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.

Dyslexia and social media

On Children in Need night McBusted/Mcfly drummer Harry Judd made a quip, spelt allowed as aloud and immediately he was hounded for his spelling.

It brings to light another aspect of social media and everyday life. When the pedants come out and make snarky comments, do they really know the reason behind the typo?

sad face

We’ve talked in the past about fast finger syndrome, where your fingers can’t keep up with your brain and typos occur. We’ve also talked about autocorrect (at least I think we have), and yes, we’ve probably talked about those lazy people who just don’t care. But how many people are dyslexic.  And don’t tell anyone, and don’t want to tell the world because it’s none of their business or don’t realise they are dyslexic?

It’s probably more common than you think.


It’s said that 10% of the population has some degree of dyslexia. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can happen to anyone, from any ethnic or social background and any level of intelligence.

No matter who you are, if you have dyslexia:

It can make you feel unintelligent

It can make you feel anxious

It can make you sad

It can make you feel miserable

It can make you depressed

It can take years to diagnose, and some people never have that luxury.

You don’t need anyone to point out your bad spelling, you are perfectly aware that you spelt that word wrong in your tweet, or on Facebook, or on your blog.

Berating people for their spelling can actually do more harm than good

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper


When writing for business, you should ensure that your writing is proofread, no matter who you are or what your spelling capabilities. Don’t just rely on Word’s spell-check… in this bit of writing it keeps telling me that that last “your” is wrong and I should be writing “you’re”!

If you spot a spelling mistake, yes, politely tell someone if you feel the desperate need, but on social media, take a deep breathe and just ignore it.

Behind the computer screen, that tweeter may be having a bad day, they may be feeling insecure, or hounded, or suidical.

Is spelling really that important?

Honest reviews, better reviews


This week I’m going to address something I’ve thought about for a while. I have never written about it, however, the time seems right.

Stack of Library Books

A Twitterstorm hit last week after author Matt Haig hit out at all the positive reviews out there in Internetland. As is the usual way of things he was congratulated, ranted at and possibly threatened with a wet haddock or similar. These days you can’t have an opinion without the trolls coming out to play.

But what is so terrible about his opinion? He’s right. Well, in my opinion he’s right.

I occasionally fall into the trap of just saying how wonderful a book is… if I genuinely love it. Sometimes a book really has nothing bad you can say about it. Well done, five stars (actually I hate the star system, but that’s a topic for another day). And I hold my hands up to being selective and sometimes not reviewing the books I buy and don’t like, or just find OK. I really shouldn’t do it, but sometimes I feel life is too short to spend ages reviewing a book I hate. It also goes without saying that I will never, ever review a book I’ve worked on.

However, if I get given a book to review I will review it honestly. Whether gifted by the publisher as a review copy, or given by the author as an advance look, I will be honest in my appraisal. I feel it’s the right thing to do.

Too many five-star reviews can actually do the publishers a disservice. Whether books are sent out for review, or whether readers review for themselves, the publishers deserve an honest appraisal of their work. If everyone constantly gushes praise for a book, whether it’s good or not, how are the publishers to know if the book is actually doing its job? If they think everyone loves the book they may commission more of the same, and false praise, somewhere down the line, will result in disinterested readers or worse, ridicule.

fab wow

A lot of work goes into creating a book (and if it doesn’t you’re doing it wrong), so don’t the people who work on the book deserve your honesty? Authors give up a sizeable chunk of themselves with every book they write; despite what people may think, writing is not an easy option. It’s hard, damn hard.  But how will they grow as artists without honesty? I’m sure most would be happy with honest feedback rather than sycophantic drivel. Just because you may get your book for free doesn’t mean you have to lie.

Really, think about it… how many books are perfectly perfect?  When you review your books, be constructive. It may be difficult to dissect the text when you are carried away by the plot, or the facts are compelling in a non-fiction book, but afterwards think carefully about what you read.

Below are a few thoughts on how to create a really useful book review. I’m sure someone, somewhere has written a better guide, but here you are…

  1. Be constructive, not destructive. If the book was awful, why was it awful? What could be made better? Don’t just jump in and berate the author, explain politely and calmly where things fell down and how you feel they could be improved. If the book was wonderful, was there anything that wasn’t quite right. If it was all wonderful that’s great, but if it wasn’t don’t pretend it was.
  2. Be respectful. I suppose it’s easy for some people to wade in, be personal and be offensive. If you feel passionately, step back and go back to the review when you feel more detached. You may have spent a lot of money on the book, but don’t be nasty. That is hurtful and really, honestly won’t get you anywhere. It may backfire anyway and you will look like a fool. This also applies to authors responding to criticism… it works both ways.
  3. Look at the book as a whole. When you have finished, look at the physical item in your hand. Is it ‘right’, is the printing up to standard (or if it’s an ebook is it formatted properly), is the cover attractive to you? Next go to the contents – if it’s non-fiction is there a good index, can you easily find what you want to find, are the illustrations good quality? If it’s fiction does the story flow, are there many mistakes, does the story grab your attention?
  4. A good book review needn’t take all day. Write honestly, say what you think and not what you think the publishers want you to say.
  5. Don’t ignore the cover. Cover art is hugely important. A good cover will entice the reader, but it will also convey the feel of the story, or hint at what’s inside. Did the cover lead you to buy the book? Did the cover blurb? They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but believe me, people do!

So there you go, a few reasons why honest reviews are better reviews, and a few tips on how to write a good one.

How do you feel when you review a book? Do you feel that if a publisher gives you a book for free you have to say it’s good? Do you have problems being honest without feeling bad? I’d love to hear your thoughts.