each in-depth. 


Copy editors are most concerned with the mechanics of your writing: your spelling, punctuation, syntax, and grammar. They help make stylistic choices, like whether “copy editor” should be one word or two. Copy editors are often the life-saving difference makers for punctuation conundrums like: “Let’s eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.”

Copy editors usually adhere to a particular style guide, meaning a set of guiding principles and “rules” that govern those mechanics. Remember writing essays in high school using MLA formatting? The Modern Language Association (MLA) has a set of preferences around the mechanics of writing that most of us were required to adhere to. But there are other style guides, too: the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, the Chicago Manual of Style (with its student-friendly Turabian variation), the American Medical Association (AMA) style guide, and the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide. Different genres and scholarly content areas tend to prefer a different style. For example, when I worked at an education publisher, we adhered to the APA style guide, even though most of the publishing industry uses Chicago. 

It’s not expected that authors would know all of the ins and outs of a particular style guide—most of those guides are hundreds of pages long! Copy editors help authors apply the rules of the chosen style guide throughout their book. God bless them, copy editors also help you format reference lists (one of my least favorite tasks in book making!). 

I firmly believe copy editors are the unsung heroes of the editing world. Although I am an editor, I keep my feet firmly planted on the developmental side of things. I’m probably better at grammar and punctuation than the average person, but I have seen truly excellent copy editors transform manuscripts in a way that I never could, and I am in awe of their eagle-eyed power. I make it a habit to surround myself with amazing copy editors whom I can refer authors to and who can help me make my own writing better. 

Lest I put too much pressure on my copy editor friends, let me say: Copy editors aren’t perfect. They spend hours upon hours with your book, and it’s likely that they’ll miss some things as well. I recently saw someone claim that copy editors only catch, on average, about 80% of the mistakes in books. I have no idea whether that’s true or how someone would calculate that, but I think it’s fair to say that copy editors are going to miss some things, and that’s ok.

As one of my copy editor friends, Mikaela Mathews, says, the goal of a copy editor isn’t to make your book perfect; it’s to eliminate distractions in your writing. 


Copyediting is the last stage in which your book will still appear in its drafty Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Google doc form. After that, it’ll need to be typeset—that is, converted into a print-ready PDF with stylized pages. This PDF is called a “proof.” 

And you guessed it—once it’s been converted into that proof, someone needs to read it to make sure everything was converted correctly. That person is a proofreader. See? 

Proofreaders are concerned with how the text is laid out on the page. They address mistakes like orphan lines (lines of text that appear weirdly alone on a page. Like, why is that line there all by itself?!) or text that doesn’t wrap properly around a graphic. Or the colors of a color-coded chart not translating properly. Or a chapter title not appearing in the same size and style as all the other chapter titles.

In other words, proofreaders are primarily concerned with issues of formatting and making sure that the physical appearance of the printed book offers an immersive and pleasing experience to the reader. 

Like copyeditors, they want to eliminate distractions—but distractions of a different kind. Proofreaders are the last line of defense before a book hits the shelves. 

Now that we’ve made our way through all of these different roles, in future posts I’ll share my thoughts on other common editorial questions like:

  • How can I afford an editor?
  • What should I do with the feedback on my manuscript?

What further questions do you have about editing? What do you want me to address in a future post? Please feel free to write to me at to let me know!