Guest Post – Wendy Janes – Musings on proofreading fiction and non-fiction

As writers it is always helpful when those who edit, proofread and format our words, provide us with tutorials.  This post by Wendy Janes was published two year’s ago but I think is worth revisiting. Particularly as I need to update Wendy’ books.

I will now hand you over to Wendy…. enjoy.

710u6nvmhnl-_ux250_Musings on proofreading fiction and non-fiction.

Back in the twentieth century when I started out as a freelance proofreader I worked solely on non-fiction, mainly academic texts for a variety of publishing houses. Each had an in-house style guide that editors and proofreaders were expected to work from, which was very useful for a newbie who felt she needed a safety net.

In addition to correcting grammar and punctuation, I became involved in decisions about the hierarchy of headings, styles for different types of lists, plus the setting of figures, tables and boxes. I was also required to check in-text quotations and references against bibliographies and reference lists, as well as ensuring that bibliographies and reference lists were set correctly and contained full publishing details. It was meticulous and rewarding work.

Friends used to remark that I must be very clever, since I spent my days reading so many interesting books about obscure aspects of subjects such as education, history, politics, art and film. Alas, this wasn’t the case. Although I had been totally immersed in a book while proofreading, once I’d finished, it was astonishing how little I could remember. Maybe there’s only so much my brain can retain. However, one fact I do recall is that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were delivered by the same midwife.

Anyway, let’s get back to the proofreading…

After a few years, a publisher offered me a novel to proofread. Elated by a sense of freedom – no lists, no figs/tabs/boxes, no quotes and, joy of joy, no extensive bibliographies and references to double-check – I reckoned this was going to be a doddle.

To my surprise, it wasn’t.

Very quickly I discovered that I had to constrain my initial impulse to impose every single rule I’d been required to use when proofreading non-fiction. Let’s take the following sentence, as an example:

The therapist should ensure they keep their notes up to date.

In the textbooks I’d been proofreading I was expected to change this to:

The therapist should ensure he or she keeps his or her notes up to date.


Therapists should ensure they keep their notes up to date.

Some of my publishers encouraged their authors to make a note at the start of the book if they had chosen to run with masculine or feminine, but the mix of singular and plural was to be avoided at all costs. This is far less of an issue with informal non-fiction and in novels, where common usage and flow is more important. For a while when proofreading fiction I had to physically stop myself from correcting this. Mentally, I still make the correction, whatever I’m reading.

Similarly, I would correct the following contractions in the reference books I was working on:

Good therapists don’t doodle in their notebooks during therapy sessions. It’s not professional.


Good therapists do not doodle in their notebooks during therapy sessions. It is not professional.

That formal style would make for a very stilted novel, and in dialogue (unless the character is particularly prim and proper) it would sound downright wrong.

As I received more fiction titles it became clearer that while errors in fiction can suck all the drama from a novel, errors in non-fiction make the reader doubt the authenticity and accuracy of the information. I also realised the importance of listening to the novelist’s voice and the need to take time to decide when to intervene and when to let something go. In fact my touch is now much lighter with both fiction and non-fiction, and I reckon that makes for better proofreading.

I believe I was lucky to start off proofreading non-fiction for publishers, picking up invaluable tips from the editors I worked with while honing my skills. I think this post is a sort of thank you for that start. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to make the move into proofreading for independent authors. Initially, working with indie authors felt like swinging through the air on a trapeze without a safety net below. No in-house style sheet to rely on, no editors to double-check things with, just a knowledge that I had the confidence and skills to take that leap, catch the bar, execute a perfect somersault and land gracefully on the other side.

Books by Wendy Janes

Wendy JanesOne of the excellent reviews for What Jennifer Knows

‘What Jennifer Knows’ is a subtle and shocking tale of modern family life and relationships.
Sensitively drawn characters charm us but we, like them, are unsure who to trust. The shifting nature of loyalty and love is portrayed through searingly honest glimpses into the characters’ lives, both past and present.

The children in the novel are beautifully drawn and the way Tim’s siblings give him the acceptance and understanding he needs is both heart-breaking and wonderful.
As the complex plot deepens, we become so caught up in the characters’ lives that we have a real sense of urgency to know what will happen. How will Jennifer deal with what she knows? The final twist gives a fitting ending to this extra-ordinary book.

Wendy Janes

One of the reviews for What Tim Knows and other stories.

After reading and enjoying “What Jennifer Knows” by Wendy Janes, I was looking forward to seeing what these short stories held. Although all the stories were engaging, my favorites were “The Never-Ending Day” and “What Tim Knows”.

