Copy Editors Matter

newspaper editors

Yesterday copy editors on Twitter came out in solidarity with their colleagues in the New York Times.

The paper is reported to be shifting to be more reporter focussed and is cutting down on the number of copy editors in the team from over 100 to around 50. And expecting the same level of accuracy in its written material.

As you would expect there is outrage, upset and a whole load of copy editors soon to be out of jobs. At a time when you would expect that accuracy would be foremost in the minds of the media.

I don’t work there so can’t comment other than it seems to be the state of things to come.

To give them their due, the New York Times actually reported on the walk-out.

If you want to see the Twitter thread go and search for #whyeditors

newspaper editor

I’d like to say I was shocked when I heard about the restructuring, but I wasn’t. It seems to be the way things are going at the moment. We are living in a world that increasingly wants things NOW and to hell with factual accuracy, readability and good plain English.

Go online and you will find ‘news reports’ from a large variety of providers that have obviously been typed up quickly and posted without any kind of editing or proofreading. Words are missing, grammar, spelling and punctuation is woefully bad and accuracy gives way to the immediate gratification of the readers. It’s the same with printed matter.

Books, magazines, newspapers, company information … wherever you find shortcuts you will find errors. Errors that can be easily and quickly remedied by hiring a copy editor.

‘It’s ok, we’ve used Hemmingway, Grammarly, Word spell check, given it to our English teacher/friend/neighbour/dog to proofread’, they’ll say.

‘No-one notices/cares/has the time or money or the inclination’, they’ll mutter.

But you know what?

People do notice and do care, and those automated helpers will only take you so far.

Computers cannot take the place of a real human being, no matter what the tech bods will have you think.

Copy editors:

  • Catch bias
  • Catch blindspots
  • Catch politically incorrect language
  • Catch potential libel
  • Catch potential offensive language
  • Catch copyright problems
  • See what you wrote, not what you thought you wrote
  • See what the readers see, not what you see
  • See holes in your argument
  • See padding in your prose
  • Fix errors in grammar
  • Fix errors in punctuation
  • Fix errors in format
  • Fix errors in style
  • Fix errors in voice
  • Spot missing information
  • Spot mislabelled information
  • Spot wrong information
  • Find repetition
  • Find overused phrases
  • Find ambiguity
  • Check readability
  • Check facts
  • Check links
  • Uphold quality
  • Uphold credibility
  • Uphold standards
  • Are invisible
  • Are invaluable
  • Save your ass more times than you realise

So you see, while editors tend to remain invisible, once they are gone you will notice.

All those errors will creep in, the standard of material will hit rock bottom and your credibility and accuracy will suffer.

If you want to remain ahead of the game, stand out above the crowd and be seen as having a quality product you really cannot ignore the role of the copy editor and the value they bring to your business.

why editors matter


There’s been a lot of interest in this image, so I’ve made it available over on my Redbubble site.

Typo Time

Oops! Road Sign with Dramatic Blue Sky.

I’ve had my head buried in work. It’s very interesting work, but this week has flown by. So I decided not to write a serious blog post (ok, I forgot, but hey a girl’s gotta pay the bills).

Working with words I’m used to spelling mistakes, heck I even make a few myself when I’m writing (even I am not immune, people), but there are a few that are obvious, some not so, some are rude and some are so frequent that a mnemonic really helps stamp them out.

Here are a few, and I’ll bet you have more (come on, let us know them, post in the comments below).

worry shock stepping out of comfort zone

Noooo! A spelling mistake! 

Lightening no, no, no, no, no. That’s not how you spell the powerful force of nature, unless, erm, it’s a birth related, feminine type you’re after (I’ll let you look it up in the dictionary).

They’ll tow your car away if you’ve been naughty, but if you see your car being toad away … run. Huge amphibians usually herald the apocalypse in bad 1950s sci-fi.

Shoplifters will be prostituted. Oh, come on, don’t tell me you haven’t seen prosecuted and made it into an x-rated punishment form.

If you see a sign to ‘please use the tongues’ in a bakery, please don’t lick the bread-based products – use the tongs instead.

If you’ve worked in management, you know the boardroom really is the boredroom, but it shouldn’t appear in company documents.


Make sure the band member is playing the drums, not the drugs. That your priest is praying to God, not Dog, and that you don’t write your Christmas list to Satan (Santa is much more likely to give you what you really want).

They’re happy with their life there. (Remember they’re means they are; there will eventually be here in time if you move that way).

The man took out his stationery while he was stationary (if in doubt which one to use, stationery includes envelopes).

Make sure your friend doesn’t become a fiend, unless of course that’s what you really mean (we all have at least one acquaintance who is both).

Be veeeery careful when touch typing the word ‘shut’, a slip of the finger could land you in the poo.

And watch the word spacing if telling someone that your pen is amazing.

And finally, of course, always, always check to make sure you are writing about the public, and not pubic baths.


Disclaimer: if you find a typo in this post it’s intentional, obvs.

The Editor’s Nightmare

This week I want to quickly pick up on a subject that isn’t really spoken about.

It’s not a massive taboo, and it’s not a secret, but it just seems to get forgotten or swept under the carpet.

swept under the carpet

There’s a lot said in blogs and articles, and on social media, about how important editors are (which is true). And there are also many people picking up on mistakes found in books and in other written material. But there’s something that gets ignored by those outside of the publishing world, or maybe they just don’t know, or don’t care. And it can really add to the stress factor when you earn your living as an editor (or a proofreader for that matter).

When we edit, our suggestions are not set in stone. Most of the time these days, editors will work in Word with tracked changes on. This allows the author to see the changes made to the document, and to also look at the comments that we make with suggestions for the text. Editors invest a lot of time and mental energy on each project. We work to briefs set out by the author, or publisher, and do our utmost to make the document the best it can be within the briefs and time constraints.

But, and here’s the main point, our suggestions are just that. Authors and publishers who are paying clients are quite within their rights to reject suggestions and changes made by their editor. As editors, once the job has been done, we often have no way of knowing if our work has been rejected at the last moment. Even through rounds of communication with the author, at the twelfth hour, changes can be undone and suggestions rejected. I doubt there is an editor out there who has not had to face this fact at some point in their career. It even happens with indexers… I’ve had instances of a beautifully crafted (even if I do say so myself) index being changed after it has been submitted, accepted and paid for.

As you can imagine this can be quite demoralising for an editor. Most of the time our expertise is accepted and our suggestions are followed, but even cases of grammar and spelling can be rejected because the author doesn’t like the change or believes that their spelling is the correct version.

Strange as it may seem, errors can also be introduced after the editor has handed back the manuscript. An author can give their final manuscript a read, and make additions or changes right at the last minute. The unwary editor will have no knowledge of these potentially disastrous additions until someone brings it to the world’s attention.

editors nightmare

‘Hey, Gary… I managed to get a whole new section added just before they sent the book to the printers!’

It would be easy to say, when these things happen, that it’s best to just let it go and move on, but there’s always the worry in the back of your mind that your professional reputation can be tarnished. All it takes is one post-editing blunder.

I always recommend that a proofreader is taken on board to give a document that final look-over. They should be working on the final proofs of the book, and can highlight any errors, but even then problems may not be ironed out should the author want to keep their changes, or if time is running out. And often proofreaders are not even used if budgets are tight.

So what is the point of all my rambling?

There are many stages to a book’s production, and in any one of those stages errors can creep in. Editorial changes and suggestions can be rejected, and beyond explaining why changes should be made, an editor has no say in what will happen to their documents. In most cases our work is accepted, but in a few changes are ignored or errors can be introduced and a book can go to press.

It is rare, but it does happen.

It’s every editor’s nightmare.