Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Writing: In Praise of Editors & Proofreaders
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

I originally wrote this post for the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ blog, but I hope readers of my own blog will also find it entertaining. I certainly enjoyed writing it!

(This is an abridged version of the original post, but you can read it in full on the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ website here.) 

Editors: Unsung Superheroes Who Save Authors from Themselves

No matter how well authors polish a manuscript before submitting them for professional editing, and regardless of how dazzling their prose, a good editor will always polish it further. In true superhero style, editors and proofreaders daily avert disaster, and I’m glad I’ve secured the services of two brilliant professionals to help me with my books, Alison Jack and Helen Baggott.

image of heavily edited manuscript
Just one of many rounds of self-editing that I do before passing my final, final, final manuscript into the hands of my trusty editor, Alison Jack

Classic Errors Spotted by Editors

Here are some typical errors recently shared by authors and editors on ALLi’s private member forum, spotted either in their own books or in books by other writers.

Continuity errors are too easy for an author to miss:

  • two unrelated characters sharing the same surname
  • eyes or hair spontaneously changing colour from one page to the next
  • a character’s medication changing from one chapter to the next
  • someone at the theatre sitting in mid-air (in the front row of the circle, they leaned forward to tap the person in front on the shoulder)
  • a character entering a flat twice without leaving in between times
  • a person landing at JFK before the flight has taken off from Heathrow (and in a different model of plane from the one in which the journey began)

Global search-and-replace can trigger disasters:

  • changing Carol’s name to Barbara was fine until the carol singing scene
  • swapping “ass” for “butt” resulted in a case of embarrbuttment

There are also comical typos that a spellchecker will let through because the words are correctly typed, but the meaning is wrong in the context:

  • a bowel full of sauerkraut left on the balcony to ferment
  • a female character becoming enraptured by the scent of a man’s colon
  • a trip on an udderless boat
  • the stoking of cats
  • an acute angel
  • the Suntan of Brunei

Serious Consequences (Bad Reviews) Averted by Editors

Author Geoffrey Ashe, in The Art of Writing Made Simple, classifies readers into three different groups:

  • the critical reader
  • the lazy reader who won’t make an effort
  • the one who has the eye for the comic or incongruous

If you’re an author, it’s worth keeping all three in mind while you’re writing and self-editing.

While an indulgent reader of the third kind might simply smile and move on, it’s also very easy these days for dissastisfied readers to post scathing reviews online, deterring others from buying your books in future.

So although this is a light-hearted post, the message is a serious one on the importance of the editor’s role in helping you publish your books to professional standards – or indeed anything else that you happen to be writing for public consumption, including blogs of business reports for work.

In Praise of MY Editor and Proofreader

While ALLi policy precluded me from giving a shout-out in the original post to the professional editorial people that I employ for my own books, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Alison Jack ( and Helen Baggott ( for regularly saving me from myself when editing and proofreading books for me.

I should add that this post has been edited only by me, so any errors it contains are entirely my responsibility – and proof of how dependent I am on the likes of Alison and Helen!


To learn more about the benefits of joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), visit their membership website:

To read more posts on ALLi’s Author Advice Centre blog (of which I’m commissioning editor, visit their blog site: 


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

3 thoughts on “Writing: In Praise of Editors & Proofreaders

  1. Fantastic piece Debbie, thank you (I am watching my Ps, Qs and punctuation very carefully as I type this!)

    As a debut author I have only recently entered the minefield of proofing and editing. A newspaper journalist by profession, I’m very familiar with the editing process. But editing a novel is something else entirely!

    I had often heard novelists describe the endless weeks stretching into endless months (and sometimes, years), as they polished, re-polished and polished again their precious manuscript like a diamond. I naively assumed they were perfectionists, or worse, were exaggerating: Pah! How could a book possibly require more than two rounds of proofreading, I thought. And what does an editor do for you that you can’t do for yourself – surely you are your own best editor (I Oh-So-Wrongly surmised). No one knows your work better than you do, so why allow a stranger wielding a red pen to stomp all over your precious prose in metaphorical hobnail boots?

    Of course I now know better. The manuscript I had thought was a near-final draft was nowhere near ready – as I realised when a brilliant writer friend with a planet-sized brain kindly proofread it for me. My face reddening, I saw the light – many, many more edits were required and not only by myself, for word blindness when dealing with your own work, is a real thing! I still occasionally wake in the wee small hours thinking about the enormous blooper that hid in plain sight in my novel’s all-important final paragraph for SIX WHOLE MONTHS before I spotted it! That such a glaring error could feasibly have made it into my final published book is terrifying. But it’s humbling too, and I now have huge respect for the great editors out there who frequently save our skin, and who you so rightly pay tribute to.

    I’m new to this game but having experienced the gruelling mental assault course of getting a novel ready for publication, I finally feel I can call myself a writer. For the editing process is a journey all writers share and understand, and one we can support each other with – practically and emotionally – to achieve sparkling results at the end of it.

    I would just add, recent discoveries lead me to believe there are quite a few bad editors out there too, making a good living from offering their services to wet-behind-the ears indie authors like myself. A glance at these editors’ websites reveals repeated typos and even errors in basic spelling and grammar. Clearly it doesn’t inspire confidence in their proof reading and editing services if they don’t proof their own work properly and/or cannot spell! It seems to me an industry has sprung up to make money from inexperienced, self published authors, a subject perhaps for another discussion, another day.

    Thankfully there are great editors out there as your piece confirmed, and these people are worth their weight in platinum to writers! I will be seeking out such an editor when I complete the sequel to ‘Reality Rehab’, for I know from bitter experience their input is invaluable and not a luxury but a necessity. Thank you for such an informative and entertaining post Debbie!

    1. Lisa, thank you for such a long and heartfelt reply! I’m glad you’ve made such progress with your own editing. It is quite the journey! You are absolutely right to point out that there are plenty of charlatans out there who offer editing and proofreading services that aren’t worth having – or that even do more harm than good! The trouble is, anyone can call themselves an editor or proofreader and advertise their services as such, and one has to be vigilant. It’s best to use only people who can give you personal references from satisfied customers who they are happy for you to contact – if they refuse to put you in touch with any of their previous clients, that’s reason to be suspicious! As part of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I’m thankful for the assurance that their Partner Members bring – we publish a services directory recommending only those who we know are tried and trusted. You can read a free copy of it here:

      Another great way of honing your novel prior to publication is to use beta readers – they will make your book so much better. We have articles about that on the ALLi blog, and here’s a link to the latest one: I love my beta readers with passion!

      Good luck with your novel!

      1. Gosh what a helpful and informative response, some great tips and those invaluable links too, which I will be following up – thank you! Becoming an author continues to be a steep learning curve for me. On entering a new professional world, one will always encounter heroes and villains (and sorting the two can be tricky before you know the ropes!) It’s still early days for me, and so far I have been lucky enough to ‘meet’ some really special writers like yourself, generous with your time and knowledge and inspirational in terms of your achievements and positive energy. I wish I had found you and your wonderful blog sooner Debbie, but I’m just so glad I did! You can be sure I’ll be a frequent visitor. My next big challenge is publicity – and other indie authors tell me this really is a challenge. I will be poring over your blog for tips! Thanks again for your warm and helpful message, it was a joy. Lisa. X

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