Proofreading marks

5. My work as an editor
Attention to detail

I applied for jobs with book publishing companies ...

Most well-known publishing firms in Britain are based in London, and that's where I expected to get a job, but I didn't.

Instead, I moved north to Manchester to work as an editor for a company that published books about computers.

It was my job to work with authors, illustrators and designers, as we prepared books ready to be published. I didn't meet any famous authors, but I did get to work on lots of deadly boring computer books.

However, the good news was that I learned the important skills of editing, which is all about paying attention to detail. I had to check – and double-check – what an author had written to make sure it made sense and there were no spelling mistakes. If you find a mistake in a book, the author probably made it, but it was the editor who should have found it and put it right.

Proofreading in action

As an editor I had to learn a new 'language', but it was not a spoken one. I had to learn to use proofreading marks. There are about fifty different proofreading marks, and each one is an instruction to do something. As I read an author's text, if I found something that needed correcting, I'd put a mark in the margin.

It wasn't long before I changed jobs again, this time to work for another Manchester publishing company – one that produced books for nurses. Again, no famous authors, but lots more useful experience for me.

Then, in 1987 I joined the grandly-named World International Publishing, a children's publisher. At last, lots of famous authors – mostly dead ones such as Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Enid Blyton and Roger Hargreaves, creator of the Mr Men and Little Miss characters.*

My First Dinosaurs book cover

World International had been based in Manchester since it began in the mid-1940s. Two brothers had started the business by buying American newspapers that came into Manchester docks as ships' ballast. Inside the newspapers were American comics, which they took out and sold from market stalls. They sold the unwanted newspapers to fish and chip shops. Millions of Manchester 'fish suppers' must have gone home wrapped in sheets from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Dibble Daily Digest (I made this one up, I think, but you get the point).

From small beginnings a large publisher emerged, and by the 1980s World International was a leading mass-market children's publisher. I edited all sorts of books, from sticker books and story books to annuals and encyclopedias.

I also got the chance to write some books for the company, including this lift-the-flap-book about dinosaurs

But all things come to an end. World International no longer exists. It was swallowed up by a bigger publisher (the Danish-owned Egmont Group), who changed its name, transferred all work to a London office and, in 2003, closed the Manchester office down. As it happens, I'd left the firm before its sad demise, moving on in 1994 to work for myself as a children's author.

It was a big step to take. Did it work? You'll find out what happened next on page 6.

* I've written a short biography of Roger Hargreaves (Tell Me About Roger Hargreaves: ISBN 0237517582). It's out of print, but you should be able to find it in libraries. I've also written a fuller biography of him for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.