Who Gate-Keeps the Gate Keepers? #WritingCommunity #IARTG

Hi everyone. Today, I want to talk about a debacle that has led to an author spending a lot of time and money utilising the skills of various industry professionals, only to get let down from someone who has set herself up as an editor and proofreader who knows what she’s doing. From what I’ve seen of the final MS, I would have to disagree strongly. And I feel so bad for the poor author who has done her best to get a good book out there.

Over the years, I have been drawn in by and supported a few organisations/clubs, which purported to be upholding the high standards of indie writing, only to find out later on that I had been mistaken. Because of that, I am reticent–to say the least–about openly supporting or promoting any club or organisation these days. Even if they start with good intentions, they most likely will morph into something entirely different as they grow and spread, especially as more people get involved in assessing books and/or editing them.

To put you in the picture, here is a screenshot of said author’s acknowledgments from the book in question (for a larger image, please click on the picture–to get back to this post, click on the back button on your browser):


As you can see, I saw the raw MS first. I don’t feel I have enough skill to offer developmental edits, so I don’t do them. If I can’t do a good enough job, I won’t do it and certainly won’t charge for it. This is why I referred the author onward for further development when she asked for my advice and input. In case you’re not familiar with the different types of editing, line-by-line and copy edits are vastly different from a developmental edit. See HERE for a breakdown of the various edits. I offer line-by-line and copy edits (I use both terms interchangeably, and what I do depends upon each individual manuscript and its needs). From the above, we can see that the author then got a lot of useful help over the next two years. I saw the finished MS at this point, after it had received its final edit and proofread from 4WillsPublishing. At this stage, I did not do any proofreading but only the broad formatting to get the MS into shape for both print and ebook. So, although in the acknowledgements, I am named as doing the final proof cleanup, I wasn’t, in fact, tasked with this job, only the overall formatting.ย 

It all seems good, right? So we thought until now … three years later. That’s five years from the start of all of this. A very kind reader contacted the author before leaving her review. She had seen lots of missing quote marks and punctuation, as well as lots of gaps in the text. So, of course, the author came back to me, thinking this was a formatting issue. Sadly, as soon as I sat and read line-by-line through the raw MS at the points the author had marked for me, I could see straight away that these were errors missed by the final editor and proofreader, unfortunately. Every single one of the extra gaps existed because of hard returns in the middle of sentences. From my files, I can see that I caught many of these at the point of formatting by doing overall page-by-page scans. Obviously, this does not catch anywhere near as much as a word-by-word proofread.

Although a formatter does not read every word but simply scans the pages overall for appearance, I went through this second time (this week) much more slowly to try and catch as many of these editing/proofing omisions as I could. I found over 30, and the vast majority (nearly 20, without doing an exact count) were in one single chapter, the last one. What happened there? I ask.

I feel so bad for this poor author, who has done her utmost and still has issues with the book despite all the time, effort, and money she has put into it.ย  To help her put this right, having suggested she go back to the final editor/proofreader and her wanting to stick with me, I worked at a substantial discount redoing the formatting and conversions and took a lot longer over the formatting than is usual. I hated charging her, and had these been my mistakes, I would, of course, have put them right for free and as quickly as possible. I guarantee all of my work, no matter how long a time has elapsed. If there are issues, then there are issues, and I will do all in my power to put them right.

None of us is perfect, and we are all human beings subject to making mistakes and missing things from time to time. However, this many mistakes left in a supposedly professionally proofed book is simply unacceptable. Which leads me to my question in this post’s title: Who gate-keeps the gatekeepers? One of the problems with a global internet is that anybody can set themselves up as anybody, and how can we tell if they are who they say they are and as qualified as they say? Most of the time, we cannot. This makes me so frustrated and sad. Even more so when some of these self-appointed professionals slam their fellow editors and authors and tout themselves as the expert authority repeatedly.

This same ‘professional’ has slammed authors with whom I am friends and who I have worked with frequently over the years. One author shared a particularly vitriolic email from said ‘professional’ with me, and it was laughable as well as inexcusable. Many of the things this so-called professional picked out as passive and telling instead of showing, were, in fact, the very opposites. One clear example I do remember is this person telling the author that ‘the moonlight glinted off the glass’ is telling … Umm, no, sorry, but that is a perfect example of showing. Telling would be to write something dull such as ‘the moon was full’. That would also be an example of passive writing. What this self-appointed expert didn’t realise (I would hope!) is that her words showed her lack of knowledge for all to see.

So, what’s the answer? The only thing I can come up with is to, wherever you can, get a recommendation from a fellow writer whose work you respect. Word of mouth is an excellent way of weeding out the folks who know their stuff from those who do not. I wish I could say word of mouth is a sure bet, but I cannot. I also wish I had a better answer. I’ve been burned too many times myself, one from an expensive American editor who assured me he was used to working with writers from the UK. He put so many Americanisms in my book that I had a lot more work to undo much of his stuff. To add insult to injury, he then missed my publishing deadline, which he knew about from the get-go. And I paid through the nose for the privilege. Since then, I’ve been much more careful who I trust.

If any of you know an editor and/or proofreader that you trust, I would love for you to tell us about them in the comments below–along with which type of edit they do, if possible. Hopefully, this will provide a useful resource for us all.


Due to health issues, I have stopped taking on new clients and only work with a few authors that I know and have worked with for years. So, please, understand that this post is in NO WAY an attempt at garnering more clients or work. Right now, that’s the last thing I need … although (tongue in cheek) the income would be nice! ๐Ÿ™‚


I thought long and hard about blanking out the names in the screenshot of the author’s acknowledgements. But, sooner or later, we each need to stand by the standard of our work and guarantee it. If I make a mistake, I own it and do my best to put it right wherever I can. I am accountable. And so should every person who promotes themselves as a professional. After all, professional accountability is what being a professional is all about. I learnt that during nurse training, more decades ago than I care to admit (lols), and it holds true no matter what business we’re in.

Thanks for sticking with me this far, and sorry it’s such a long post. If I haven’t worn you out too much by now, you’ll also find me over at Story Empire today (HERE) with another how to self publish post. Have a great upcoming weekend everyone and stay safe and well. Hugs, Harmony ๐Ÿ™‚

37 Comments on “Who Gate-Keeps the Gate Keepers? #WritingCommunity #IARTG

  1. Thank you, Harmony, for such a powerful post. You illuminate several problems with the indie-author-services industry that routinely dismay and sometimes anger us here at Fresh Ink Group. One is that clients often are not able to judge the quality of the work they receive. If your car rattles and you know why, you can take it for a specific repair; but if you do not know why, you are vulnerable to scoundrels who are more interested in extracting funds than solving problems. Still, afterward you can tell if the car still rattles–not so with a MS. Another problem is that vast numbers of wannabes fancy themselves as editors when they don’t even know the language thoroughly, let alone know how to edit in the style of another author. Even more, quality editing requires depthy knowledge of storytelling conventions (fiction) and/or knowledge and varied experience at composition (non-fiction). These people are in the minority of “editors.”

    Another problem is that some of the worst (least knowledgeable, least able to comprehend, most stubbornly arrogant, etc.) give every appearance of professionalism: numerous clients, a fancy “shingle,” even recommendations. Most mechanics either answer to the owner/operator, whose investment depends on the quality of employees’ work, or they had to prove their bona fides when opening their own shop, either to investors or lenders. Editors are not filtered by either of these influences, leaving authors who could not recognize a wrong comma having to judge whether or not an “editor” could. Point toward a handful of “happy” clients who were not able to recognize shoddy work, and they will never know about the scores who left disappointed or even angry. Another problem is that authors often do not know what services they really need. Hiring a contractor to fix the bulge in a wall is unfortunate when the real repair is where the roof leaks down into that wall.

    The example you shared feels like a lot of time was spent trying to figure out the real problems. I could go on, but I just get aggravated thinking about all this. Many times people have brought us messes that were “fixed” by others, only to find it best to start again from the original untainted MS. Frankly, it pisses me off to see how “professionals” have damaged the work of otherwise-good authors, or failed to improve the work of authors not-so-good.

    Many years ago I received an intro letter from an editing-services company that was so poorly written I could not help but mark it up and send it back, along with some suggestions for basic marketing techniques. Years later I received another from the same company–and recognized all my editing in their much-improved letter. Unfortunately, I helped them appear more competent than they deserved.

    The author whose acknowledgements you shared made one very unfortunate choice, trusting someone who is so utterly unqualified to edit that her own work is laughably below standard. Quite the opposite, I know the work–all work–of Harmony Kent to be impeccable, professional, quality, individualized, and very much what many authors need for taking that next big step up in presenting their best possible work. I understand that formatting is just that–layout and appearance. Sure, if you spot something in the process, take care of it, maybe even run a search to see if it recurs; but I am very sympathetic to the formatter who does quality work from an inferior MS.

    I disagree with the comment from Joy, an author and person I like, and I suspect her admonishment about privacy may have inadvertently made the example less private than Harmony intended. Discussing privately what went wrong on this project does little to protect others who might be taken in by the same charlatan. Scammers tend to know what they are doing, but the most dangerous are those who really do believe their snake oil is “all that.”

    Thanks for an informative post, Harmony. Sorry this is so long, but you picked at a sore spot. Your example is one Iโ€™ve seen literally drive several good authors out of writing altogether.

    • Thank you so much for this honest and helpful comment, Stephen. Like you, I feel the time has come to get this out in the open. By keeping quiet, we allow the charlatans and the bullies to keep operating โ€˜on the quietโ€™. Itโ€™s too sad that writers have given up because of people like this.

      And thanks so much for your kind words about my work! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • Stephen, you bring out a lot of valid points. Someone calling themself an editor doesn’t make it so. (I could live in a garage but that wouldn’t make me a car.)

      I had a bad experience with a so-called editor several years ago. He was, in fact, merely a frustrated writer with an ego as big as Texas.

      It’s a shame that so many people have fallen for these schemes of many scammers.

    • Good points, Stephen. My first book was a mess and done by a traditional publisher’s editor. I was thankful to find Harmony and have her re-do the whole thing and make it right. Authors need to be very careful in checking the qualifications before turning their work over. What an editor says about qualifications means little. The proof is in the work. It is wise to get a sample and check out other books the editor has done.

    • Those are some heartfelt comments, Stephen. I like your point about not investing a lot to get into the business. The fakir can fit right in beside the legitimate ones, and nobody knows.

    • Stephen, I’d like to thank you for your thorough reply. You eloquently expressed many of the frustrations I feel in our industry and touched on many of the issues I started to mention before changing my mind (about twenty times) and leaving a more general response.

      I once again wrote a lengthy comment then decided to delete it. You said everything that needs to be said. And I don’t have a solution. I wish I did. I only know it frustrates me to no end.

      I thank you and Harmony for the detailed discussion of the problem.

    • Stephen, you really hit the nail on the head multiple times with your comment. The internet has given anyone the freedom to “hang out a shingle” and profess themselves to be something they’re not. I’ve critiqued other authors for fifteen years and have had several comment that I could be an editor. No way. That is an entirely different ball of wax, and one that I would never dare approach. Extensive research is definitely needed before engaging an editor to make sure they can back up their claims of professionalism.

      • You are quite right, Mae. Still, research often just leads to that impressive shingle, looking good but still not conveying the likely value of the editor. The initial encounter is going to be the most important aspect of judging an editor’s (or other skilled helper’s) expertise. I’ve come to where the only kind of editing I do is mixed with writer development. I will share screens on Skype (choose your own tech) and show the author how I would edit, expecting a good writer to want me to explain. That doesn’t mean every comma, but certainly the ones raising questions. I usually find a few or maybe a half-dozen problems that, once discussed, the author would like to trying fixing without me, bringing the MS back both much improved and ready for more detailed examination. Whether the author wants to continue learning as part of the edit or is ready to hand it off to me, what’s most important is that the author understand what will be done and why. An editor not open to explaining “every little thing” might not be able to. Once the job starts, the author should be impressed and proud of all the improvement. If not, it’s time to move on before spending more money. Thanks for the comment, Mae!

    • Stephen makes some excellent points. It is very difficult for an author to judge whether an editor/proofreader is qualified to handle their precious ms. I still say they should be prepared to edit a sample free, but without a reasonable knowledge of grammar and punctuation oneself it wouldn’t help. I would be lost on suggested story edits. It’s impossible for those to be done on a sample. An editor needs to read the whole story, or an extremely detailed synopsis.

      It doesn’t answer the question, “how to find a good editor” other than to suggest authors read well-written books and ask the author who they used, but that assumes it’s possible to contact them – many do give links at the end of their books – and that they are prepared to tell a stranger when they are aware their editor is already very busy.

  2. Hi Harmony, I have used two developmental editors for my books, both of whom I have been incredibly happy with. I have learned so much from both Charli Mills and Esther Chilton, I just can’t explain in words. In saying this, the developmental edits in all cases have required significant overhauls of my books. In other words, a lot of hard work has gone into re-writing them, moving text about, changing POV’s, changing telling to showing. I spend hours and hours implementing the advice received. Perhaps this is easier for me as I have worked with lawyers on documentation for years and understand the need to make changes to address comments. At the end of the day, anyone can give advice but if the receiver doesn’t implement the advice then it won’t be helpful. I have also tried to learn from reviews and editing advice provided by top authors like Dan Alatorre. I have a lot to be grateful for among the writing community. These are my experiences, of course, and have nothing to do with your specific example. My point is that you can spend money but at the end of the day, it is elbow grease to implement advice that allows a writer to learn and develop. Even after all the work and 3 or 4 readers as well as my own reading of the book a million time [or so it feels], I always find a few mistakes. I accept that as life. I aim for 96% write as 100% would make publishing impossible for me.

    • Hi Robbie, thank you for those recommendations and your insightful comments. I agree wholeheartedly that the author has to do the work. And, like you, a 100% perfect book would be next to impossible for most of us … I believe our individual quirks are part of what give us our individual voices. It won’t ever work well to expect any editor, proofreader, or formatter to make your book perfect for you. Ongoing development and learning is crucial. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I agree with the points you made in this post, Harmony. Even though I only published a poetry book so far, I’ve learned a lot in the last few years as I interact with other authors on the writing, editing, and publishing issues. I feel sorry for the author you mentioned spending so much time and money on her book and still finding all kinds of errors in her final product.

    Since I had the experience of writing a dissertation, knowing there was a zero tolerance of mistakes and even typos, I did my part to do the best on all aspects before sending it to my typist/editor. Of course she charged by the amount of time and effort in the job. At least I learned that every single word and punctuation she corrected cost me money.

    I admire someone who wants to write a book and has a raw manuscript required years of time to clean up. I wouldn’t know how to begin to give advice for such work. Some could hire a ghost writer to do the job. I remember correcting writings for my classes. Some writings required so many corrections that if I did them all, it would look like my writing in the end. So, I would just made comments and have writing conference with the students.

    As many “how to” out there, beginning authors must learn the basics of writing, and try their best to write to a point that they “like” their writing before spending money on the editing. As one example you cited, that author “liked” a little more after each editing. I wished she had done more on that process before sending it out.

    Thank you for the link to Reedsy!

    • I couldn’t agree more, Mirriam. One thing I am always careful to not do is to end up with someone’s MS read like my writing. It has to be in their voice, which–as you say–can sometimes mean leaving some of the more minor issues in there; otherwise, it reads like a completley different booka and as if ghost written.

      We absolutely do need to polish our work and hone our skill as much as we can before sending our MS out for other eyes, as no editor has a magic wand that can turn a poor or mediocre work into a magnificent one.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful input, Mirriam ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. All of my past work has gone through editors at publishing houses and I’ve been super satisfied with the results. Moving ahead, I’m going to need to engage editors for indie works, and I fully agree that several present themselves as professionals with no more experience than I have.

    I’ve also found that many people who assume leadership positions don’t walk the walk while talking the talk. Sadly, I’ve been on the receiving end of that and was horribly disillusioned. As with many things, it’s a learning curve. The more we research and investigate, the more we’re able to ensure we don’t spend money foolishly, the wiser we become.

    Great post, Harmony!

    • Absolutely … research and learning. Yes, some people love to place themselves (in their minds, at least) above others when they have no legitimate reason for doing so. Good luck with your indie ventures, and thanks, Mae ๐Ÿ˜Š

  5. I feel so sorry for that author. I’m glad you went through the manuscript and fixed it for her. I hope she enjoys her book when all the dust settles. It sounds like she’s been through enough with it. I was lucky. My writers’ group had a wonderful, professional editor in it who’d retired but insisted on doing our books for free to help us get started. She was a blessing.

    • She sounds like a wonderful blessing, Judi. Shame sheโ€™s retired. Iโ€™m crossing everything that the author is able to enjoy her book after all this. Thanks, Judi ๐Ÿ˜Š

  6. You are an amazing editor, Harmony, and I am indebted to your skill. Reading this post brought up so many things for me. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter approaches to writing, nor long lists of rules. Each writer has something unique to offer, and if that uniqueness is not respected, the story suffers.

    I just finished a book by CS Boyack, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the story, but what I liked, even more, was getting to know Boyack through his unique style, his approach to dialogue, and his quirkiness.

    When the writing world becomes politicized and stratified in terms of false claims of greatness, writers lose who they are.

  7. I see no reason why an editor/proofreader confident of his/her skill and qualification shouldn’t offer a short sample of their work. Even if it was used, as I used one on one occasion, it must be a powerful selling tool, at least until word-of-mouth recommendations make it unnecessary.

    I would be interested to know how much precious time would be invested in a free sample of between 1500 and 2000 words. I did email the lady who did mine well and explain why I was unable to use her marvellous service. With hindsight, I should have kept a note of her name.

    • Depending on how much tweaking was needed, it could be done in about 2 hours(ish) for 2000 words. Some manuscripts take longer, others less time. Whenever I work with a client I use the comments facility to educate them and explain the changes I make in the hope they can do that for themselves at some point.

      To give the American editor I mentioned his due, he worked with me to try to educate me too, which was a nice touch.

      While your lady sounds very good, I could never pay or charge that large a fee.

      Thanks for the additional comment, Sarah ๐Ÿ˜Š

  8. Harmony, I had an editor and proof-reader recommended to me only this month. She offered to do 1,500 words for free, so I sent her the first POV of my WIP. The result was an utter disgrace.

    I had asked her if she was happy with UK English. “Yes, Sarah”. A lot of her corrections and suggestions were based on what I know from reading, and enjoying, many books by American authors, was USA English.

    If you, or any of the others, would like her name, I am prepared to send it to you in an email to pass on, though I don’t think for an instant any of you are likely to fall into her trap.

    • Offering a sample is a great idea, and it sounds like it’s saved you a lot of wasted money and trouble. She sounds like the American editor I used, as he promised the same thing and butchered my UK English MS. Thanks for the heads-up, Sarah.

      I hope you’re doing well, hugs ๐Ÿ™‚

      • It’s not the first time I’ve sent a sample for a free trial edit. The first POV of Illicit Passion was improved 100% by an American editor. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the $4000 she wanted for doing the whole book, but I took careful note of what she had altered and why, so I was able to improve it myself. That was back in 2015. $400 and I would have paid her to do the first in the series too.

        Yes, I’m fine, thank you. Busy writing my first thriller. I see you still have problems – “fine” with me could be qualified! We press on regardless. Hugs back.

  9. I’ve started and deleted several comments now. I have so much to say but don’t want to hijack your post. But I will say it’s a travesty when an author spends that much time and money on a book only to end up with final product he or she can’t be proud of. And that includes all of it—cover, blurb, editing, formatting, and (when appropriate) quality of printed book.

    I’m sorry for all involved in the situation you presented. It makes our entire industry look bad when things like this happen.

    • Thanks for your care, Staci. I doubt you would have hijacked the post. I agree wholeheartedly, it is an absolute travesty that makes our industry look so bad.

  10. Years ago, I paid a lot of money to someone who called herself an editor. All I got in return were writing platitudes like you see on memes every day. I am very gun shy about spending that kind of money again. There are a lot of charlatans out there.

    • This is so sad, and those charlatans don’t realise the damage they are doing. I don’t blame you for being gun shy, Craig ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Hi, Harmony, this is not good at all. As much as I may agree with much of what you said, I disagree with the way you have handled this. I have learned not to call people out in an open forum but to do so privately.
    As you well know, I used two Beta Readers, one evaluator, two editors, two proofreaders, and a formatter for my book. Three years later, a reader found so many formatting issues with the book. These were issues that I should have picked up myself but I was counting on my proofreaders to have done their job.
    We are all at fault here; the author, the proofreader, and the formatter. I failed my book and it cost me dearly. We learn every day, and I have learned my lesson.

    • Hi Joy, I’m sorry you feel this way, but I’ve tried the quiet way and it hasn’t worked. With one person in particular involved in this, I have had enough of the bullying and incompetence, and it is time to bring this into the open. Also, I disagree strongly that the formatter (in this case, myself) let you down, as these issues are not for your formatter to go through word-by-word to pick up. They should have been handled at the proofreading stage. The formatter did an incredible job picking up so many just by doing a page-by-page scan.

  12. Harmony, I feel so bad for this author. It’s a shame (to say the least) given the hard work she put in and the desire to make the book the best it can be.

    You are right. Just because someone calls themself a professional doesn’t make it so. Early on, I had an experience with a so-called editor who in reality was just a frustrated writer. (And an egotistical one at that.) He butchered one of my short stories that I wrote for an anthology. Since I was eager to become published, I accepted his edits. To this day, I regret not using a pen name. I will not support the book or make mention of it on my website.

    I do hope this author is able to have those blatant errors corrected and the person responsible will do the right thing.

    • That’s not a good experience, Joan. I suspect that way too many writers have had this sort of thing happen to them, and it makes me so very sad.

  13. I would love to give my recommendation since the editor I use has done every one of my books. Her name is Harmony Kent and she does exceptional work on line by line and copy edits. I have to agree with your idea that people who set themselves up as the standard of the industry should do the kind of work that backs that claim. If one wants to be seen as professional then one needs to deliver professional results. Sadly this person found out the hard way that everyone is not as capable as they profess to be. A good reminder for us all, Harmony.

    • Thanks for those lovely words, John, and for all your support ๐Ÿ™‚