Q&A with Jo Russell, Writer and Editor

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

Jo is a freelance writer and editor. She has ghostwritten and edited a number of books, including Holding Court, the story of Wimbledon’s success as told by the former chief executive of the world’s most famous tennis club, and Beyond Harvard, the sequel to the best-selling What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.

Tell us a little about your career and how you came to work as a publishing freelancer.

I qualified as a solicitor but soon realised that a career in law was not for me. I didn’t want to make another mistake, so I thought hard about where my interests and strengths lay (the two tend to go hand-in-hand) and decided to focus on publishing. I started in legal publishing which was the natural transition and then switched to general business publishing. Working as a freelancer followed as a lifestyle choice, once I had children and had moved out of London. It was a great choice! Being a freelancer has allowed me to work on so many more diverse projects.

You have edited a number of high-profile books and publications. Could you offer some tips for aspiring editors? 

There is no sense in reinventing the wheel. There are some fundamental rules that remain just as valid, no matter how many times they’re told. Keep copy simple. Be consistent in tone and always remember your target audience. When I edited Make it Happen, The Prince’s Trust book on how to set up your own company, it required a different tone to the one I took when editing Building a Pyramid, a business growth book aimed at senior managers and leaders, even though both were in the business genre. It’s always worth keeping an open dialogue with the writer. If there is something that isn’t clear in the original copy, don’t just delete it, but go back and check. It might be an important point that needs to be included, albeit in a more approachable way.

Tell us a little about your experience ghostwriting within the publishing industry. Is it a collaborative process or entirely independent?

It’s very much a collaborative process. You are acting as the author’s voice, translating their words, thoughts and emotions into a compelling story. That means spending time with the person that you are working with, in order to capture the right tone. There is an element of independence, in that your expertise lies in manipulating the author’s words into an enthralling read, but it is ultimately only by working closely with your subject that you will end up with a book that you can both be happy with.

You have extensive experience interviewing high-profile business executives and CEOs. Tell us a little about your approach to this. Are there particular techniques you use when conducting interviews?

Research is important. With most CEOs, interview time is limited and there’s no point wasting time going over material that can easily be found elsewhere. State at the outset who the target audience is, so that the conversation can be set at the right level. I’m happy to ask for further explanation on something if an interviewee has slipped into industry jargon or assumed knowledge on a complex subject. Always check how much time you have before you start.

You recently worked on John Pritchard’s new book, The Great River Rowed: The Mississippi Million, which has just been published. Which element of this project did you most enjoy?

Working with John and finding out more about the charity Right To Play. John rowed the length of the Mississippi in order to raise $1m for Right to Play, and as a result changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in war-torn and deprived areas. It was quite inspirational.

Finally, is there anything you are currently working on which we can look forward to?

I have a couple of ideas milling around. I’ve always been interested in the link between sport and business, and am fascinated by people who have the drive, focus and passion to stretch the boundaries, whether in business, sport or life. It’s a privilege to spend time with people you admire, to find out what makes them tick.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.