From the Heart of a Copy Editor, by Sheila Glasbey

When I was writing and self-publishing my ‘mistakes’ e-books, I was particularly conscious of the fact that I could be making many bloopers myself. Like most writers, I have blind spots. I also have my own linguistic tics and quirks, no doubt many of which some might reasonably consider ‘wrong’. I was a writer, writing about writing mistakes, albeit one telling readers that mistakes were good and often important to the learning process. Nevertheless, hanging over me was a sense that I really should ensure my own writing house was in order before advising others on their literary furnishings.

Reading From the Heart of a Copy Editor, the new ebook by editor and proofreader Sheila Glasbey (AKA fiction writer Rosalie Warren), it is impossible not to be reminded of the time when I was giving my books their final read-throughs, and looking for errors of the kind addressed here — some of which may well have sneaked through.

Subtitled ‘the 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them‘, Glasbey’s book could not fit better into the spirit of this blog. I was both looking forward to reading it and — I have to confess — relishing the challenge of perhaps finding the tiniest of errors within. I’ve always been one to advise my writing students to “make it your business to find the mistake you missed” before sending work to editors, and having worked as a sub-editor for many years myself, it’s tough to shake off that proofreader’s mentality when reviewing any piece of writing.

So what of the book? It’s more suited to aspiring fiction writers, but that’s not to say non-fictioners will not find it useful. It’s readable and friendly. The author is clearly knowledgeable about her subject, and conveys her expertise without being show-offy.

Dialogue and its correct punctuation is mistake #1 and, like Glasbey, I do think this is something many writers get wrong — and may not even try to get right. It’s by the far the best chapter in the book — clear and detailed, and key reading to anyone with doubts.

Elsewhere, there is a focus on getting the other basics absolutely right — commas, apostrophes, paragraphs, brackets, spelling — so there were few surprises among the ten (actually, eleven) mistakes included, and I felt Glasbey on the whole chose them wisely. There’s a useful little lesson on the hanging hyphen — which I omitted in my recent hyphen / dash post — although I was surprised that no distinction was made between en-dashes and em-dashes, the author using ens to cover both bases.

Some of the mistakes towards the end are a little flimsy — Mr and Mrs, for example — and I wasn’t always keen on the numerous attempts at humour that might have been more suited to a longer book. On occasion it worked — I liked the Remain gag — but on the whole I just wanted the author to crack on with and stick to the lessons, which was where the strengths were, and skip the little jokey asides.

Although more detail would have been welcome in some of the mistakes, I do see that the author wanted to keep the book brief and help novice writers keep their “editing bills … reduced”. With that single aim in mind, the book succeeds.

This is a useful, short and affordable title, ideal for newer novelists and to some extent other writers who know that their punctuation (especially) might be lacking, yet don’t have the time (or desire) to tackle a longer guide on the subject. It is not a magic wand, and nor will it guarantee a flawless manuscript, but I imagine it might help eliminate 90% of the typical errors that might lurk in many beginners’ work, ahead of placing it into the hands of either an editor or copy-editor.

And did I find any errors? Not a single one.

Sheila Glasbey’s From the Heart of an Editor – the 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them (UK Edition) is published on 15th November 2017, and is available here as an ebook from Amazon, priced £1.99.

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