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.
Sally, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.
I work for a small independent publisher in Toronto called Master Point Press. We’re pretty niche. We publish books about bridge. Yes, the card game. While a big part of my job involves working in production, I’m very hands on with the books from the beginning. But I’m no bridge expert—bridge is something that can take years to learn well, and I’m only starting out.
My brilliant boss, Ray Lee, does the editing, as he is also an expert bridge player. His wife, Linda, co-owner of Master Point Press, is a bridge world champion. I’ve been playing for over five years, and I definitely still consider myself a beginner. To truly edit a bridge book, you need an extensive knowledge of the game, not only to catch errors but to understand the reader, whether beginner or expert, and how they think. My boss has unique insight into what will work as a book and what the market needs. He has written for bridge publications, founded magazines on bridge, and worked in the publishing industry for more years than he, in his words, “cares to remember.” He is a talented editor and a talented bridge player, a winning combination that makes our company the success that it is.
In the editorial department, I’m mainly a copy editor. I’m such a stickler for rules that I find copy editing pretty rewarding. I copy edit and typeset all our new books, see them through the printing process, and put them into the hands of our booksellers and bookstores. I’ve been with the company for eight years now, witnessing the transition into selling ebooks on our own site and many book successes along the way.
I get to work with authors who are world-renowned bridge players. And one author who has over 100 books to his name. Those are the people you can learn a lot from. For 13 years I worked at Indigo, many of those years as a manager, so I also love working with booksellers and guiding them toward the best way to sell our books. Who better to do that than the editor, right? There’s nothing better than seeing a book you’ve worked hard on sell well.
On the production side of things, bridge books have some unique challenges when it comes to typesetting and especially when it comes to ebooks. The books are very image heavy—you’ll find bridge hands throughout most of them, especially the quiz books. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve in terms of what works and what doesn’t for an ebook, but once we figured it out, we were set. And thankfully, we’ve found that the ebook format is very popular with our readers!
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
A very hard question. What an opportunity that would be! Mine has to be Samuel Beckett. Just to sit and talk with the man. There wouldn’t be much to edit; I’m sure I’d not change a thing. But I would love to have a conversation with him. Oh, or C.S. Lewis. For the same reason.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
The nerd in me loves this question! As I copy edit, I add tags to help me with typesetting. So is it weird to say that are two of my favourite symbols? Angle brackets (< >). Not really punctuation, I know. I just like putting order and structure into things. From an editing perspective, I think my favourite is the period. Just end the damned sentence already!
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
Definitely Paris—or anywhere in France or Europe—for the cafés. Nothing better than a vibrant environment and a great cup of coffee to go with a new manuscript. Throw in some French bread too. Or trade in that coffee for a nice French red? Yes, please! Also, I’ve started learning French (again).
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Every day. Ha! Ha! But seriously, I like how versatile my job can be and that I can work remotely from time to time depending what I’m working on. Many don’t have that luxury. And there’s nothing better than opening a fresh box of books that you had your hand in creating.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
In university, I actually studied music! So…the creative side of me needed a way to make a living (I was no virtuoso after all), and I was also studying English lit. This lead me to a job at Indigo, which led me to Ryerson’s publishing courses, and the rest is history. I always thought I’d be in school forever. But once I was out in the real world, I didn’t want to go back. I suppose I found publishing (or it found me) because it satisfied the academic in me. And, of course, I love books.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
Well, my editing motto (since this interview is about editing, right?) is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” I think that’s a very important rule to keep in your head, always. My life motto? Still working on that one.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications. She’s also administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series.
This article was copy edited by Nadiya Osmani.