In this instalment of our “Editors in the Spotlight” series, Abby Egerter interviews editor Jennifer Foster, who worked on the award-winning Dirty Science: 25 Experiments with Soil, by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone.
Jennifer Foster has been editing for 17 years and freelancing for 10. However, book publishing is something of a new venture for her, and she had to work very hard to get her break. So when she was given the opportunity to proofread Dirty Science: 25 Experiments with Soil for Scholastic Canada, she was thrilled; when the book won the Canadian Science Writers’ Association’s award for outstanding contributions to science writing for children, she was ecstatic.
What makes this an award-winning book? When Jennifer first received it, she perused its pages and was quickly impressed by the creativity, cleverness, visual attractiveness and sheer entertainment value of the content — perfect for holding a child’s attention and critical for teaching them science. The book has both style and substance.
Like other aspects of editing, proofreading is all done “backstage,” and when you’re finished, the readers won’t know you’ve done a thing. Nonetheless, Jennifer rightly points out that the proofreader gives the book its last chance of being clean and complete when it goes to the printer, and although proofreading is, on the whole, a more mechanical task than substantive or copy editing, it is every bit as necessary. In this case, Jennifer spotted not only the usual typos and spelling errors, but also missing text and inconsistencies that could have made the text confusing or difficult to read. You can never have too many eyes on a book, and Scholastic was clearly very fortunate to have Jennifer’s at the ready.
Of course, editing at all levels contributes to the overall quality of a finished text. In Jennifer’s opinion, all editors and proofreaders can help produce an award-worthy book as long as they are mindful of the needs of the audience while maintaining the author’s voice and always retain their objectivity towards the content. Some of Jennifer’s favourite techniques are to read the text out loud, even for picture books, to go over the material in two passes that are hours or even days apart, and to read the text backwards to take each word out of context so the mind doesn’t zip past errors.
Additionally, Jennifer has some great advice for working with authors to produce top-notch writing. Mutual respect is critical, regardless of whether you’re working with a managing editor or with the author directly, and enthusiasm will help all of your business relationships thrive. “Check your ego at the door and open your ears and your eyes” — in other words, if you’re going to give constructive and objective advice, don’t make the project too personal, and always pay attention to what the author and publisher need. An abundance of patience will pay off, especially if your author is new to publishing. Lastly, be fair, kind and humble. The author has laboured long and hard to bring their literary offspring into being, and they’re counting on you to help them prepare their baby to face the big, wide world. Take that responsibility seriously.
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