Proofreading and editing are not the same thing. You should consider multiple layers of polishing your work such as developmental/substantive editing, copy editing, and proofreading. At the very least, you need to proofread before you put your work before the public.
With a simple web search you can easily learn the difference in editing services and proofreading services. As long as you’re here, I’ll give you some links to get started.
Developmental editing or substantive editing (also called comprehensive editing) is far more in-depth than either copy editing or proofreading. The focus at this level of editing is for the editor to read the full text and point out anything to the writer that may reduce the reader’s understanding of the message the writer wishes to convey. Structure is a major component of this understanding. In a novel format, the editor is looking at characterization, plot, setting, and the story structure necessary for the chosen genre.
This “big picture edit” is something that a good critique group is invaluable for as well, but a professional editor will have experience in the publishing field that an average critique group lacks. Agree with your editor on whether he or she is to only take enough time to point out missing pieces, or if you will trust this person to rewrite passages for you as an example of how to improve the structure. As you can imagine, costs will vary depending on how heavily you want the developmental editor to monkey with your text. Most of us are flexible. A trusting work relationship with this editor is a gift; choose someone you can collaborate with, who “gets” your work, much as you would choose an agent to represent you.
Copy editing, also written copy-editing or copyediting, focuses on language use and consistency. Word Nerds, an Australian grammar-guide blog, has this to say about copy editing:
The copy editor will find and correct errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation. In addition, the copy editor will look for clarity of meaning. In some instances, the copy editor might feel that the work needs substantive editing or should be sent back to the author for rewriting.
…the copy editor needs to ensure the publication is consistent throughout. Copy editing for consistency covers aspects such as terminology, spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, shortened forms and quantitative information.
Numbers are another factor that a copy editor needs to look at when copy editing. Do you spell out numbers as words or do you use numerals?
A few of the elements that are checked for consistency during the copy editing process are spelling, dashes, abbreviations, numbers and bulleted lists.
After the author revises to either a substantive edit or copy edit, the manuscript may have inadvertent introduced errors. For example, as an editor, I prefer to use Word’s Track Changes. The author’s part in integrating my suggestions is to highlight the suggested change and poke either the “accept” or “reject” button. Sometimes accepting some changes and rejecting others leaves odd grammatical changes or punctuation errors if gone through quickly. Just like straight typos, these are things the author may not see because of familiarity with the text. Also, newer versions of Word will skip ahead to the next marked change once you poke “accept” or “reject,” causing you to perhaps not go over the altered sentence as closely as you might.
Proofreading is the final polishing step.
Proofreading: reviewing the final proof, sometimes in galley form, to remove typographical errors and verify compliance with publishers’ style requirements. The proofreader does not change the text in any way other than catching spelling or punctuation errors. Traditionally, this was separate from copy editing in that the proofreader compared the final proof side-by-side with an approved copy of the edited manuscript to make sure the typesetter had not introduced errors.
With electronic publishing this step has changed somewhat, but having your work proofread before publication is still essential. Do you ever read an article or novel and typos jump off the page at you—and you wonder, “Who edited this?” The author hears from readers about their error, which they may or may not have had any control over. The proofreader is the one who will keep you both from looking like an idiot in print.
A professional proofreader worth their salt will catch 100% of such errors. [Sadly, I catch about 97% of these on a cold-read; on a manuscript I’ve edited previously I’m likely to miss far more, the same as the author. Therefore, I do not offer proofreading services.]
Read more here.
For Word Nerds’ explanation of the differences between editing and proofreading in general, go here.
Kelly Schaub is a freelance editor who masquerades as writer Kelly McCrady. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Willamette Writers.