Many readers and writers do not know the difference, and many don’t even know there is a difference, between editing and proofreading. In traditional publishing, the editorial process involves developing a fiction manuscript for content, voice, character, plot, style, and language. Most of this is carried over in nonfiction manuscript development. Once the editor believes the manuscript is ready for the production process, he/she sends it down to a production editor who gets it copyedited by a freelancer. Once the manuscript has been copyedited and reviewed by the author, the manuscript is typeset, and sent out to a proofreader. A copy editor works on a manuscript for issues of consistency (e.g., time lines), fact-checks, and edits for the mechanics of the text—grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation, cleaning up the manuscript and ensuring sentences flow.
A proofreader reads the typeset pages against the copyedited manuscript, ensuring that all the editor’s and author’s changes have correctly made their way into the typeset pages. The proofreader also reads behind the copy editor, making sure he/she hasn’t missed any mistakes and or inserted any of his/her own.
There is also another type of proofreading called cold reading, in which the proofreader reads the typeset pages blind, without access to the copyedited manuscript. This is often done in second pass, after the author and first proofreader have read the typeset pages and any new author changes and editorial corrections have been made by the typesetter. A cold read is much quicker because there is no manuscript to read against and because whatever changes were made to the first pass will hopefully be minimal. A cold read can be difficult at times, however, because the cold reader does not have the opportunity to review the edited manuscript, and queries or comments that he/she may have could probably be rectified by reviewing the manuscript.
So, if you plan on going the traditional publishing route, this is part of the editorial process you will encounter. If you are self-publishing, then you can and should have your manuscript developmentally edited, copyedited, and proofread. All of this will produce the cleanest, most readable, and enjoyable books in the self-publishing world. You can and should also have your book proofed in the manuscript stage, fully formatted in Word, ready for PDF conversion for print or e-book format. Once the Word file is converted to a PDF you should have a proofreader read the entire work to ensure that no errors in formatting or punctuation, grammar, and spelling have made it into the PDF, which will be used to make print copies of your book as well as be the source for the e-book version.
Many readers and writers think that proofreading is simple, but it isn’t, and there is a technical side that I will briefly discuss here. When proofing a book for print, there are some particular details that have to be watched for: widows, orphans, stacks and ladders, running heads, and paragraph formatting. A widow is the last line of a paragraph that does not run the full length of the top of the page, while an orphan is a word at the end of a paragraph on a line by itself that is three letters or fewer, including a period. A stack is when the same word appears at the beginning or end of a line three or more times in a row, and a ladder is when punctuation (em-dashes, en-dashes, hyphens) appears at the end of a line three or more times in a row (periods and commas are also included here). Running heads are the lines usually centered at the top of each page (author’s name, title of book, title of chapter) that alternate depending on the page number: odd-numbered (recto) or even-numbered (verso). Paragraph formatting comprises opening chapter paragraph style, text breaks, as well as styling of certain text forms: letters, text messages, emails, block quotations, etc. Also, the last page of a chapter should have at least five lines of text on it.
As you can see, proofreading may not be as intense as editing, but it entails its own particular attention to detail in reviewing the text, whether in Word or typeset pages created in InDesign. So when seeking an editor, it is also wise to find a proofreader if you are going down the self-publishing path.