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Editing vs Proofreading


I recently replied to an author blog who was unhappy about what his potential editor was going to ask him to do in the way of revisions/rewrites. I suggested to him perhaps what he needed was a Proofreader to handle the Grammar Nazi punctuation issues, spell checking, correctly spelled words that weren't what was wanted (form instead of from, an instead of and), homophone issues (principle vs. principal), and anything else that didn't have any impact on the words he intended to put in his story. I am not sure if continuity issues would be part of a proofreaders duties, unless the hero goes to bed with Nancy and wakes up with Fancy.

Does anyone have advice for other writers (not me, I don't qualify) as to the utility of having an editor compared to proofreaders.

Switch Blayde


Keep in mind there are different types of editors.

There's the line editor or copy editor (I forget the title). I think this is what you're calling a proofreader. They find typos and grammar errors.

Then there's the editor that looks at sentence structure and the like.

And finally, the structural editor. They don't look for typos. They look for plot holes and such. They are looking at the structure of the story. Are the characters believable and consistent. Stuff like that.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

Theoretically, an author should hire each type of editor, so they get a complete edit. But I don't think anyone here earns enough from their writing to justify that kind of expense (can you imagine hiring three or four editors to review a 100+ chapter tome?).

Instead, most SOL authors rely on volunteers, often found among their regular readers. When that happens, it makes sense for them to outline for the amateur editors what they need done, but generally, the volunteers have a particular sensibility (ex. they'll specialize in grammar, punctuation or topic like military actions and terms). Also, ANY editor will miss certain mistakes, so it's essential to have several people review the story because each person will find completely different errors.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

I don't know what it's like now, but a woman I knew back in the 1990s used to be an editor for a publishing house, retired in the late 1980s, and it was her responsibility to pick up all three types of issues for the books assigned to her to edit, and then she had to work with the author to make it the best book possible. I've not heard of that level of support being offered for a long time.

Crumbly Writer

As far as I can tell, some editors handle all the various edits, while others specialize in one (jack of all trades vs. specialization). However, even with one editor, they take multiple passes on the book, rather than doing it all at once (they require separate mindsets). In fact, in most cases, they read the story through once so they aren't caught up in the story and miss something. But the main editor associations are the ones that focus on editor types.


I audition editors.

See where they fit in and try to have at least a Story Editor & A Find-The-Missing-Word Editor.

Those are my names for them.

Can't have too many proofreader type editors, but more than one story editor creates conflict since there already be some tension between the author and the story editor.

Replies:   imsly1

It is all well and good to get a proof reader/editor but keep checking what they are really doing as some volunteers just load up a spell checker and let that go to town with correcting the obvious spelling mistakes and grammatical errors they find that way.

They don't actually check that the errors it is fixing really are the errors you want to fix.

So some authors have posted stories where they have little (not) errors like two used instead of to or too. And other minor problems.

I have seen this type of minor problem occur here and other places and while it is just annoying for readers it does tend to make them think the author is all to blame for it.

Dominion's Son


Most of us are using volunteer editors and well, beggars can't be too choosy.

Crumbly Writer


Jvilnis, you really need to ride heard on any editor. Each change they mark, I read through and determine whether I want to use it or not. Most are good ideas, but same don't fit the kind of story I'm telling. After that, you have to thrash out the differences ("I don't accept your changes, but how about this...").

Each editor (amateur or not) tends to specialize in certain things (punctuation, grammar, tense, etc. They key is to find each editor's strength, and determine whether you can work with them or not. If you can't, politely tell them and move on (while giving the reason in a way they can relate). The editor's job is to is to work with cranky authors, so they deserve a decent dismissal, where you tell them why you can't work with them.

Just as a hint, you should get used to the "Review" features in whichever Word Process you use. It allows you to quickly jump from one edit to the next, either accepting or rejecting it on the spot. That makes the editing phase MUCH simpler, as does a 'cloud' file sharing program (like DropBox, but they're a dime-a-dozen now).

