Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.
Aaron, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.
I’ve had the great fortune of being able to make a career of being a magazine editor. After graduating from Ryerson University with a degree in applied arts with a focus on magazines, I got a job at Outdoor Canada. Within a year, I was the managing editor there and spent a little over a decade in that capacity. That position exposed me to a wide range of roles and responsibilities in the magazine business, from writing, editing, and composing display copy to working closely with the art department and helping to oversee many of the managerial-type jobs at a magazine. From there, I moved on to a short stint as the publications manager at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, where I oversaw the revitalization of their three publications, Canadian Wildlife, its French counterpart Biosphère, and WILD, a magazine for kids. In my current role at Canadian Geographic, I oversee all editorial content for the brands’ many media tools. Interestingly, wildlife and the environment have continued to be a significant part of the content I’ve helped to create for almost two decades now—issues that seem to be as important as ever today.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
An excellent editor I worked with at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Cooper Langford, suggested to me—and I hope I’m not misinterpreting him—that he saw the role of editor as that of shepherd, to help guide a writer and get the most of out them. I really liked that idea and have very much tried to adopt it, so I really don’t see my role as an editor as doing much more than helping guide a writer to their best work. Still, as a fan of writing, I would love to have worked with Gay Talese. I recently saw a copy of the outline he did for his famed literary non-fiction piece “Frank Sinatra has a cold.” It’s impressive. If every writer was as thorough in their planning, the resulting work would be vastly improved. He clearly put a lot of thought into his plan before he ever started writing.
What: What is your favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I don’t have one. In fact, I would say it’s more the opposite, that there are punctuation marks or words that really start to annoy me. In particular, the exclamation mark often seems ill-used or overused these days (!), and then there are certain words or phrases that come into vogue, and as an editor, you see them so often that they really start to grate on you. Take “it is what it is” for example. Enough!
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
To be honest, I very much enjoy where I’m right now. When I started out, if I’d really let myself dream, I certainly think that being the editor of Canadian Geographic would be very near the top of where I’d have liked to see myself. I can’t think of another Canadian magazine I’d rather work at, given the broad range of topics it allows me to be involved with and the audience the magazine reaches. And while I know the Canadian magazine business is based in Toronto, there’s something quite nice about being based in Ottawa, where we have local access to many of the sources we rely on.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
In a sense, yes. With rumours swirling of the magazine industry’s demise, I hope the skill set I’ve developed will apply to other jobs. When I started out nearly 20 years ago, I certainly never thought people would be talking about if magazines would have a future. That said, the stats suggest there are as many magazine readers today as years ago, and that many of the magazine closures these days are high profile. I believe strongly that this industry will survive. Certainly, we seem to be holding our own at Canadian Geographic. And if I wasn’t a magazine editor, I don’t know what I’d do. I just love the mix of work and people it exposes me to, from great writers and amazing photographers, to phenomenal illustrators and designers, to innovative circulation people and smart publishers. In addition, telling important stories feels important in this day and age when news seems to be coming, more often than not, in the form of list-icals and sound bites.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I gravitated toward becoming an editor because I was drawn to the mix of types of interactions, people, and stories I would be exposed to. I’ve always had a wide range of interests, and being an editor seemed like the best way to keep a finger in as many of them as possible. I often say I know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a lot about much. But I also like it that way. It keeps me learning all the time.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
Geez, that’s a tough one. I’m not sure I’ve ever considered a personal motto. I’m not sure I’m enough of a wordsmith to come up with something cleverly succinct, but I really enjoy being super-creative and thinking outside the box. Thinking in the box is easy, thinking outside it is fun, and you can always pull back toward the box—isn’t that what publishers are for? (Dare I add an exclamation mark there?)
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Julie-Anne Mendoza.