Myth Busting – Copy Editors

editorial myths busted


I don’t know about you, but I’m a member of a fair few groups on Facebook, I live on Twitter and I roam the halls of LinkedIn.

When I’m taking a break from work I have a little mooch here and there, and sometimes I see people making comments that make me sad.

Sometimes it’s just people being bolshy.

Sometimes it’s people who genuinely don’t know what copy editors do.

And sometimes I see comments by people who’ve been dealt with harshly or who’ve been well and truly scammed.

oh dear

The Myths

Does any of this sound familiar?


‘Don’t bother with a copy editor, you can do that yourself.’

‘I got my friend next door to edit for me, they used to be a teacher.’

‘I don’t need a copy editor, I’ve got a degree in English.’

‘I won’t use an editor again – my manuscript was covered in corrections.’

‘That editor I hired was harsh, I’m obviously rubbish, it’s really put me off writing.’

‘I can’t afford an editor. Why pay the prices when I can hire one for half the price on a freelancers for hire site?’

‘That editor I hired hardly changed anything.’

‘The editor sent my document back and said they can’t work on it further until I make changes. Isn’t that what I’m paying them for?’

‘The editor seemed ok, but wanted to alter my work beyond recognition.’

‘I just didn’t feel comfortable with the edit and the editor. I’m never doing that again.’


Copy editors see (and hear) these words all the time. So perhaps it’s time to dispel a few myths?




‘Don’t bother with a copy editor, you can do that yourself.’


Sure you can. But that doesn’t mean you’ll do it right.

Being a copy editor is a highly skilled, professional occupation. We have the training, the experience and expertise to whip your writing into shape. We use the right style guides, the right dictionaries and the right resources to help you make the most of your writing.

By hiring the right copy editor, you can free up your time and let us do the polishing.

sparkling polished book



‘I got my friend next door to edit for me, they used to be a teacher.’


That’s great. But have they trained as a copy editor?

A copy editor wouldn’t presume to teach English in a school unless they’d trained as a teacher. Grammar is only part of a copy editor’s job – we understand the nuances of writing in a variety of disciplines and understand that not all writing is the same. We keep the author’s voice rather than stick rigidly to ‘rules’ and do a whole lot more.


Why Copy Editors Matter



‘I don’t need a copy editor, I’ve got a degree in English.’


Aaah, but an English degree won’t usually teach you about copy editing. Even though you’re good with grammar and spelling, there is so much more to copy editing. Added to the fact that writers are too close to their writing to copy edit it themselves, you’re much better off hiring a professional.




‘I won’t use an editor again – my manuscript was covered in corrections.’


Having your work edited is scary. Believe me I know, I’ve seen it from both sides.

But your editor will only change what’s needed according to your brief or your needs. The best thing to do is leave the manuscript for a few days then read it through and see what’s what. It’s rare for an editor to track ALL their changes (there are some things most clients don’t want to see), but sometimes the client either asks to see all changes or the edit needed a ‘heavy edit’.

The editor is just doing their job by helping you do yours. You don’t have to accept all the changes, but the editor will always have a reason for a change. If you disagree or don’t understand any of the changes, just ask.


copy editor



‘That editor I hired was harsh, I’m obviously rubbish, it’s really put me off writing.’


No editor should be harsh to a client. If you feel the edit was hard, talk to your editor. Ask them for guidance. Ask yourself if you’re too close to the writing and are taking this personally. Leave the manuscript a few days to avoid having an emotional response.

If you still feel that the editor was unduly harsh then the problem may be with them rather than with you. Sometimes working relationships just don’t work.

Don’t give up on your writing. Use the notes you’ve been given to rewrite and find a different editor that you can work with.




‘I can’t afford an editor. Why pay the prices when I can hire one for half the price on a freelancers for hire site?’


Everyone needs to make a living. It’s a sad fact of life.

When you see the prices on those people for hire sites, ask yourself – what are you getting for your money, will shortcuts be taken, are these people trained and what experience do they have.

What guarantees do you have that they are genuine?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of very good, qualified editors out there who use those sites to fill schedule gaps (I’ve even considered it when work has been slow) but there are also unqualified ‘editors’ who are just out to make a quick buck.

When you hire someone you aren’t just paying for the physical hours, you’re paying for expertise, equipment, training, experience, professional memberships and CPD too.

If you find a cheap editor, that’s fine. But don’t lose track of what value you will get for your money. A more experienced editor may provide more value for money in the long run.

jar of money



 ‘That editor I hired hardly changed anything.’


It’s a myth that every edit will produce a manuscript full of red marks and corrections.

If your writing is good, your voice and point of view are consistent and your spelling on point, there may be few corrections to make. And remember that not every change made will be seen – there are a lot of background changes that are important but not tracked, for example changing hyphens to dashes, numerals to spelt out numbers, getting rid of extra spaces and paragraph returns. If an editor showed you every change made your document would be so full of tracked changes that you’d struggle to see the text.

I’ll bet that there are a lot more changes made than you’ll see in your returned manuscript.

magnifying glass



‘The editor sent my document back and said they can’t work on it further until I make changes. Isn’t that what I’m paying them for?’


Nope. You’re paying your editor to go through your text and correct it, standardise it and generally make it better – you’re not paying them to rewrite it for you (unless you are!).

A professional editor will know when a manuscript needs more work, and will let you know if it’s better to rewrite first. Why waste your money and their time on a document that isn’t ready for a copy edit?

A professional editor will also know when the subject matter is out of their comfort zone, or if they don’t know enough about the subject to edit it. Despite an initial review of the material, sometimes an editor will find that they’re not qualified to work on a manuscript and will let you know sooner rather than later, often returning the document and advising either further changes or hiring a different editor.

This isn’t personal, it’s a professional courtesy.


meeting, team work, professional



‘The editor seemed ok, but wanted to alter my work beyond recognition.’


Is the editor professionally qualified?

Your editor should be able to keep your author’s voice during the edit. If huge alterations are suggested then ask your editor why. Perhaps your writing needs more work, your structure doesn’t work or you need help with your spelling and sentence construction.

An editor shouldn’t alter your work so it’s unrecognisable. Editors are there to help your writing be the best it can be.




‘I just didn’t feel comfortable with the edit and the editor. I’m never doing that again.’


Sometimes a working relationship just doesn’t work. It could be that your personalities clash, or your way of working doesn’t fit. You may just not get along.

Although you’re paying for a professional job it doesn’t mean that you can’t get along. If you don’t see eye to eye with your editor it doesn’t mean that the next editor will be the same.

Talk to each other before starting work. And if you really can’t work together it’s time to find a new editor. Be polite, firm and cut the ties. Then find another editor you do get along with.

goodbye, leaving your editor


So there you go, a few myths busted. Boom!


A Few Do’s and Don’ts


To help you find that excellent client / editor relationship hare are a few do’s and dont’s to keep in mind:


  • Seek out a reputable copy editor (a place to find great editors is the SfEP Directory).
  • Do ask questions and look for someone comfortable with your subject.
  • Set out a realistic budget.
  • Make sure your document is ready for a copy edit (have you self-edited and had beta readers or peers review your work first?).



  • Assume that just because someone is a teacher, English major, librarian, or trainer that they can edit or proofread effectively.
  • Assume that all copy editors are the same – some work on everything (within their subject knowledge), some work on academic texts only, or fiction, or business material. Not all writing is created equal.
  • Go with the cheapest option first. Check out a number of editors and see which one gives you what you need before looking at the price tags.


blank checklist



A few last myths to bust:

An editor shouldn’t make mistakes.

We’re only human. Of course we make mistakes. And if we make them in the course of our work, which is rare, then we admit it and try to move on professionally. Everyone has ‘off’ days.

