Beta Reading, Proofreading, Copy Editing: What’s The Difference?

I am a freelance proofreader and copy editor.  What’s the difference between beta reading, proofreading, copy editing, line editing, etc.?

Beta readers are the second readers of a story after the author.  Beta readers are never paid.  They’re friends doing a favor, or members of a writing group trading for you beta reading their work.  Beta readers vary considerably in their skills and focus:  some will check for SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation, And Grammar) errors.  In fanfic, some will check for consistency to canon.  Others will point out plot holes.

Proofreaders and copy editors are paid professionals (although you could get a friend to do it for you as a favor, if you have friends with the right skill set).

The copy editor goes before the proofreader.  If the material is an article for a magazine or newspaper, the copy editor makes sure it fits the house style in addition to finding and correcting errors.

Copyediting is the process of checking for mistakes, inconsistencies, and repetition. During this process, your manuscript is polished for publication.  Contrary to popular belief, the copyeditor is not a glorified spell checker.  The copyeditor is your partner in publication. He or she makes sure that your manuscript tells the best story possible. The copyeditor focuses on both the small details and the big picture. He or she must be meticulous and highly technical, while still aware of the overarching themes at work within your manuscript.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is the last step before printing.

The proofreader’s job is to check for quality before the book goes into mass production. He or she takes the original edited copy and compares it to the proof, making sure that there are no omissions or missing pages. The proofreader corrects awkward word or page breaks.  While he or she may do light editing (such as correcting inconsistent spelling or hyphenations), the professional proofreader is not a copyeditor. If too many errors are cited, he or she may return the proof for further copyediting.

Copyediting vs. copy editing is like gray vs. grey or judgement vs. judgment.  Either spelling is permitted.

I do not offer line editing at this time.

line edit addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. But the purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors – rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?

There are also developmental editors.  I am not a developmental editor.

Developmental editors (DEs) are concerned with the structure and con­tent of your book. If your manuscript lacks focus, your DE will help you find the right direction—the “right” direction generally being the most marketable.  Development editing is also where problems of inconsistent tone or an unclear audience often surface. Developmental editors perform many of the same editing tasks as an acquisitions editor, but unlike AEs, whose time is split between editing and the business side of pub­lishing, DEs can often give you more personal attention.

Elizabeth Donald, a horror writer and a journalist, offers a critique service that covers all these variations of editorial assistance.

  1. Level 1, overall critique.  Recommendation on sales possibilities, suggestions for the work that needs to be done.  Very basic critique, does not include mechanics or line edit.
  2. Level 2, mechanics critique.  Grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting.
  3. Level 3, mid-level critique. Word choice, language, sense of flow, as well as grammar, punctuation, spelling, manuscript format.
  4. Level 4, full critique.  Plot structure, characterization, originality, and theme evaluation, as well as word choice, language, sense of flow, grammar, punctuation, spelling, manuscript format. Includes a recommendation on sales possibilities, with at least three suggested markets.


For basic copy editing, I charge $25 an hour, at an estimated pace of 5-10 manuscript pages per hour.  For proofreading, I charge $20, at an estimated pace of 10-15 manuscript pages per hour.  For ghostwriting blogs, I charge $10 a page.  If you think I can help you improve your manuscript, hire me.



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