Updated: Nov 13, 2018
Curious acquaintances ask me this a lot. Let me explain.
In short we help writers prepare the contents of their documents for publishing. But our role is much more involved than it may seem. Most writers seldom write their work into perfection by themselves; even the more successful ones need editors and other production specialists to publish their work successfully. Many writers start with an idea and two or three drafts, one of which they deliver to their editors for weeks, sometimes months, of input. William Zinsser, cherished American professor and non-fiction writer, wrote that writing well is one of life’s more difficult pursuits, and I strongly agree. I believe a trained editor is the serious writer’s best friend—a sidekick, if you will—and hiring one might mean the difference between publishing a bestseller or counting pennies.
We spend hours scrutinizing thousands of words every day to help our clients effectively communicate their ideas. A writer can write a good sentence in a dozen ways, but there’s only one way to write it best. So we editors correct, adjust, amputate, and reword until each sentence is as close to perfect as possible. We don't stop there though.
We work closely with our clients to make sure their documents match expectations. We look at each documentt globally, assessing the strength of its content and the logic and clarity of its organization and presentation. In editing novels, we help our clients bring life to characters and the worlds they live in. We make sure that the things they say and do are believable, and we accomplish all of these things without imposing our own voices on the text. We respect that each story is a creature, and so our role, in fiction editing and creative non-fiction editing, is to help our clients give their stories room to grow and move in the direction they—the stories themselves—want to go. Editing is a procedure like surgery and an art like sculpting.
Proofreading, on the other hand, can be thought of as the quality check before publishing. Highly trained, proofreaders make sure that a copy editor or writer hasn't left any errors in a document or otherwise added any in. They also check that a document meets design specifications and will flag errors in typeset material and design for a typsetter to fix to meet those specs. Up front, proofreading may sound like light work compared to a copy editor's, and it sometimes is, if the copy editor, writer, and typesetter have done their jobs well. Usually, however, a proofreader must work so slowly and diligently, reading each word individually (sometimes letter by letter), to make absolutely certain a document is perfect for publishing. Much of a document's success among its readers rests on the proofreader's shoulders.
Editors and proofreaders are experienced, specially trained professionals—we dedicate our lives to doing what we do. With much training and practice, we develop specialized skills in manuscript assessment and improvement. We scrutinize all parts of manuscripts with an educated skepticism that arrests every intruder threatening to weaken them, and we support our clients throughout their publishing journeys. At the very least, we help them sleep soundly.
Consider hiring a professional editor. You won't regret it.