Probably the most essential and most misunderstood functions in the production of a book are editing, typesetting (composition), and proofreading. While these functions are not the same, they are complementary. A good editor is also a proofreader; a proofreader must have a certain amount of editorial savvy.

Once a manuscript has been written, the editor becomes the author’s first partner in the production process. The editor’s goal is to help the author express himself or herself in the clearest, most reader-friendly way. The best editing, according to The Chicago Manual of Style, requires “close attention to every detail in a manuscript, a thorough knowledge of what to look for and of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical . . . decisions.” A polished editor does not rewrite an author’s book, but helps the author present his or her material skillfully and articulately.

The editor will edit a manuscript using three simultaneous processes: substantive editing, mechanical editing, and disk editing:

Substantive editing involves attention to style and presentation. The editor will suggest ways the author can rewrite or reorganize material for a smoother presentation. Substantive editing also requires the editor to catch any errors and infelicities.
Mechanical editing involves attention to such matters as consistency in spelling, capitalization, and treatment of numbers; subject/verb agreement; punctuation; syntax; and other similar details.
Disk editing involves ensuring the electronic integrity of the disk prior to composition. This involves cleaning the disk of all errant keyboard strikes, such as tabs, spaces, and hard returns. (a .pdf entitled Primer on Disk Editing is available free, click here).

The skilled editor always prepares a detailed style sheet showing the author what has been done in terms of spelling, hyphenation, grammar, and so on. The editor also prepares a list of queries to the author when communication about some aspect of the project is necessary.

Typesetting is that aspect of the production process that transforms the words of a manuscript into actual type faces and sizes. Typesetting follows the type specifications created by a type designer or outlined in standard designs publishers may use. Typesetting today is done with a computer using a page layout program such as QuarkXPress or Adobe® InDesign®

After a manuscript has been typeset, the proofreader becomes an integral part of the team, responsible for reading the edited manuscript against the typeset copy (known as page proofs). Before beginning to read, the proofreader reviews the editor’s style sheet to become familiar with the overall project. He or she will then make a number of passes through the page proofs, checking such essential page elements as headers/footers, folios, end-of-line breaks, and note/figure/table sequences. Only then does the proofreader do a meticulous reading of the page proofs.

While the proofreader is primarily responsible for correcting mechanical aberrations, he or she will also read page proofs for “sense,” noting any grammatical or substantive problems and bringing them to the editor’s attention. Once text is composed in a page layout program, any changes made by the author can be charged as author’s alterations, billable to the author. It is prudent to ensure that writing and editing are complete before giving composition authorization to proceed.