Here is the question: Is there a difference between copy editing and proofreading? From a writer’s point of view, there is, but there isn’t. Some will say that the copy editor is tasked with the job of checking written material for grammar, spelling, and word usage, which is exactly what the writer hopes his or her proofreader is doing. Do I want my copy editor doing revisions or rewrites, or working on transitions? Do I want him or her adding color or tweaking dialogue? Do I want them toying with jargon or tinkering with the actually writing? The answer is an emphatic no. That is the job of a content editor or developmental editor, someone who is themselves a writer.
Writers cannot and should not try to copy edit or proofread their own work. That is a skill that is unique to copy editors and proofreaders. Copy editors and proofreaders are generally not writers, but they have an extraordinary eye of errors that most writers miss, even as they rewrite and rewrite.
Content and developmental editors look at a piece of writing and have an innate sense for raising the level of presentation without changing the voice of the piece or changing the tone and style. Yes, they work on the language of the piece, and yes they may add color or texture, but they do so with respect to the author and what he or she has created. It’s a great and important collaboration.
Copy editors and proofreaders do not suggest nor are they given the leeway to make major changes in the text. That is not their specialty. Their specialty is to make the document as clean as possible before it is put in the hands of the book designer. The content editor’s job is to make the piece as special as possible before it is turned over to the copy editor or proofreader.
This is not an argument over semantics. It is a statement about the very special skills that different editors bring to the written word. A writer respects both the copy editor and the content editor. The writer knows when his or her novel, biography, business book, or self-help book will benefit from employing either or both.