NEFF: Jen, how did you grow into the profession of
copyeditor for Little, Brown?
JEN: I first started in publishing as an intern for Heinemann,
which publishes professional books for teachers (primarily
in language arts) as well as theatre and arts books and
works by writers in developing countries. I interned there
for two summers during college, and my senior year I began
doing freelance proofreading and copyediting while I was at
school at Bryn Mawr College. After graduation, I started
working as an assistant editor at Educators Publishing
Service in Cambridge, MA, which publishes workbooks and
other programs for K-12 students, and I worked my way up to
senior editor. I kept freelancing for Heinemann, and then
when we hired a new editor who had worked at Little, Brown,
I asked her to put me in touch with the copyediting manager
there. I took their proofreading and copyediting tests and
began freelancing for them as well. So I had a built-in
relationship with them, and when they said they were
looking for a full-time copyeditor I was eager to apply.
NEFF: Tell us something about Little, Brown, from your
viewpoint. Where is it going as a publisher? Leaning
away from literary and more towards commercial?
JEN: I think both literary and commercial books are very
important to Little, Brown. In my opinion this is just as
it should be--both kinds of books appeal to different
readers (or, often, the same reader!). And since the
reality of publishing is that James Patterson is going to
sell a lot more books than Elizabeth Kostova (no matter how
well The Historian sells), I think the bestselling
commercial books help subsidize the more literary ones. The
only thing you'd have to watch out for is that the
commercial ones don't crowd out the literary ones
altogether, but I don't think there's a danger of that at
such an old and well-respected publishing house. We've just
been acquired by Lagardere, a French company that owns
other publishing companies around the world, and I think
they plan to maintain the status quo, since our books are
certainly selling well and Lagardere seems pleased with how
the company is being run.
NEFF:Your job is extremely demanding and diverse. What is a
typical day in the life of a copyeditor? What happens?
JEN: Usually, each day is different, but includes some or all of
the following: copyediting manuscripts and jacket copy,
uploading jacket copy to our shared server, proofreading
jackets, checking pages that come in from the typesetter
(we hire freelance proofreaders for the first set of
typeset pages, but after that it's often the copyeditor who
checks pages), reviewing corrections and changes from
authors, freelance copyeditors, or proofreaders, and so on.
It's very important to be able to multitask! But usually we
don't have all of these things happening at once, and
sometimes they may take just a few minutes or less than an
hour, and then we can get back to copyediting manuscripts.
NEFF: Tell us about some of your more memorable experiences in the field.
JEN: Well, once I heard my cubicle neighbor, the copyediting
assistant, saying, "OK, well, I'm not sure about that, but
let me find out and I'll get right back to you. I just need
to put you on hold for a second, hang on." Then later I get
this e-mail from her: "I just put David Foster Wallace on
hold." I do find it exciting to work for a company that
publishes such great authors, and it's fun to work with
people who are similarly excited about books. I think I'm
still waiting for a similarly memorable experience that's
really my own, but I love working with authors and helping
to improve their books.
NEFF: What kind of interaction do you have with authors?
JEN: So far I've been lucky with all my authors. They are often
touched and grateful that a total stranger is taking such
thoughtful care with their work. I think this is an area
where Little, Brown really excels--all the copyeditors are
fantastic, and we really try hard to do right by people's
work. Even when an author and I disagree about something,
we can usually find a compromise that satisfies everyone.
The only thing I can't stand is when I make a correction to
a manuscript and the author changes it back and tells me
I'm wrong when I'm not. Fortunately, this happens VERY
NEFF: What is the most difficult aspect of your job in the
context of bringing a ms to a polished state?
JEN: Sometimes if I'm having a busy day (like one in which all
of the things in my answer to question 3 are happening),
it's discouraging not to be able to just sit down and
copyedit for several hours at a stretch. But there's always
a time when the rush eases and I can get back to it.
NEFF: How do the copyeditors interact in the organization
with the editors and other professionals? Do personalities come into play?
JEN: I suppose they might in some cases, but it seems that
generally the editors do a good job prepping the MS, so
that we copyeditors don't usually end up having much
interaction with them. I had a book that I thought needed a
little structural reworking (a chapter was divided into
several sections that flipped back and forth between
different days, and it was too hard to tell which day was
which). I talked to the editor and author and it turned out
that everybody agreed that the chapter needed some help.
NEFF: What does the future hold for Jen Noon?
JEN: Wouldn't I like to know! I have been copyediting for about
ten years, and I still enjoy it. I love working in trade
publishing as much as I always thought I would. I'm
fortunate in that copyediting is a job I can do from home,
so if I give up full-time work to raise a family, I can
still freelance. It's also a job that I think will be
around for a long time--we're nowhere near having a
computer program that could do what I do--and one that I
could incorporate into my life pretty much indefinitely,
whether it's my full-time job or not.
About the Interviewer
Michael Neff is the Director of WDS and Algonkian Workshops. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org