“You must meet Sue,” the friend says “she’s taking early retirement and is going to be a proofreader. Perhaps she could lend you a hand.”

“Is she trained? How much experience does she have? ” I ask, keen to have a go-to-person for times like this when I’m too busy to stay for longer than a coffee.

“Oh lots, she’s published books and everything.”

Every proofreader, editor and writer knows a Sue. In this day of redundancy and early retirement there is always a Sue.

On this occasion Sue has been cited on several research papers during 25 years in academia and produced a book, the definitive guide to inorganic polymers.

With so many self-published books around, you ask suspiciously, was it published by a real publisher?

Oh yes, and the friend names one of the biggest publishers in the country. Sensing growing interest the friend goes on to extol Sue’s virtues. Good Old Sue, she spent years holed up writing her book in the spare room as well as working in her highly-specialist laboratory job. She’s a hard worker, very dedicated, what a catch hey, and how handy to have as back up. Of course you’ll have to agree the basis of the working relationship because Sue likes to go on yoga holidays and will need plenty of warning….

It is not possible to stay silent any longer. “The publishers let her write, edit and proof her own book?”

“Oh she’s got a great eye for detail, you’ll love her.”

An icy note creeps in, “You do know what I do for a living?”

“Yes, so you’ll get along really well, won’t you?”

“Thank you but I’m afraid I’ll have to say no to your kind offer.”


“I spend time and effort improving a piece of writing. How much is a secret between me, the writer and the publisher. How much help Sue had we may never know, but I can categorically tell you now, she did not edit and proof her own book. That is not how the publishing process works.”

The friend spoons the froth around their empty cup.

“Behind every successful author are an editor and proofreader working hard and long hours. Often we go unnoticed, and that’s how it should be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work. It’s been good to see you.”

I flounce out, only to return a moment later for the forgotten manuscript and red pen.

A writer is not necessarily going to make a good editor or proofreader. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to tell the difference and they are not all going to be called Sue.

But what do I know? Tell me what you think.