“The Never-Ending Day” tells the story of a new young mother, and I was completely impressed with Janes ability to make the reader feel this poor woman’s anxiety, fear, and isolation as she tried to adjust to her new role as a parent. Becoming a mother is often painted as an awe-inspiring experience, but in truth we know that many women struggle with the new responsibility, and when they do it’s easy for them to feel as if there’s something wrong with them. This piece was intensely honest, and I was relieved when the story ended on a positive note.

“What Tim Knows” tells the story of a young autistic boy going to his first birthday party. Janes did an excellent job of showing what it must be like to go inside the mind of someone on the spectrum and the constant struggle to make sense of the world, especially as a child.

Janes has a wonderful ability to place herself inside the hearts and minds of a variety of character types, making her readers feel empathy for those characters, even in instances when the reader may not particularly like them. I would highly recommend this read. 

Read all the reviews and buy the books:

About Wendy Janes

Wendy Janes lives in London with her husband and youngest son. She is the author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and the short story collection, What Tim Knows, and other stories. She has also contributed short stories to a number of anthologies, including the fundraising anthology, A Kind of Mad Courage.

Her writing is inspired by family, friends, and everyday events that only need a little twist to become entertaining fiction.

As well as writing contemporary fiction, she loves to read it too, and spreads
the word about good books online and in the real world.

Wendy is also a freelance proofreader, and a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service.
There are many testimonials for Wendy’s work and I am just sharing one with you here. I suggest that you pop over and read the others. You will be impressed.

“Wendy proofread my second novel, she is a pleasure to work with. Her knowledge, skill and sharp eyes picked up numerous, minor errors which both I and my editor had overlooked despite numerous read throughs. Wendy noted misleading sentences, caught graves which should have been acutes and found spaces in places they shouldn’t haven’t been.

My manuscript now sparkles, and I would definitely use Wendy again. Her prices are fair, her work is exemplary, and the proofread was completed ahead of schedule.
Thank you, Wendy, for a scrupulous and professional service. Thoroughly recommended.” Sam Russell, author of the contemporary romances A Bed of Barley Straw and A Bed of Brambles

To find out more about Wendy, proofreading, her own published work and how to get in touch here are the links.

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My thanks to Wendy for her very interesting and useful post and you are of course welcome to share in anyway that is physically possible.  You are also most welcome to contribute to this blog.  I consider it a collaborative work in progress and the more variety the better..


The Sunday Show – A Funny Thing Happened to Wendy Janes

My guest today, Wendy Janes, has a foot in both camps as she is not only a professional proofreader and also is an Indie author.


After completing a Bachelor of Education degree from Goldsmiths College in London Wendy worked in a variety of schools as a teacher, classroom assistant and school governor. She has also spent the last fourteen years working with a range of mainstream publishers utilising her Chapterhouse qualification in proofreading and copy editing. In 2012 she experienced the challenges and the joys of self-publishing and began to help other indie authors get their books in shape ready for publication. Wendy continues to work with publishers but offers a discounted rate to those of us who are making our own way in this exciting business.

Apart from helping to polish other writer’s manuscripts, Wendy also loves reading and as part of that reviews books and you can find those on her site. If you pop into Wendy’s blog you will find excellent articles on proof reading your own work and self-publishing and you can follow Wendy’s own writing journey. She has had several short stories published in anthologies and I am going to mention one or two of Wendy’s stories that were singled out for five star reviews.

As if this did not occupy her days, Wendy is also is a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service which I will be asking her more about later.

The author.

I have selected two of Wendy’s short stories that have been published in anthologies that have received individual five star reviews.


 ‘Verity’ is a poignant short story about a woman who has carried a family secret for far too long. Amazon reviewer says: ‘So touching, really moving, I loved it.’ Published in 2014 in the fundraising anthology A Kind of Mad Courage. Nineteen authors from around the world were given six weeks or less to produce “a story involving a mother somehow.” The result is a gorgeously eclectic collection of tales that will make you laugh, cry, and truly appreciate the “mad courage” of motherhood.

Wendy’s Verity is a Winner 4th July 2014 by Joy E

Such a lovely book….my favourite story amongst the many gems has to be “Verity” by Wendy Janes. Such a beautiful story, so well-constructed. A joy to read. The Author has managed to move back and forth through the decades so smoothly; never losing momentum….I hope that Wendy continues to write with such gentleness and care. I will certainly be looking out for more of her work.


‘The Stars They Never Own’ – a short story about a rising screen star who recalls the start of his career. Amazon reviewer says: ‘The twist at the end was absolutely charming.’ Published in 2014 by Safkhet Soul in the anthology Romantic Heroes.