By the way, Dominon's Son, I need to issue a cattle call for new editor's soon.

Replies:   richardshagrin

Crumbly Writer's advice is spot on.

While I am editing a chapter, I use the review feature, and we do use Dropbox. I do NOT just load up a spell checker and let it run - it won't catch "stared" when you mean "started" nor "rally" when you mean "really," and so on.

At first, I was a bit reluctant to propose phrasing changes, but as time passed and my writer and I developed a good rapport, I will edit phrases and suggest "color" and added dialog/narrative to add "color."

The edited chapters are then sent, in sequence, to a team of proofreaders, who will still catch a few typos and misused words. Heck, some even creep into the posted chapter, and THEN we feel the wrath of the grammar/spelling nazis in the general SOL readership!

My job, as I see it, is to do a thorough first review of the story grammatically, catch continuity errors, and, where possible and practical, recommend tweaks. Most importantly, with my writer, I am a sounding board to his ideas, and provide feedback.

I'm having fun!



Exactly ,,,




"Proofreading is the reading of a galley proof or an electronic copy of a publication to detect and correct production errors of text or art. Proofreaders are expected to be consistently accurate by default because they occupy the last stage of typographic production before publication."

"This handout provides some tips and strategies for revising your writing. To give you a chance to practice proofreading, we have left seven errors (three spelling errors, two punctuation errors, and two grammatical errors) in the text of this handout. See if you can spot them!"

Proofreaders are not editors. That's kinda why they're called proofreaders, not proof editors, don't ya know. :)


@Crumbly Writer

Homonym example: Herd for a group of livestock, as in riding herd, versus heard for listening to and hearing something. My specialty tends to be homonym police.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater


Unless you heard the herd when they stampeded.

John Demille


I had a lot of issues with editors/proofreaders, so I usually self-edit/proofread.

My almost foolproof method for proofreading is to read the text from end to start, sentence by sentence. It's an annoying thing to do as your brain wants to read things in order, but once you're reading that way, there is no flow to the narrative and your attention gets focused on each sentence. I catch about 98% of errors that way.

It's the last thing that I do before posting.

And yes, of course, my works are far from technically perfect.

Crumbly Writer

I've stated this in the past, but with a new forum, I'll say it again: along with the various editors and proofreaders, there's something else to keep in your pocket, fellow authors.

If you have issues with a story/chapter, authors can see issues (like pacing, foreshadowing, overemphasis) that others won't notice. Content editors are supposed to notice these details, but from what I've seen, it's best to get people who do it on a daily basis. So, be nice out there and try to build a group of similar authors who owe you favors for when you need it.


I've dealt with only a few editors in my time here at SOL. None of them is/was the kind of editor who'll comment on the thrust of a storyline. All of them have, at times, sent me comments to the effect that "How did he shoot a carbine from underwater?" or "Why did she react so strongly to ____ ?" That's a kind of short-term storyline criticism, I think.

Most of, my proof readers, have, used punctuation, differently than, I have. I can, live with; that. :-) (And no, to my current editor(s), it doesn't bother me at all,;.! )

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater


For those wanting a real good idea of what a professional editor for a publishing house does, read Wes Boyd's Picking Up the Pieces as that's what the main character in it does for a living and a lot of the details are in the story actions.


Crumbly Writer


Harry, your SOL editors are still proofreaders. What they're marking is inconsistencies. Content editors will flag plot holes, inconsistencies, confusions and unnecessary story segments. Typically, that type of editing requires a separate reading, at the very least, so they can put the entire story in context. It's hard to get SOL editors to deliver that kind of analysis, and they don't want to affect how you write ('put words in your mouth' is how it's normally referenced).

As far as punctuation differences, it's not a killer, but I'd describe which changes you accept and which you don't, and why. They'll usually keep correcting it for a while, but they'll eventually adapt to it. But just make sure that you can justify your decisions and aren't making a pig-headed mistake!

