Proofreading and copy-editing a book

Proofreading and copy-editing a book

Four people are involved in the publication process of a book: the author, the copy-editor, the proofreader and the publisher.  

The author submits his/her book to a publisher, then the script is sent to a copy-editor who is either in-house or external. Whereas, in the past, it was not unusual for authors to submit their script to a publisher as a hard copy or even as a handwritten document, it is now probable that it will be prepared electronically and submitted to the publisher and copy-editor as an email attachment. The copy-editor corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation, typographical and factual errors. Most publishers have a house style and will send authors and copy-editors an appropriate style sheet to ensure consistency in the book. It concerns: font type and size, headings, use of brackets/parentheses, quotation marks (single or double), italics, the use of numbers (Arabic or Roman numerals, or words) as well as capitalisation and indentation. A copy-editor should generally check for consistency; for example, if we are told in Chapter 1 that a person lives in remote location where there are no shops and then in Chapter 2 we are told the person takes a five-minute walk to the local shop. Sometimes the author may not have said clearly what he/she means, so the copy-editor should alert the author to this. There are various levels of editing, from substantial (or intensive) which takes an overall look at the text and restructures sentences as well as making the aforementioned changes, to a basic grammar/spelling consistency editing. The editing level must be agreed with the author. Following the completion of the copy-editor’s work, the marked script is then sent to the English proofreader

There should be no errors (or at least very few) in the book when it reaches the proofreader, but copy-editors are human and sometimes make mistakes. The proofreader is a double check, and reads the book from cold. He/she looks for the smallest errors; common examples of errors at this stage are double spacing between words and repetition of words. No one checks the book after the proofreader, so we can imagine there a notice on the proofreader’s desk saying,” The buck stops here.” Indeed, the book now goes to print and it is too late to correct any errors.  

From the days of manual typesetting and printing, copy-editors and proofreaders have used a standard set of symbols in text and in the margins. These enabled printers to correct mistakes quickly. However, in this digital age, this is less common and it is more likely that tracking will be used on a word processor. Also, it is becoming more common for the same person to copy-edit and proofread, in which case, I would advise taking a short break before proofreading in order to read the book as if from cold. 

Finally, two golden rules. (1) Never change the author’s style, even if you don’t like it. (2) Never change the meaning.

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