Especially when we’re off-duty – cut the editors on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram some slack.


Editors are always switched on to spotting mistakes and correcting them.

Yes and no. We spot mistakes all the time, but we don’t necessarily feel the need to act on them. No one likes a smart arse.


Editors real ALL the books.

Believe it or not, some editors feel the need to get away from books when they’re not working.

My book pile is growing!
My book pile is growing!


That’s not me though; I read, I write and I edit. Books are my life.

With that in mind, as I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, don’t forget that I have a special discount for NaNoWriMo winners. Bag yourself a 10% discount on a mini manuscript assessment (that’s £135 instead of £150 for a critique of your first 10,000 words).

Just mention the special NaNo discount when you contact me.


How to win at NaNoWriMo

winning, professional advancement



What exactly is NaNoWriMo?

During November many people have only one thing on their mind – winning NaNoWriMo and ending the month having written a novel. Becoming a fully fledged novelist.

The name is short for National Novel Writing Month but it really should be International Novel Writing Month. It’s huge. Thousands of people from all over the world take part each year. Participants set themselves a goal to finally get their novel written, and to ‘win’ NaNo you have to write 50,000 words in a month, or 1,677 words a day, which if you’re a writer will know is no mean feat.

lots of words on paper

I know. I’ve done it. I won once, lost abysmally once and ended up with the beginnings of three novels, all of which bombed spectacularly when I got to the midway point. It’s not easy.


If you take on NaNoWriMo I have good news and bad news for you. If you’re a NaNo veteran you’ll probably know this. The good news is you’ll have your novel written. The bad news is it’ll be nowhere near finished. But there’s also more good news … whether you win the challenge or not, you will have the bones of a book that you can flesh out at your leisure. And as long as you don’t give up, you may well end up with a novel that just might sell.


Why your book won’t be ready when you’ve finished NaNoWriMo


For a start November is manic. You write and you write. You drink lots of coffee, forget to do the things most normal humans do (like eat, sleep, take the bins out, feed the cat …) and writing pretty much fills up your world. But at the end, if you’re lucky, you have a ‘knock it out on the keyboard until your fingers bleed’ novel. Some of it may barely make sense, your protagonist might change his appearance more times than is healthy and there may be amazing feats of ingenuity to get the story going.

You’re going to have spelling mistakes, continuity errors, sections that need adding and some that need remorselessly ripping out. There will be bits that make sense, bits that don’t, clunky dialogue and some bits that will just have you scratching your head. Those sections you write at 3am after a bottle of red wine and three packets of ciggies won’t necessarily be your best work. We’re not all Ernest Hemmingway.

And even when you have that warm glow of winning the challenge the word count is more novella size than novel. Novellas are fine, but if you want to write a novel you will have to up your word count to more like 80,000–85,000 words.


Don’t despair, you can win this!


That was the bad news. The good news is that even if you don’t ‘win’ in November you can take what you have and progress it further. Carry on writing until you’ve finished, even if it takes you through into the new year.

All it takes is time, patience and determination. Use the resources available to you and you can win this.


How to win at NaNoWriMo (even if you don’t win NaNoWriMo)

winner's trophy

So you have your book, things have calmed down … now what?

Don’t do what I did.

That ‘novel’ I wrote, the one that I had to get out of my system, it’s been languishing in a file on my computer for years. I couldn’t bear to look at it. So, even as I worked on other people’s novels, mine was mouldering, hidden away from view. I even managed to complete the OU’s Creative Writing courses without peeking at it once.

I researched the hell out of my subject, I got historical facts right and felt I had a good story. But I knew that there were flaws, a saggy middle and probably some very cringeworthy writing. What a waste!

bag of rubbish

Don’t leave your novel to rot away in the dark recesses of your hard drive.

How to win at NaNo? Once you’ve settled back into your normal routine it’s surprisingly easy, but it’s time consuming and you have to commit completely. And I really do mean commit. It’s what writers everywhere do if they want half a chance at publication.

My way isn’t the only way, but it’ll give you a framework to work towards.


The 5 steps to polishing your NaNoWriMo novel



What I have here is a five-step guide to making your 50,000 word novel as good as it can be. Now not everyone is a writer. Some of you might just find that perhaps writing really isn’t your thing after all, no matter how hard you try. That’s ok, I’m not a mathematician or a physicist. But you’ll never know unless you try.

So, once November is over and you have your file of scribblings here’s what to do:


1. Leave it

Seriously. Leave it. Really.

Take some time away from this piece of writing. You need to distance yourself from it for a little while so you can go back into it with a fresh pair of eyes (yeugh! You know what I mean).

Give yourself time to recover, have that bath you’ve put off for a month, eat real food and remind yourself that there is life away from the keyboard.

You need to forget what you’ve written.


2. Take a notebook and read it through

Now’s the time. You’ve got distance so you’re ready to dive in.

Grab yourself a notebook (or, if you really must, open up a new document on your computer) and read the novel through slowly. Read it as a reader. You’re going to note down the most obvious things that jump out at you.

Forget spelling mistakes, you’ll fix those next. For now, just note down your immediate thoughts as a reader:

Does the story make sense?

Would it read better if areas were moved around?

Do you like the protagonist?

Do you need to like them?

Does the story roll along nicely and have a satisfying ending?

Anything that comes to mind, jot it down as a base for your amendments. You’re being your first beta reader.


get help with your writing

3. Do a quick tidy up

Now you’re reacquainted with your writing it’s time for a quick tidy.

Use spell check and make sure your writing has structure. Give your chapters headings, set everything to one good font (such as Times New Roman or Calibri) and make your book easy to read. You’re making it look like a novel now, not 30 days of mad scribbling. Create a style sheet to make things easier as you go along. You don’t want to distract yourself with bad spelling and difficult to read text.


Woman Reading a Diary --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


4. Dissect your book

Now you’re ready for a deep dive.

Start a new page in your notebook (or document) and start a heading for each chapter.

As you read through this time, keeping in mind your first thoughts, note down what happens in each section or chapter. Each one should move the story forward in some way. Write a short summary under each heading and ask yourself:

Are there any gaps in the action?

Does the timing work?

Are the characters fully rounded and consistent?

Is the dialogue natural and easy to read?

Are there any bits that don’t make sense?

Are there any bits that are difficult to read?

Does the story move forward and have a beginning, middle and end?

Can anything be omitted or added to make the story better?

Are there peaks, troughs, tension and a three-act structure (setup, confrontation, resolution)?

character from a book

Also, make notes for each character – this is great for consistency and will help you make sure that your characters don’t suddenly change their name, eye colour, height or preferences halfway through the book.

If you fancy you can go further and create a timeline, map and detailed information on the places in the story. A timeline is especially good to see where everyone is at a given time and if someone suddenly jumps to another time or place without the real means to get there.

just write

5. Edit your book

Now it’s time to start the edit.

Use your notes as a guide as you start your rewrite. You’ll probably have lots of notes, so just start at the beginning. Don’t get overwhelmed. You’re starting the process of polishing your book. You’re moving your book through to the next level.

If you find it overwhelming step back for a while. There are tons of books out there too that will help you. Editing your story is not easy. You don’t even need to start at the beginning.

If you find a chapter where nothing much is happening ask yourself if something should be happening or if it just needs chopping. Does that great long piece of dialogue add anything to the story? Does the reader really need to know that the character had two eggs, three rashers and ten sausages for breakfast or were you just adding to the word count? There will be a LOT of that in your book, especially around the halfway mark.

Take your time. Revise and refine until you’re happy.

Then … start again at step one.


reading a book

When you’re completely happy (and this can take a few months or so of rewriting) find some beta readers. There are readers all around, from local writing groups to Facebook and Goodreads groups. Don’t give your book to friends or family if you can help it, you need a neutral reader who will give it to you straight. You can even get a professional editor, such as me, to give your manuscript an assessment.

Once you have their thoughts you can go back and revise, taking into account their feedback. This is a good thing!


So, what next?

editing proofreading publishing
(c) Nic McPhee Flikr

Only once you’ve rewritten, edited and reacted to readers’ thoughts can you move forward into the end phase of hiring a professional editor and put that final polish on your novel. And if you can’t afford a professional edit, a professional beta read or manuscript assessment will give you a professional opinion on where improvements can be made. There are loads of books and other resources out there that can help you, but nothing can substitute for a trained eye.

And finally, once you’ve edited, a proofread will make sure that your book is as good as it can be. Then it’s time to think about self-publishing or submitting to agents and publishers.



You can win at NaNoWriMo

bookshelves full of books

So you see, that month of madness need not finish with a 50,000 word half-finished manuscript. If you peek at the NaNoWriMo site you’ll see a list of published authors whose books started out as an idea one November.

All it takes is perseverance, a month of having no life, and a bucket of self-belief.

Good luck!



I’m offering a 10% discount on a mini manuscript assessment for all NaNoWriMo winners (that’s £135 instead of £150 for a critique of your first 10,000 words).

Just mention the special NaNo discount when you contact me.

Bloody Scotland

Bloody Scotland 2018

You know when you just have those ‘argh’ times?

You’re up to your eyeballs in ‘stuff’.

Not work stuff, just ‘stuff’.

Yup. That’s been me for the last couple of weeks.

Stirling Steps
Wise words at the top of Stirling town.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had work stuff too, but the ‘stuff’ stuff has had an impact.

The best of it, though, was Bloody Scotland.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It was magnificent.

Bloody Scotland sign

I started my weekend on Friday 21st September with the Crime Writing Masterclass.

This was a full day of writerly stuff. First there was a talk by Graeme MacRae Burnet (Sunday Herald Culture Awards Author of the Year 2017). It was wonderful to sit in a room listening to a real writer (I’m a writer, but until I’ve written a novel I’ll never consider myself one) and he was SO interesting. He actually set a theme that ran throughout the whole weekend – that old chestnut: to plan or not to plan. He lets the characters lead him organically through the story, which is what I tend to do, but there was a difference of opinion on this all through the festival.

Next we had AK Benedict and her section on bringing your prose to life. This was a revelation. Not because I actually got to put pen to paper for the first time in eons, but because she writes the way I do! She uses smell, sound and touch to tune into her writing. We worked through exercises that mirrored the way I work when I’m writing, and it was great to actually see others do this. I listen to music my characters (or customers) listen to, or surround myself with sounds that would surround them. I use smells, sounds and touch to connect. I’m not weird after all – hurrah!

A bit of free writing using touch as a prompt
A bit of free writing using touch as a prompt

After a lovely lunch at the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling we sat down to an Alison Belsham and Lorna Hill synopsis and pitch masterclass.  I also scared myself witless when I decided to volunteer to read my pitch to the room – after a fair number of very eloquent writers did the same. Let’s just say I’m not going to be going on stage any time soon! (B- must do better).

Finally we attended an industry panel consisting of an agent, and representatives of a small publisher and a large publisher. It was interesting to hear how they look for submissions that show commitment to writing, including having manuscripts edited and critiqued before publishers are approached.

Take note writers – it’s official, editors aren’t just there for self-pubbers!

My book pile is growing!

It was also explained how it’s still hard to get your book accepted by publishers if it’s already been self-published, so writers really do have to think carefully about whether traditional or self-publishing is for them.

And that was the end of the Masterclass.

What a brilliant set up for the rest of Bloody Scotland!

I won’t go into detail about the weekend but here are a few of my personal highlights, in no particular order:

A very full itinerary for the weekend. Who needs to eat when there are crime writers about?
  • Writers in the Spotlight. Before many of the big talks, emerging writers introduced themselves and read excerpts from their books. They were all brilliant. They also added a lot of titles to my reading list. Heleen Kist , Daniel Smith and CS Duffy are the three that I’m going to follow and add their books to my huge to-be-read pile.
  • The Brit Noir talk. A panel about stories that spin out of control and end in a dark, dark place (a bit like my journey into housework). A brilliant and enlightening hour. Cathi Unsworth’s, book based around the stories of Helen Duncan and the Witch Elm is currently sitting on my huge tbr pile.

Brit Noir

  • The gin at the Holy Rude. Bloody hell it was good. While the McIlvanney prize announcement was underway Stirling Gin treated us to a blood orange cocktail – the best thing I’ve tasted in ages. I’m now trying to figure out where to get blood orange syrup so I can make one at home.
  • The Fun Loving Crime Writers and Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. What happens when crime writers stop talking about books and let their hair down? Mischief, mayhem and music. Brilliant sessions which left me with one question … what exactly was the wine Val McDermid was drinking? (it looked lovely).
Two Crime Writers and a microphone
Two Crime Writers and a microphone – lots of truth and lies, and stories of soiled trousers.
  • Sue Black and Richard Shepherd. I fangirled. I’ve been wanting to hear Sue talk since my very first forensic Futurelearn course when she headed one of the best MOOCs (massive open online courses) I’ve ever taken. Sue and Richard lead immensely interesting lives, which are nothing like those crime shows where every crime gets solved and everyone is fine at the end. I could listen to them both talk for hours and hours and hours.
  • The Real CSI. Kate Bendelow has my total respect. She’s a real scene of crime officer and has seen things you really don’t want to see. She also sat for an hour and talked with Martyn Waites and Mark Billingham. It was my last session at Bloody Scotland and I really left on a high after such an enlightening and enthusiastic hour. It also left me with the knowledge that I will always wash clothes that I buy before I wear them. Don’t ask! (seriously, don’t!)
The Real CSI
My final session. Booo! I didn’t want it to end.
  • Flaming torches and crime writers. Nothing can prepare you for wandering down old Stirling streets carrying a flaming torch behind some of the best crime writers in the world as the moon rises over the town. It was glorious.

 Torchlit parade Stirling


I was initially worried that I’d be an imposter among all the real writers but my mind was soon put to rest. I met the lovely Mysti Berry on a few occasions (in fact she was one of the first people I spoke to at the masterclass). She came all the way from San Francisco … buy her book, it’s for a great cause.

Mysti Berry

I also met Fiona Sussman up at the Church of the Holy Rude, just before the gin and Liam McIlvanney won the McIlvanney prize. She’s lovely and came all the way from New Zealand for the festival.  She’s also the 2017 winner of New Zealand’s highest crime honour, the Ngaio Marsh Award. I’ll be buying her books too!


Best of all, I managed to spend a day and a half with my editor buddy Eleanor Abraham. It was brilliant to see her again and catch up. She’s my kind of human and she put up with all my inane rambling along the way. Eleanor, next time there will be more gin drunk!

two happy editors
here we are … (c) Eleanor Abraham, 2018


So, despite a few weeks lately of ‘urgh’ stuff, there has been some brilliant stuff. I’m glad I took time off for Bloody Scotland. I hope it never again clashes with the SfEP conference, or I may have to alternate between the two – this cannot be the last Stirling weekend I go to. I have found my writing tribe.

I’ve found that crime writers are one huge family. They are friendly, supportive and love to laugh.

It was excellent to be among folks who didn’t bat an eyelid when talking about things polite society thinks odd.

What did I get from Bloody Scotland?

Friendship, great memories, new writing knowledge, a deep wish that I could clone myself and attend all the talks … and a bloody huge pile of books added to my teetering to-be-read pile.


If you need a copyeditor or copywriter contact me. You know you want to.

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