Replies:   Crumbly Writer

from a budding editor/proofreader p.o.v.: Firstly, I would not presume to actually change the text in the chapters I am sent.
I read through each chapter three times. The first time I read for story - continuity problems stare me in the eye (Jo was sent to help in the kitchen, and a minute later she's on exercise equipment in the courtyard | Mary turns into Marie) and continuity against previous chapters, as well as missing words etc.
Second read through is for punctuation and orthography. I read more slowly, disregarding the story aspect, and studying the text.
Third time is the same again, and I am surprised often at how much I missed in the second reading.

I insert my edits as suggestions into the text, mark them as red and italic in the editor, and flick the .odf file back to the author as attachment, with any additional thoughts in the body of the email message.

Then we discuss. I don't see myself as style editor - I am not a pro. But this is, in my perception, the best I can offer whomsoever might have chosen to have me help out.

Wouldn't dream running a spell checker over the text - I simply assume that that has happened before it ever got sent my way. But yes, I can see how that thought arises: I have recently re-read a whole bunch of stories by The Wanderer and despite two editors being named, they are full of spell-checker failures and homophone misses. :-(

Guess I fall into the 'grammar nazi' category of readers, because that sort of thing can really detract from my enjoyment of a good tale. But in my view the story is the author's, I can comment, and give my impressions beyond the editing, but they are the one who's writing it. I.M.O.

(by the way, I can take on one more story if anyone needs a(nother) reader - but I'm also a bit picky about what kind of project I'd take on - I'd have to read some of your stories first)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer


from a budding editor/proofreader p.o.v.: Firstly, I would not presume to actually change the text in the chapters I am sent.

There's the rub. Many amateur 'editors' refuse to delete unnecessary segments of a story, or to suggest changes, figuring they're 'changing the story', but that, too, is something the author needs to know. If a passage is unreadable (or requires the paragraph to be read three times to figure it out), then it needs to be flagged. If you (the proofreader) can replace a 27 word paragraph with one only 12 words, then it makes sense for you to suggest it. Believe me, no author is going to accept suggestions which don't fit the story. When editors (or readers) suggest changes to me, I usually rephrase them to fit my own writing style (and the character's voice). But, if it doesn't fit the story (or the character), then I'll explain Why I can't use it. At that point, the editor and I will usually hash out whether it can be rectified in another manner (addressing the issue while preserving the message in the original passage).

In the end, there's a LOT of hand-holding between author and editor. If an editor gets belligerent, they won't have a long career. Generally, they have to build trust (that they're recommendations are good), and they have to convince authors that tough choices are worth trashing parts of their stories for.

But again, those are very specific roles. Proofreaders focus on the text (grammar, punctuation, misspellings). Content editors deal with plot holes, or details which are simply wrong). Whereas, sometimes authors simply need about a pound of red ink!

Crumbly Writer

@Crumbly Writer

Peter, forgot to add this to the previous message. If you're ever in need of more busy work, let me know. You sound like you'd be a decent editor (aside from not using a red pen, that is. 'D)

See, Lazeez, this is why we need a 'private message to author' option!


As a reader who is way behind on his writing, I notice lapses that should be caught by proofreading. Many times, I find them amusing.

I stop reading stories that tell me about the action rather than showing what happened, or when they summarize discussions instead of writing actual dialog (or whatever word applies when more than two people speak).

Good dialog takes a lot of time and effort to write, but it makes the story come alive. The only time I want to see a dialog summarized is when:
A. it is not relevant to character development or plot line
B. it makes the story drag.

Those who read David Weber stories have seen him introduce new characters just to kill them off in an action sequence. By chronicling lives snuffed out as part of a larger conflict, he enhances the intensity of the story and the stakes for the primary characters. He makes the story far more visceral than a report stating, "We (they) lost _____ @ _____!" For even less impact, an unedited writer may just factually state the losses @ _____.

Many times, the kindest & most productive thing an editor can do for writers is to advise them, "Please go read Phil Phantom's 'Guide to Writing Good Trash' @http://storiesonline.net/article/Guide_to_Writing_Good_Trash. After that we can discuss how to 'Show Me; Don't Tell Me' and how to 'Use Active Voice -- the Voice of God."

Replies:   aubie56  Ernest Bywater


Apparently you don't like or read my stories. I do a lot of telling because I find most "showing" very boring! I don't read boring stories.

-- aubie56

Ernest Bywater


Maybe you should either rephrase that or reconsider what you read. I do a lot of showing the action and some telling the action. I vary the show and tell depending upon how I want to develop or pace that part of the story. There are a few times I tell some action to avoid legal issues and leave the action off the screen.

Crumbly Writer

Showing vs Telling is a tricky business. While it sounds good, it's often a very narrow blade you walk. It works best in short stories, where the showing carries most of the story and there isn't as much plot to convey. But as Ernest points out, there are other considerations, pacing being prime among them. Also, dialog doesn't come naturally to many writers. I happen to be good at it, and use it a lot, but there are plenty of decent writers who just don't do it very well. It's not a skill that gets better with practice. Either your dialogues sound natural, or they don't.

Both Aubie and I have wrestled with 'showing more', even though we both do fairly well in storytelling. I've strengthened my showing by working at it, but again, that doesn't always translate into greater downloads. What's more, concerning typos, as disconcerting as they are, they're only noticeable when the story lags. With fast paced chapters, editors, authors and readers rarely find typos, whereas they'll find plenty in slower pieces. I seriously doubt that people's writing gets that much better when they get excited about a story, instead, they get carried along just as the reader does.

All that said, I'm not as belligerent about showing as Aubie is. But, I do like to see results, and there are better areas to invest your time than working in areas you just aren't as good at, and where improvements aren't as readily noticed.

What's more, much of the 'show vs. tell' is style. People in bygone eras prefer one style, whereas people raised with newer styles prefer the other. It's not that stories in bygone eras were BAD, it's just that they don't follow the same style guidelines (like writing in present tense), as more modern writing.

Note: To clarify, my work to improve my showing has been noticed. My efforts to improve my writing, the flow of my narrative, and remove minor typos doesn't really bear out in improved scores.


I don't know how things work in the professional publishing world. A friend of mine has some e-books that I proofread for him, and I stick mainly to typo/grammar issues, but I do point out whenever a sentence is too convoluted or confusing, or if I notice some sort of continuity error. Other than that I don't really think it my place to second guess his plotline or his writing style. He has to live or die on that stuff on his own.

For myself, I was rather on my own for my first erotica story, so I just proofread it myself, and if I happened to come across something where I wanted to redo a sentence for clarity or plot reasons, I did. It worked out well enough so I continue to do it this way, with three full read-throughs to check for problems. It's not uncommon for me to find something to fix on that third pass and be amazed that I missed it the first two times.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer


I was lucky. When I wrote my first story, I'd fully investigated the site and talked to many of the authors. So when I was ready, I searched for editors and got some excellent ones, Switch and Ernest, who got me started, told me several shortcuts, then bailed once they had me on the straight and narrow. With the new information, another editors and was set.

I'm guessing most authors don't start quite as well. Lazeez, maybe you need to take that as a hint that the author resources aren't being recognized.

PervOtaku, the fact you don't see errors on your third read-thru is more likely to be the same thing that authors fall prey to. After that many passes, you read what you expect. Many very simple errors slip by that way. That's why I like using several editors. You'd think they'd all find the same errors, but that's a rarity. Instead, each one finds a completely different set of errors which, save for them, would end up in the published story.

As far as "putting words in an author's mouth", that shouldn't be a problem, but ... half of an editors job is negotiation. Authors very often have to be talked in off the cliff, or convinced you know what you're talking about. And every author has their 'breaking point' over how many times you can tell them the same thing. For some it's three or four times, for some it's none.

I'm still learning my craft, and my many editors are always teaching me something, usually thing unrelated to English. For that, thank you one and all.

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