Q&A with MHP freelance editor Vanessa Battersby


Vanessa Battersby is a member of our crack team of editors and typesetters. We thought we’d throw a few questions at Vanessa so you can learn a bit more about her and the editing process.

Why did you choose to work in publishing?

It was a bit of no-brainer, really. I’ve always loved reading – total bookworm as a kid – so the idea of making books for a living was an instant winner.

Griff and Archie taking advice from Vanessa.

Griff and Archie taking advice from Vanessa.

How long have you been an editor for? And what roles have you held during this time?

I’ve been editing since the year 2000 – my first job as an editor involved sitting a couple of desks down from Michael at Wrightbooks, wrangling finance books into shape. Still my favourite role in-house!
I’ve since worked for Penguin and for Lonely Planet, and for a couple of years I designed ebooks and online learning courses for a small educational publisher. I’m currently in my second stint of working freelance, and I love it.

Tell us about the weirdest book you’ve ever worked on.

… I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
Seriously though, I think I’m immune to weirdness in books. When you start your career editing books about stock options and candlestick charting, you don’t have a solid grasp of what other people consider odd. I once edited a prosthodontist’s website – is that weird?

What do you see as the most important part of an editor’s job?

Making the author look like a genius.
By the time a writer’s done a few drafts of a book, they can’t see which bits are still confusing, or remember that readers may not already know X and so won’t understand Y, or realise that the cupcake recipes would really fit better in the party section, or pick up that two of the characters are basically identical. An editor can help you smooth out all such niggles, so your work reads seamlessly and professionally. Hello genius!

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Please don’t ask me to choose! I love them both. Star Wars is so swashbuckling and epic and Star Trek is just so cool with its vision for a peaceful, sustainable future. And the Borg and Q are two of my all-time favourite villains.

What are the top three tips you would give authors to help them write a book for their small business?

  1. Know your audience and write only for them. What do they need to know about your topic? How can you make it easy for them to grasp and engage with the information? When you get feedback on your book, get it from people who are in your target market. However wonderful your mentor or brother or best friend is, they aren’t your audience.
  2. Become absolutely clear about what your book will cover and how it fits together. Write down the chapters and their subheadings – the wording can change later, but having an outline will help you write in a focused, logical way.
  3. Don’t be stuffy. You’re not writing an essay or academic paper. Your readers are small business owners just like you, and being verbose or formal won’t help them understand or engage with what you’re saying. Be warm, be conversational – as the genie in Aladdin famously said, ‘Beeeeee yourself!’

How has publishing changed during your time in the industry?

How has publishing not changed? The technological changes are the obvious ones, but I think the two really big changes have been:

  1. the dramatic drop-off in retail – the sheer loss of books on shelves in local shops
  2. the equally dramatic rise in self-publishing.

I’m a bit nostalgic about bookshops, though of course online buying is convenient and usually cheaper. The rise in self-publishing, however, I think is pretty much 100 per cent wonderful! It’s an amazing thing for the human race that people can now share their knowledge and insights so much more easily.

Who will win the US election? Why?

I have a sinking feeling it’ll be Trump, just because he’s popular and considered a good businessperson. I try not to think about it too much, to be honest. Depressing.

Tell us about your dog Griffin.

Stop reading now if gushing makes you feel ill.
So, Griffin is the most wonderful dog in the world, apart from Archie and his other dog-friends. He’s a whippet, and he’s the sweetest: sleek and snuggly and super-fast. He’s eight now and people at the park still routinely ask me if he’s a puppy: bouncing is what whippets like! As with all sighthounds, though, at home he’s a total couch potato and spends most of his time asleep in various cute poses. One of the best things about freelancing is being able to have him curled up under my desk all day.

Vanessa can be contacted at vbattersby@gmail.com