Taking Five with Phillip Berrie

Phillip will be running a workshop, Preparing Your Manuscript: An Editor’s TipsSunday 4 December at the Writer Centre, 10am–3pm.  Come and learn some tips and techniques  to help make your manuscripts as accurate, consistent and professional as possible. 


Tell us about your path to becoming an editor.

I fell into proofreading after taking up a challenge from an author on the original HarperCollins’ Purple Zone website about reporting typos and mistakes in published books so that they could be fixed in later editions. Thirty thousand words of email correspondence later, the author asked me to do it professionally for their next book.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

I love experiencing the different worlds and characters my authors present me with (I specialise in the speculative fiction genre), and, if I can help them make the reader’s experience better, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make pre-editing?

For the text/story itself, the biggest mistake is not being consistent. This consistency can take many forms from the mechanical (e.g., the spelling of proper nouns) to the subtle (e.g., having a character stay in character).

However, with regard to the actual manuscript, many authors think that near enough is good enough when submitting a manuscript to an editor for help. A writer should always submit their best possible work, at all levels of the process. You want your reader (be they a beta reader or an acquisition’s editor) to spend their time thinking of ways to improve your work, not getting annoyed by (or having to fix) simple errors that you should have corrected yourself. To not do this shows not only a lack of pride in your work but also as a lack of professionalism, the latter being very important in the publishing world.

Do you have any helpful tips for writers at the self-editing stage?

To reiterate what I said in the first part of the last question, try to be consistent with your spelling and formatting—especially if you’re using a computer, as it is far easier to make global changes to a document if you have.

Keep and maintain a ‘story bible’ to assist with the above, and to ensure you get the descriptions of your characters and settings consistent. This will prevent you contradicting yourself and save you having to refer back to the manuscript to check you have things right.

What can participants expect to get out of your upcoming workshop at the Centre?

One of the big problems with writers editing their own material is that they get too close to the story—they skim the text, ‘reading’ what they ‘know’ should be there rather than what is actually on the page. To get around this problem, the writer needs to change their perspective on their text, to view it in a different way. A number of methods for doing just this will be demonstrated in the course.


Phillip Berrie works as a freelance writer, copyeditor and proofreader. His list of commercial clients include the Directorate of National Parks and the Australian Science Teachers Association and he does volunteer work for the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and the ACT Writers Centre (Phillip proofreads ACTWrite). Phillip has also worked for a number of well-known Australasian speculative fiction authors (notably, Trudi Canavan and Glenda Larke), and he himself is a published author. His short novel, The Changeling Detective, was published as an ebook by US press Hotspur Publishing in 2013 and recently became available in a print edition. His previously self-published novel, Transgressions, has been contracted by Australian press, Satalyte Publishing, for a print edition.

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