I hear the question each time I tell someone what I do. “What’s a copyeditor? Is that the same as a proofreader?” Sometimes the person asks me to review the structure of their novel.
Here’s the difference between editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders:
Editor – In this context, the editor is the one who helps with big picture items. Sometimes called a developmental or content editor, this editor’s job is to make sure the best story is being told. The editor judges if structure, voice, pacing, and characterization are working correctly, and if not, suggests changes.
The term editor can also refer to an editor-in-chief of a publication, or an acquisition editor for a press or publication.
Copyeditor – Sometimes called a line-level editor, the copyeditor looks at every line, paragraph, section, and chapter to make sure the word usage, spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, verb tense, modifiers, and more are all correct and working in service to the story. That last bit is the important part. The copyeditor makes the story cleaner and clearer.
Proofreader – The proofreader is the last set of eyes on a book or story before being published. The proofreader looks for typos, misused words, weird spacing, anything that detracts from the book’s readiness for publication.