5.0 out of 5 stars The Stars They Never Own by Wendy Janes. Brilliant by Peter Davey – 31 Mar. 2015

Up until now I have known Wendy Janes only as a razor-sharp reviewer and perceptive critic, so I was delighted to find some of her own writing – the short story ’The Stars They Never Own’ in this excellent collection. I thought it was superb. In a few pages she manages to evoke two parallel but very different lives which crossed briefly many years before and deeply affected each other. The ‘romantic hero’ (the term here used somewhat ironically) is a successful but rather world-weary film star – Ryan Sullivan – who, despite having glimpsed the highest pinnacles of fame, seems to lack something fundamental in his life.

The bulk of the story focuses on a television chat-show interview conducted by a popular hostess and in it we learn, by means of asides, anecdotes and reflections, something of the unlikely means by which Ryan became an actor and the root of his discontentment. The ending contains a terrific twist which links it to the beginning and casts new light on everything that has gone before, rendering the story a deeply satisfying whole.

Wendy Janes’ prose is sharp, witty and economic and flows like cream and her wonderful eye for detail, particularly body language, brings this story alive and makes it entirely convincing. I can’t wait to read more of her writing.

Hot off the press…..


Another short story “Stefania” appears in the newly released second anthology in the Anthologies of the Heart series. This one is entitled Blood Moon, and contains twelve stories that explore the theme of transformation.


The One and Sixpenny Englishman is the memoirs of Wendy’s grandfather who came to England as a baby at the turn of the twentieth century.

Published in 2014 this is the story of an immigrant who came to the UK as a babe in arms as part of a family that fled persecution in the east. A man who fought in the British Army as a foreign national and who took citizenship immediately after the first war. A man who made his way in the world during the 20s and 30s, and served in Civil Defense during the second war. Having turned his hand to many things in his life, he wrote this memoir in the early 70s as part of his convalescence. Harry’s story is of an immigrant who made good, and of a life well lived.

The Reviewer

As an avid reader Wendy appreciates the importance of reviews to authors and when she reads a book that she enjoys a review is posted on Amazon and Goodreads and is also tweeted and posted on Facebook.

 The proofreader

I am going to be asking Wendy questions about proofreading in her interview but I think you will be very impressed with the testimonials that she has received for work. Like reviews for an author this ‘word of mouth’ form of recommendation is invaluable for authors who are looking for someone they can trust with their writing.

Now that we have covered a few of the basics it is time to get into the interview and find out more details about Wendy’s work and writing.

Welcome Wendy and delighted to finally have the opportunity to interview you. What made you want to become a teacher and was the reality of working in the school system as you expected or did you find that it was as challenging as many press reports indicate?

I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. I had an idealistic view of teaching, genuinely believing that I could inspire a love of learning in my pupils through my own enthusiasm for my subjects (drama and English). Alas, in mid-1980s South London the reality wasn’t so rosy-tinted. At the tender age of 22 my classroom discipline was woefully inadequate and I failed to engage my students. The challenge was too much for me, so I did everyone a big favour and left the profession. Years later I returned to the classroom as a teaching assistant, which was a far happier experience for me and my students.

You are a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service. I was not aware that the number of people in the UK who have autism spectrum disorders was as high as reported. Almost 700,000 people which is around 1 in 100. This must require a great deal of focus on the services available particularly in the education system. What is your role as a caseworker?

My role is to empower parents. I help them try to ensure that their children – wherever they are on the autism spectrum – achieve their full educational potential through receiving the appropriate support in an appropriate setting.

I’m part of a small team of trained volunteers who provide advice to parents via phone and email. We need to listen carefully to what parents want and help them use the special educational needs law, regulations and government guidance to achieve it. We encourage cooperation between parents, schools and local authorities, and always focus on the child’s needs. Sometimes we can do this in a twenty-minute phone call, other times it’ll take weeks of calls and emails to reach a resolution.

I love this work and feel privileged to be able to help some wonderful families and their wonderful children.

Copy editing and proofreading are very different. I would assume however that when you receive manuscripts from authors that inevitably there is some cross over. Can you summarise the differences and clarify at what point a writer should work with you as a proofreader?

Yes, in theory copy editing and proofreading are different, but in reality there is a rather large grey area where they overlap. I could fill pages with lists and explanations of the differences, but I’d really like people to read on, so I’ll just say that a proofreader should be the last professional to read every single word of an author’s book before publishing. We’re meant to be there to pick up those final typos – inconsistent hyphenation and spelling, missing full stops and quote marks, transposed letters etc.

