Choosing between copyediting vs content editing

Why should you consider the difference between copyediting vs content editing services? Because knowing the distinction between copyediting and content editing can significantly impact the quality of your book. When considering the choice between copyediting vs content editing, you should recognise that while both are crucial, copyediting addresses the technical aspects of the manuscript. Copyediting is more technical and aims to ensure your work is error-free and refined. On the other hand, content editing is not about fixing grammar or typos but enhancing your writing. Instead, it ensures that the structure, plot, argument or characters are developed and relevant to your readers.

This article will provide straightforward, reliable information that decodes your dilemma. It will touch upon the differences between copyediting vs content, when to hire an editor, how to find a reliable editor and how much you should pay for their services. 

Our goal is simple: to empower you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions on copyediting vs content editing. Let’s go!

Understanding the basics: Copyediting vs content editing

What is copyediting?

Copyediting can be likened to the precision tuning of a musical instrument. It entails a detailed review of your manuscript. The role of copyediting is to ensure that your work is error-free and refined.

When considering the choice between copyediting vs content editing, you should recognise that while both are crucial, copyediting addresses the technical aspects of the manuscript. It is the bridge that ensures your words resonate naturally with your readers.

Engaging a professional editor for this phase is not merely a recommendation. Rather, it is a strategic move that can make a substantial difference in the quality and marketability of your book. This investment significantly contributes to your work’s organic growth and success in the self-publishing landscape.

When to choose copyediting?

The decision of when to choose copyediting in the broader landscape of copyediting vs content editing is based on your publishing timeline. For instance, consider copyediting if your manuscript is nearly polished and you seek that final layer of perfection.

It is like the final touch-up a photographer gives to a well-composed picture. This phase is not about reimagining plotlines or character arcs but about perfecting the technical elements that ensure your words flow smoothly and professionally. Copyeditors ensure your text is error-free, making it ready for publication.

What is content editing?

Content editing is the critical phase in the editorial process, where the spotlight shifts from the technical details to the broader canvas of your manuscript. Think of it as sculpting a block of marble into a work of art. Content editing is not about fixing grammar or typos but enhancing your writing.

While the difference between copyediting vs content editing represents distinct stages, content editing is where the magic happens. It is the phase that transforms a good manuscript into a remarkable one. Engaging a professional content editor is akin to having a craftsman refine your literary masterpiece. This ensures it resonates naturally with your readers and sets you apart in the competitive world of self-publishing.

When to opt for content editing?

Like in copyediting, timing is crucial when deciding when to opt for content editing in the context of the choice between copyediting vs content editing. Content editing should be your choice when your manuscript requires significant structural adjustments.

These include aspects such as plot enhancements or character development. It is the phase where the big-picture elements of your work come into focus. This phase goes beyond fine-tuning sentences; it is about ensuring the entire narrative flows seamlessly, engaging readers on a profound level.

Now that we have explored the fundamental distinctions between copyediting vs content editing, let’s summarise these key differences and similarities in a clear and concise table for a quick reference guide. This comparison will help you decide which editing phase suits your manuscript’s specific needs and goals.

AspectCopyeditingContent editing
FocusTechnical aspects such as grammar, spelling, punctuation and consistency.Structural and stylistic aspects, including plot or character development.
PurposeEnsure text is error-free, polished and consistent in language usage.Enhance overall storytelling, coherence and reader engagement.
Typical changesCorrecting grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.Revising and reorganising content for clarity and impact.
Sentence structureFocus on sentence-level improvements.Focus on paragraph and chapter-level improvements.
Tone and styleMinor adjustments to maintain a consistent tone and style.Significant adjustments to enhance the writing style and storytelling.
TimelineTypically occurs after content editing and before proofreading.Usually precedes copyediting, sometimes overlaps with it.
Editor’s roleEnsures text adheres to grammar and language rules.Enhances the manuscript’s overall quality, flow and readability.
ObjectiveMake the text technically flawless.Improve the manuscript’s substance and impact.
ExamplesCorrecting typos, punctuation issues and inconsistent language usage.Rewriting paragraphs for clarity, refining character development, etc.

What is the ideal sequence between copyediting vs content editing?

The ideal sequence between copyediting vs content editing can significantly impact the effectiveness of the editorial process. Generally, it is advisable to start with content editing before moving on to copyediting.

Content editing should come first because it addresses your manuscript’s broader structural and stylistic aspects. Content editors focus on refining the storyline, character development, plot consistency, and overall narrative flow. They may suggest rearranging chapters, eliminating redundancies, or reworking sections to enhance clarity and impact.

Once the content editing phase is complete and you are satisfied with the core substance and structure of your manuscript, then it is time to bring in a copyeditor. As mentioned earlier, copyediting deals with the finer details: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency. It ensures that your text is error-free and polished, preparing it for publication.

This sequence ensures you are not polishing the surface (copyediting) before the foundation (content editing) is solid. It allows you to make substantial changes during content editing without worrying about fine-tuning sentences that might later be altered or removed during the structural revisions.

What should you consider when seeking these services?

Define your needs and goals

When you are in the process of hiring a copyeditor and content writer, it is crucial to start by clearly defining your specific needs and goals for your project. Take a moment to understand the precise requirements of your manuscript. Are you looking for a professional editor to polish and refine the narrative flow of your story, or do you need someone to enhance the clarity of the argument and evidence in your non-fiction work? It is essential to pinpoint your objectives, whether it is strengthening character development, aligning with a particular genre, or achieving a specific writing style. This preliminary step is invaluable as it enables you to identify an editor or writer who specialises in the genre or topic that is most relevant to your text.

Seek expertise and experience

When in the process of hiring a copyeditor or content writer, the importance of expertise cannot be overstated. It is vital to seek out professionals who possess a strong background in their respective fields, whether it is copyediting or content writing. Look for a track record of success in refining projects similar to yours. An experienced editor or writer brings a wealth of knowledge and skills to the table, providing valuable insights that align seamlessly with your creative vision while ensuring your work adheres to industry standards. So, as you embark on your search, prioritise expertise and experience to ensure your project reaches its full potential.

Request samples and portfolio review

Ask potential copy and content editors for samples of their previous work. Moreover, reviewing their portfolio gives you a glimpse into their editing style and the value they can bring to your manuscript. Look for consistency, clarity and the ability to enhance the narrative or argument.

Check references and testimonials

Reach out to authors who have previously worked with the editors you are considering. Their first-hand experiences may provide valuable insights into the editor’s professionalism, communication skills and impact of their work. Testimonials and recommendations are powerful indicators of an editor’s reliability and effectiveness.

Discuss rates and agreement terms

Transparent communication about rates and terms is essential to avoid misunderstandings later. Understand the pricing structure of copy and content editing and whether it aligns with your budget and timeline. A reputable editor will provide transparent information about their fees and what is included in their services.

Consult professional organisations

Begin your search for proficient copy/content editing services with recognised editor associations. These organisations ensure their members receive ongoing training and adhere to a code of ethics. The commitment these organisations set forth makes their members reliable sources for top-notch and appropriately priced services. Here is a list of the professional editing associations:

How much should you budget for these editing services?

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading suggests starting copyediting rates at £34.70 per hour. These rates reflect professional editors’ expertise, training, and extensive experience. According to the Editing Freelancers Association, prices for substantive/developmental editing range as follows:

Be cautious if you come across lower estimates for copyediting services; they could indicate a compromise in editing quality. Notably, a copyeditor’s work goes beyond surface-level corrections. While tasks like refining text and compiling style sheets are important, the process begins with thoroughly reading the entire text. This initial step helps the editor assess the editorial intervention required to enhance your work.

 Per wordPer hour

Final thoughts

The writer’s dilemma of choosing between copyediting vs content editing is a pivotal decision in the process of crafting a compelling manuscript. As we have explored, copyediting ensures your text shines with technical perfection, while content editing focuses on the broader canvas of structure and narrative.

The ideal sequence, often beginning with content editing followed by copyediting, allows your work to flourish in substance and polish. In this process, professional editors play an indispensable role in elevating your writing to its fullest potential. Whether you opt for copyediting, content editing or both, each phase contributes to the success of your manuscript. The key lies in understanding when and how to employ these editing services, ensuring your words captivate and resonate with your audience.

By harnessing the power of these editing services, you can confidently navigate the publishing competition, knowing that your story will reach its audience in its most polished and impactful form. Contact me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount) to determine if your manuscript may benefit from developmental editing. If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitterFacebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors.