Wednesday, 15 November 2017

From the Heart of a Copy Editor

Hi everyone.

I’m delighted to introduce to you my writing colleague, Sheila Glasbey (aka Rosalie Warren), whose new non-fiction book ‘From ­the Heart of a Copy Editor – The 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them’ was published today. The book is a really useful guide for writers on copy editing and Sheila has kindly agreed to talk to me about both the subject and her book.

Sheila Glasbey aka Rosalie Warren

Can you start by telling us what copy editing is?
According to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, the aim of copy editing is to make sure that a piece of writing is ‘accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition’. I like to think of it as bringing a piece of work to its very best, in line with the intentions of the writer. It involves such things as removing inconsistencies (and I’m not just talking about the eye colour of your lead character, although that’s a big one) and ambiguities, and correcting grammatical and stylistic errors, while preserving as far as possible the writer’s individual style.

And why is copy editing so important for writers?
Copy editing is important because communication is important, in every part of life. No one wants to be misunderstood or to have their readers scratching their heads trying to work out who is speaking or to distinguish between a character called Catherine and her daughter, also called Catherine. People still call their characters Pete and Peta in the same book, however, and when you’re reading at speed it gets very difficult to follow. Sensible naming, as well as paragraph setting and punctuation, can make everything clear, as well as easier and more enjoyable to absorb.

So what made you decide to write a book about copy editing?
When I’m not being an author I work as a copy editor and proofreader, and I find that most of the work I’m sent involves the same mistakes, over and over again. When I send a client their completed work, I always include a summary of the main changes I have made or I should say ‘suggested’, because a client is always free to reject them, of course. This summary ends up being the same, or very similar, for most of my writers, and that’s what prompted me to write the book. Many of the problems involve dialogue, punctuation and the interplay between the two. If writers could get this right first time, their lives would be much easier and their editing bills lower.

Are you worried that you are going to put yourself out of a job by having written this book?
As I say in the book, I recommend that every writer, however experienced, has their work professionally copy edited and proofread, but believe me, the quotes they receive will be lower if they can put at least some of these things right for themselves. Don’t worry. I don’t see myself or any other editor being out of work. There will always be plenty left for us to do. It can sometimes take an eagle eye to spot the smaller problems, and that’s what we’re here for.

An eagle eye is important in copy editing

I understand that pet pigs feature quite prominently in the book. Can you elaborate further?
Ah, the pigs. Well, I’ve nothing against pigs but I didn’t especially set out to include them in my book. I suppose I was scrabbling around for an example of how not to punctuate a sentence, and suddenly a young couple appeared, arguing about their pet pig. The pig kind of grew as the book went on. I decided it would be good to have him on the cover, and my brilliant illustrator Alex Hallatt suggested making him the editor and drew the picture of the harassed editor pig. That’s it, really. Sometimes your characters take over and there’s nothing you can do.

Many people, particularly those of a certain age, were probably put off learning about style and grammar at school. Is there anything remotely interesting, or even fun, about the subject at all?
I’m tempted to say ‘no’. It’s a subject many people hate. But I suppose I get a kind of perverse enjoyment from teasing out problems and putting things right. I like slicing through knots of confusion and making things clear. I love good writing and, to change the metaphor, there’s something very satisfying about digging out a muddy lump of precious metal and polishing it until it gleams. Or telling a writer to cut back on the metaphors a bit.

Why did you decide to self-publish the book rather than go with a traditional publisher?
I saw the book as a self-published work right from the start. For one thing, it’s very short, and I’m not sure a traditional publisher would want it, for that reason. I see myself now as a ‘hybrid author’. I’ve had some books traditionally published and I’ve published some myself. In today’s publishing world, it’s easy to do this, and thankfully the stigma of being self-published has almost, if not completely, gone.

One of Sheila's novels self-published under her pen name

Do you have any tips for writers who are thinking of self-publishing and haven't attempted it before?
Speak to someone who has done it, and then buy one of the many self-help books on the subject. I had Chris Longmuir’s ‘Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing’ beside me as I did this one, although to be fair, Amazon are pretty helpful at explaining how to do it as you go along. It’s not just the practical tips though. It’s the sense that you’re not alone. Be prepared for a few hitches and problems. You’ll be very lucky if there aren’t any. Give yourself plenty of time and try not to scream too much. You need to retain your sense of humour!

At the moment, 'From the Heart of a Copy Editor…' is only available as an e-book. Do you have any plans for producing a hard copy version and if so, do you have a timescale in mind?
Yes, I plan to produce a paperback in January 2018.

Are you working on any new books at the moment and if so, could you tell us a little bit about them?
I’m writing a novel, but I don’t really want to talk about it yet. I’m kind of superstitious about these things. I believe you can literally talk an idea to death. Keep the brain guessing what happens next. That’s how I get myself to write.

Thank you very much for talking to us today, Sheila, and good luck with the book.

‘From the Heart of a Copy Editor – The 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them’ is now available on Amazon as an e-book with a retail price of £1.99. UK version only.

If you are interested in finding out more about Sheila, who also writes fiction for children and adults under the pen name of Rosalie Warren, you can visit her website at:

You can find out more about Sheila’s freelance editing and proofreading services at:

Sheila is offering an extra price reduction, over and above any other ongoing offer, on her editing and proofreading services, to anyone who contacts her to say that they have read the book and can quote the Magic Code in Section 6.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Mail on Sunday Feature

Hi everyone.

Well, it's not every day that The Mail on Sunday runs a double-page spread about the book you are writing. This is what happened to me last Sunday, and I'm still recovering from the shock.

It was about three weeks ago that I received an email, completely out of the blue, from the paper's chief reporter. Apparently, he had been researching the issue of copyright on unpublished letters for something he was working on and had come across a blog post that I had  written about this very subject.

The post in question was about my own copyright issues concerning the large collection of letters and postcards I have inherited from my grandmother. These are not just any old letters and postcards. They were written to my grandmother by her close friend, Ethel North, who was lady's maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, between 1919 and 1933. During this period, Ethel travelled all over the world with Lady B, as Ethel calls her in the letters, mixing with the great and the good, picking up fascinating snippets of gossip about everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to the Queen Mother and describing everything she saw and experienced in the most extraordinarily eloquent style.

One of Ethel's letters to my grandmother

I've been trying to get Ethel's letters published as a non-fiction book, called My Dear Elsie, on and off for the last seven years. There have been many twists and turns along the way, the problem with the copyright being one of them. On several occasions, I've been convinced that a particular event was "the key log", namely the thing that would finally secure a book deal and get Ethel's amazing letters out into the world. So, of course, when The Mail on Sunday wanted to do a double page feature on the letters and my proposed book, I fell into exactly the same trap again.

After being interviewed by the reporter and providing all the material I was asked for, I started to get seriously anxious about several things. What would I say if Hollywood came calling? Who would play me in the film of the book? (Meryl Streep, hopefully.) What on earth would I do all day if I never needed to work again? My concerns were fuelled by the fact that the reporter, a seasoned journalist of many years experience, was incredibly enthusiastic about the letters and no, I really don't think he was spinning me a line to get the story, as I had already practically bitten his hand off in agreeing to let him use it.

When I saw a proof of the feature, a few hours before the paper went to press, I practically had the vapours. Because of The Mail on Sunday's readership, the feature was understandably slanted towards the angle of the letters being connected to the incredibly successful television series Downton Abbey. The piece flagged up Ethel's letters as "the REAL Downton diaries". I wandered round the house in a daze, wondering what on earth I'd done and envisaging the world's media camped out on my front lawn the following morning.

I needn't have worried. Apart from one literary agent, who contacted me at 9.15am on the day that the paper came out, the publishing industry has not exactly beaten a path to my door. I do realise it's still early days yet and I do have one or two irons in the fire as a result of The Mail on Sunday becoming involved, but I don't think I need to be getting in touch with Meryl Streep's agent, just yet.

So, it's back to the mundanity of typing up the letters, researching the footnotes and trying to earn money from other aspects of my writing. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for someone other than a very astute reporter on The Mail on Sunday to realise that there really is an amazing story here, and that it definitely needs to be told.

If you would like to read The Mail on Sunday feature online, here is the link:

You can also find out more about Ethel, Lady Burghclere and my proposed book at: