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What do editors and proofreaders really do?: A letter to Zoella

If you follow news about books and writing you have probably seen article after article about Zoella and her book Girl Online. You have probably seen attacks against the work for its ghostwriting elements and also defenses of the book stating that Zoella used editors and proofreaders like any other writer would. I’ve never followed Zoella’s blog/vlog and I wasn’t one of the millions of people to buy her book. Today there have been reports from the Daily Mail that she as ‘quit the internet’ after it came out that her book was predominantly written by someone else, a ghostwriter.

Rather than flinging more allegations into the mix, I wanted to talk about what it means to be an editor and/or proofreader and how it differs from ghostwriting. Zoella has claimed that she has used editors and proofreaders like any other author, but the reality is that proofreaders check for grammar, spelling, and layout as outlined by each publishing house’s style guides. Editors have many different rolls but they generally check for plot coherency, character development, and also any grammar/spelling/layout issues that might arise. If they wrote the work for you, you wouldn’t have the author’s name on the book. You would have the editor’s or proofreader’s name there instead. In fact, the author would be redundant altogether.

In some ways editing and proofreading can feel like ghost work. We are rarely recognised publicly for our work in shaping stories. Some gracious authors mention their editors in their thank you and acknowledgement notes but for the most part, proofreaders and editors are the unsung heroes of the writing world. And all of the editors and proofreaders I know, myself included, pride themselves on good work, honesty, and professionalism.

I’m not sure if the truth will ever really come out about Zoella’s book and the deals she made with the publishing company, but I do want to say this: I was hurt by what Zoella stated in relation to her use of proofreaders and editors. It makes it look like every author doesn’t know how to write, that they are puppets for publishing houses. It makes it look like proofreaders and editors are in some deceitful hidden practice. It tarnishes every name of every person who has ever honestly worked as a writer, editor, or proofreader.

And so this is where I’ll leave it:

Zoella, if you came up with a loose idea for a story, but someone else wrote it, please stop saying that you just simply used proofreaders and editors like everyone else. Don’t pull down authors and the editorial staff that edit their work. We aren’t what you say we are.