Authors should have had their book looked at by a developmental editor and a copy editor prior to sending it for proofreading, and should only work with a proofreader when they feel their book is ready for publication. This isn’t because we want to do a minimal amount of work, it’s because if we are dealing with things like inconsistencies in the plot it is unlikely that we will also be able to pick up all the spelling and grammatical errors as well.

As a reviewer you mention that you post your comments about the books you enjoy. I assume that there are times when you might not enjoy a book enough to do so. What is your advice to those of us who read a book but feel that it would benefit from additional work? Do we contact the author direct or post a poor review in public?

I don’t feel comfortable giving advice to other reviewers, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I choose not to post poor/negative reviews. The internet is already overcrowded, and I prefer to concentrate on taking up my tiny corner of it by writing reviews in order to spread the word about great books. I have contacted authors directly where I feel I can provide encouragement, not criticism.

You have an exciting time ahead with your novel What Jennifer Knows, which is due to be published this year. What is the story about and who is the main character?

My lead character, Jennifer Jacobs, is the recipient of some potentially disastrous information about a couple of friends. She can’t decide whether to share that information with them or not. While she prevaricates, things become a lot more complex.

Jennifer is a dance therapist. She lives in a delightful village in the English countryside with her eccentric husband, Gerald. She values family and friendships, and all these relationships are put to the test in the pages of my story.

She’s a good person who finds herself in a difficult position. My hope is that readers will relate to Jennifer’s dilemma.

We have now arrived at the central theme of the interview which is ‘A funny thing happened to me on the way to…’ and I will hand over to Wendy to tell her own story.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the top of the volcano

In the summer of 1980 – between finishing school and starting teacher training – I went on a two-week holiday with a friend to southern Italy.

After a week of lazing by the hotel pool by day and dancing and drinking in clubs by night, we thought we ought to try a bit of sightseeing and soak up a drop of culture. We explored local markets, tiny picturesque villages, and orchards ripe with citrus fruits and olives. The island of Capri was stunning, magical. Next on the itinerary was a visit to the haunting ruins of Pompeii followed by a trip to the summit of Vesuvius.

Dressed in shorts, t-shirts and strappy sandals, a hike up the mountainside was not an option. A tubby gentleman bustled over and in beautifully accented English explained that for a bargain price he would drive us in his cab and save our precious sandals from ruin. Eagerly we handed over a few thousand lira and followed him round a corner.

There, lurking under the shade of a stray lemon tree was the most battered car I’ve ever seen outside of a stock car race: dented, rusty doors and roof, a windscreen covered in crazed cracks. My instinct was to walk away, but my friend was already clambering into the back seat. It wouldn’t do to abandon her, so I dumbly followed. I winced as my thighs came into contact with the baking hot plastic seats and my nose was assaulted by the stench of stale tobacco. On the upside, the windows were wound down, or more likely I suspect they weren’t there in the first place.

After a few attempts at slamming the door shut – it wouldn’t latch properly – the taxi driver rummaged around in his trouser pockets. I imagined he was going to produce a tool to mend the door, but instead he pulled out a handful of grubby string. With a shrug and a smile in our direction he somehow secured the door closed by winding the string around the door handle, through the open window then across to a hook screwed into the back seat. With a satisfied sigh he sat his bulk in the driver’s seat and repeated a less complicated procedure on his door, this time from the inside with a length of string from his shirt pocket.

Even if I’d known the Italian for ‘Please let me out of your taxi,’ my English reserve wouldn’t have let me use it.

After a few attempts at starting the engine we bumped and rattled up the mountain road that rapidly got thinner and thinner, as did the air. I shuddered as our wheels skidded, and I shivered as the temperature plummeted. Goose bumps covered my sunburned skin. Each time our driver swung the car around hairpin bends our shrieks of alarm only caused him to chuckle and gun for the next corner. I don’t know how we failed to avoid hurtling over the precipitous drops beside the road or why I had to keep gazing at them in horror and fascination.

Eventually, near the summit, we were released into a swirling chilly mist. We must have walked the remaining distance to the top and somehow reached the bottom again, but my memories of that are as misty as the weather shrouding Vesuvius. Crystal clear, over thirty years later, are the terror, the biting cold and the grubby string.

Wonderful if horrifying story and I wonder how many terrified tourists have shared that mind blowing ride over the years and I bet that the old boy regaled the locals with tales of his passengers in the bar at night!

Links to to find out more about Wendy, Proofreading, buy the anthologies that contain her own published work and how to get in touch.

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For the other interviews in the series and to meet Hugh Roberts, Jane Dougherty, Judith Barrow, D.G. Kaye and John W. Howell.