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UHoP 2018: Q&A with Jenni Davis, copyeditor

UHoP 2018: Q&A with Jenni Davis, copyeditor

By Phoebe Dunn |

whitefox introduces another fantastic winner of the Unsung Heroes of Publishing 2018, Jenni Davis, a meticulous freelance copyeditor. We asked her a few questions about her approach to projects and how the publishing industry has changed over the years. For a complete list of #UHoP18 winners please see more here.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I’ve been in the publishing industry for 25 years, 18 of those as a freelance editor, copyeditor, proofreader and writer. Specialities have come and gone – I used to do a lot of cookbooks and mindfulness books, but I’ve overdosed on both and have struck them off my list! I’m happy to tackle most other subjects, but my true love will always be history and heritage.

How did you first get into this line of work?

My career in publishing began by accident in a coffee shop in Winchester when a friend invited me to be her editorial assistant at a guidebook publishing house. I said OK, and found my niche. It made sense – I had, after all, had my head in a book virtually from birth! I quickly took over day-to-day management of the freelance team of writers, editors, designers, photographers, picture researchers, cartographers and translators, which gave me an excellent grounding in all aspects of the book-production business, and later added more creative elements to my job description. At last – fun at work!

What do you regard as the most gratifying, and most challenging aspect of the work you do?

The most gratifying aspect is without doubt working with authors, both experienced and inexperienced – over the years, I’ve built up lovely relationships with many authors, their subjects as diverse as mindfulness and sailing. It’s a standing joke that whatever subject comes up, I’ve worked on a book about it…

The most challenging aspect is remembering that I no longer have to solve all the problems and that signing off a job for print is no longer my responsibility. I’m very happy to give my opinion on content/layout or whatever when invited to do so – the difficulty is keeping my opinion to myself when I haven’t been invited to offer it!

Tell us a bit about your approach to your projects.

I have a variety of approaches, depending on the experience or otherwise of the author, whether the writing is creative or practical, the target audience… But whoever is writing and whatever the subject, I’m always mindful of the fact that writing is a very personal thing, and even the most experienced author can feel insecure about their output, so I try always to guide with diplomacy. And when I’m copyediting, it’s always my ambition that the proofreader will find nothing to correct – virtually impossible, but it focuses the mind!

What have been the biggest changes in the industry that you’ve witnessed during your career?

Without doubt, the biggest is technology. I started in the industry at the very tail end of galleys and paste-ups and dodgy colour proofs that didn’t quite align. Then along came Macs and Quark and the process was transformed. But a big (negative) change that’s come with technology is too much trust in Word – it tends to have a mind of its own at times, and it is definitely NOT infallible when it comes to spelling and grammar choices, with sometimes hilarious results.

Publishers rely on freelancers to help them with lots of their books. How important is the relationship between internal and external creative talent?

I think it’s very important – many freelances in all disciplines have come from a background of working in publishing houses, so have masses of experience to contribute. It drives me nuts when people say ‘I’m good at spelling, I could be a copy-editor/proofreader’ when the process is SO much more creative and integrative than that.

What is the best book you’ve read lately?

Can I mention two books? The best two I’ve read lately are both titles I edited for whitefox. One, Breakout at Stalingrad by Heinrich Gerlach, is something I would never have chosen to read but wow – it’s fabulous, extremely well translated and the history behind the book is amazing. The other is The Hourglass by Liz Heron; very clever plot, so elegantly written, and not a word wasted, which I really appreciate in a writer – the reader is not paying for waffle to fulfil a word count.

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