Do I need copy editing or proofreading?

How do I know if I need copy editing or proofreading?

I provide a free sample edit for any author interested in my services as a freelance book editor for a couple of reasons:

  • First, I believe it’s important for you to review my work before you make a decision that involves your money;

  • Second, giving me the chance to work on 1500 words of your manuscript allows me to better understand the level of editing you need, so I can give you specific advice about which editorial service would benefit your novel.

Still, understandably, many authors would rather ask the question before sending their sample chapter across for a demonstration.

While it’s not possible to generalize all manuscripts and assume that because you’ve done X you’ll automatically need Y level of editing, I’ve tried to answer this commonly-asked question as simply as possible below.

What is the difference between copy editing and proofreading?

One way to explain the difference between copy editing and proofreading is to think of writing a book as being similar to baking a cake. And that cake is going to be sold in a bakery. (I know. Hear me out...) In this vein, let's go one step more abstract and say that copy editing is like a taste test, while proofreading is like quality control.

In other words, copy editing is a process that will help you to enhance your manuscript based on a second opinion on its contents and to spot any flaws, while proofreading is the final ‘check’ of your completed manuscript before you send it off to be published.

What is copy editing?

After a copy edit, you may continue to work on your novel using the comments your freelance book editor has left as a guide.

When I read through a manuscript with my copy editing hat on, I’m looking for any inconsistencies in terms of both the story and writing style, while also reviewing the text and its readability to see if any sentences or phrases can be rearranged to improve the overall reading experience. I am not looking to make huge changes to your plot, but if I notice an area that needs some extra attention, I will offer this information to you with any suggestions as part of my affordable copy editing service.

Usually, a manuscript will go through (at minimum—though bear in mind, this can vary massively between manuscripts) two rounds of copy editing before it is ready for the next stage: proofreading.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step before publishing your book. A freelance proofreader will go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb to check for any stylistic or grammatical errors that are still lurking between sentences.

When I’m wearing my freelance proofreading hat, I am aware that the manuscript I’m working on is a near-finished piece of work. It has already been through at least one copy edit, so you do not want me to make any further changes or improvements to the story. I am reading through with an eagle eye for stray grammatical, punctuational, spelling, and accuracy errors. My changes will be minimal because your manuscript should already be in great shape from previous copy edits. This is the final stage of the editing process, and therefore, I take my role as a proofreader seriously, to highlight and change any annoying errors that you wouldn’t want to find in your published book.

Pro Tip: You should start searching for a freelance proofreader only when you are absolutely sure that you do not want to change anything else in your manuscript. Otherwise, you risk spending a lot of money to get your manuscript proofread, only to go back and undo the work when you decide to make further changes.

What is developmental editing?

If we go back to the cake-baking analogy, with copy editing being like a taste test and proofreading like quality control, developmental editing is the part of baking a cake that you have to achieve before you reach those steps: you’ve figured out your base recipe but you still need to find those extra ingredients to pull the whole cake together.

Developmental editing (sometimes referred to as structural editing) comes before copy editing and proofreading. It is usually the first stage in the editorial process.

A freelance developmental editor will read through the early draft of your manuscript and guide you through the revisions process, offering suggestions for how to improve your manuscript in many aspects—from plot, pacing, characterization, setting, theme, and sometimes, a freelance developmental editor will even assist you with stylistic and grammatical changes.

The service can vary between each freelance book editor, but typically, developmental editing is the most expensive editorial service because of the breadth of work it covers.

When I have my developmental editing hat on, for instance, I will be paying attention to all the elements listed above while also providing a light copy edit to make sure that I’m not only presenting a list of suggestions and ideas to you when I return your manuscript, but a much cleaner draft, too. Not all freelance editors will offer this as part of their developmental editing service, so bear that in mind when searching for a freelance book editor and always be sure to confirm exactly what a freelancer’s service includes.

Can I work with the same freelance book editor to copy edit and proofread my manuscript?

Let’s put it this way: You could work with the same freelance book editor to provide both a copy editing and proofreading service, but if you did this, you would be relying on your editor to perform the quality control on their own work. It’s not a reliable method.

Editing can be very subjective, even between editors who work to the same style guide. One editor’s weakness could be another’s strength, which is exactly why it’s important to work with two different editors if you have a budget for both a copy edit and a proofread. This leaves much less opportunity for errors to go unnoticed in your published book.

Do I need copy editing or proofreading?

If you want to publish the best quality book that you can, the simple answer is that you should work with both a copy editor and a proofreader (and even a developmental editor, too, if you have the budget).

But sometimes it just isn’t possible to pay for all stages of the editorial service. In this case, can you exclude a step in the editorial process and choose to work with only a freelance copy editor? Of course you can. Is this advisable for every manuscript? Of course not.

Where budget restricts you, it’s always best to get a feel for how much each stage of the editorial process will cost, and (if you’re only restricting yourself to one: either a developmental edit, copy edit, or proofread) then choose the highest level of that particular service you can find within your budget.

Like I mentioned above, it’s not possible (or sensible) for me to suggest that if you’ve done X then you need to choose Y level of editing. All manuscripts are different.

Pro Tip: Remember to always ask for a sample edit before you make a final decision on which freelance book editor to work with, and always ask for an editor’s opinion about which service will be most beneficial for your manuscript.

Affordable Book Editing Service

As part of my mission to offer an accessible, affordable book editing service to authors from all backgrounds, I keep my rates as a freelance book editor below the recommended industry rates.

Please feel free to send me an email at or use the contact form on my website to enquire about my availability. You can also visit my home page to view my limited-time book editing discount.

Click here to learn more about my affordable book editing service.


I am a freelance editor and published writer offering friendly, affordable book editing services. From my base at home in the UK, or while over in the USA, I work with authors and publishers internationally. I'm a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.


Bryony Leah, freelance editor, freelance writer, affordable book editor, affordable book editing services, ebook editor, romance editor, fiction editor
Bryony Leah, freelance editor, freelance writer, affordable book editor, affordable book editing services, ebook editor, romance editor, fiction editor
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Bryony Leah, freelance editor, freelance writer, affordable book editor, affordable book editing services, ebook editor, romance editor, fiction editor
Bryony Leah, freelance editor, freelance writer, affordable book editor, affordable book editing services, ebook editor, romance editor, fiction editor

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