I hadn’t been all that aware of it, but I suppose now that I should have: Just as some folks confuse words that sound alike for each other, not everyone has the same definitions for some of them. Case in point:

Define the following terms:  Proofreader, Copy Editor, Developmental EditorGhostwriter, Collaborator, Editorial Consultant and Writer.

About half the time I put in a bid on an “editing” job, I find I’m setting myself up, either for a whole lot more work than I had planned on for the compensation, or for a very unhappy client! (I’m now rebuilding my Rate Sheet to indicate how those roles differ from (and mesh with) one another, and how much I’m willing to perform them for while trying to make a living.)

Let’s do a little definition-work here (NOTE: I’ve performed in all of these roles at one time or another in my journeys, and am still willing to do so for the right price!). Comments are as always most welcome.

Proofreader: Once upon a time, back in the days of metal typesetting and printshops, this term was used to describe a person who sat hunched over two versions of the same material: an original (which had already been edited and otherwise smoothed out, so that it represented exactly how the content was to be represented in the final printing); and a printed-out version of what the typesetter had input from that original, in the typeface and font required.

The Proofreader’s job was not only to duplicate the original text, catching “typos” and other missed keystrokes, but also to notice “kerning errors” along the way, where the particular typeface needed to be tweaked to overcome its “leading” issues. In fact, to be a good and steadily employed Proofreader (back then it was mostly a union job and you got to be a Journeyman Proofreader after a time of displayed excellence and consistency), it was almost more important to get all that kerning right than to turn out cleanly-reproduced text. (I know, because I once spent several weeks as an Apprentice Proofreader, trying to qualify for Journeyman status, and fell down miserably on all that ‘kerning’ stuff!) For those curious few, here is further information on kerning.

This concept has now become mostly outdated in text publishing, although it still prevails somewhat in graphics and display advertising (with multiple fonts and typefaces used in the same visual presentation), the aesthetics are often at least as important than the content. Nowadays, with electronic-media “Spellcheckers” catching the obvious typos, and copy being read (as often as not onscreen, and from a single source, with no “proof” to compare it to), a Proofreader is far more focused on the wrong homophone (sound-alike) being used, or even on confusing structural issues in a sentence. As a result of this broader role in cleaning the copy, and use of a single source for the “proofing.” this person is also often confused with . . . a Copy Editor.

Copy Editor: This is the term for someone whose job is to make sure all the words are not only spelled correctly, but that the proper grammar, punctuation, syntax and usage is being employed. At another level, a good Copy Editor also spots places where descriptive phrases and clauses need juggling for better clarity, or where the same word repeatedly used in a series of consecutive sentences (or the same sentence) might be replaced with synonyms for more dynamic presentation. A Copy Editor also attempts to follow the particular stylesheet for writing (Chicago, AP, MLS, etc.), as desired by the Writer or his/her ultimate Publisher.

Any Writer (see below) who goes forward with a book or other writing project, without seeking out a good Copy Editor (not just a “Proofreader”) first, is just asking for trouble, or at least a substandard piece of work. Even those who can write fluently, and without noticeable errors, often find this out the hard way. Beyond that, a Copy Editor can also make suggestions for things overlooked (or overstated) in the text, and point the Writer toward better structure in the presentation; however, this is the borderline for those  not wishing to become . . . Developmental Editors.

Developmental Editor: This person seeks to flesh out, condense or rearrange the text, offering ideas to the Writer for smoother transitions, more interesting structure, fuller descriptions (or tighter ones to avoid redundancy) and a better overall product at the end. This advice might be presented as a series of suggestions, or as a completely restructured manuscript presented for the Writer’s approval. (In the latter case, the Developmental Editor has established a track record and is paid quite handsomely for essentially rewriting the book for the Writer to publish under his or her own name!)

The University of California Press in Berkeley provides a good definition of Developmental Editing: “ . . . intervention that moves content from one chapter to another, or rearranges the lion’s share of a chapter’s contents within itself, but that falls short of writing new material. It’s a tough definition to apply, because developmental editing almost always involves some writing, usually of transitional sentences at the beginnings and ends of passages. But when the freelancer finds herself interviewing the author in order to compose whole passages, she’s crossed over to the realm of ghostwriting [emphasis added].”

Ghostwriter: This person takes a pile of papers (written or virtual), or an outline (for a book or other presentation), and writes it into readable copy. This may involve fleshing out sketchy notes, or researching a topic (perhaps but not always using links provided by the “Writer” [sic]), and then rewriting the discovered results into an entirely new form. (There is now even a website-service (www.copyscape.com), where one may log in, paste a piece of suspected plagiarism into a box, and find out whether or not it has been lifted—in whole or even in part—from some other existing source. However, given the broad variety of verbiage available in the English language, a good ghostwriter can pass that “Copyscape test” easily with just a little effort and ingenuity.)

Ghostwriters make very good money if they are any good at their craft. Since they have no credit appearing in the published work, and are considered a “work for hire,” their only compensation is their up-front payments, and in most cases the “Writer” has done nothing to actually produce the text. (Sometimes, the Writer may offer at least a draft of the intended work at the beginning; more often than not, this is only a small part of the task, and is only intended to display the Writer’s “style” for the Ghostwriter to emulate.)

Writing Collaborator: This person often appears as “as told to” on the cover of the biography of an entertainment or sports figure. (The usual process involves receiving a piece of the proceeds from sales of the book, though there is also usually some up-front compensation for the time and effort involved.) The upside for Collaborators is getting their names on published books that will get wide distribution from the celebrity’s appeal, and then perhaps finding more celebs who want similar partnerships.

Editorial Consultant: Someone in this role may wear many hats, but is often as much about getting the Writer started on the path to writing (or re-writing) a book as concerned with actual editing of the text. One might seek out an Editorial Consultant to look through a pile of papers (notes, emails, texts, blog-postings, etc.), or even a rough Outline for the potential piece of writing, and then to offer suggestions as to what forms it might take (short story, article, poem, screenplay, book, etc.). The Consultant might take the beginnings of a short manuscript and suggest how it could be expanded—sentences into paragraphs; paragraphs into pages; pages into chapters—and then accompany the Writer through that quest to produce a full book. (The Consultant might also tell the Writer, “You have enough here for an article; someday it might grow up to be a book, but not just yet . . . !”) At another level, a Writer might have the first segment of an entire book already drafted, and be stuck as to where to take it next, or how to re-order the pieces for better impact (although this is already moving back toward Developmental duties).

Writer: This person should be the one to do all the actual writing of the book or other publication, but often is not. (If a Ghostwriter is hired, the Writer takes all the credit (or blame) on the cover and within the book for the result.) A smart Writer, however, knows better than to publish a book without first seeking at least some guidance (and “second set of eyes”) for the work.