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.
Patrick, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.
I am the editor at Whitecap Books, a Vancouver-based publishing company that produces cookbooks and kids’ non-fiction. Mostly cookbooks. I’ve worked here for a few years now, before which I wrote for a few local arts papers and edited a bit of film criticism, sort of. I enjoy my current situation because editing cookbooks feels more like doing a Highlights puzzle than doing an actual job. For the most part, it’s just about looking for mistakes and things that aren’t like all the other things. It’s like doing a word- search, or a jumble. When I find incorrect conversions, an incomplete methodology, or something that disagrees with the overall style, it’s exhilarating! Plus, I don’t know anything about cooking really. I never cook, so trying to make sense of recipes is like . . . I get to ask a lot of dumb questions and everyone thinks I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Failing upwards I guess.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to have edited one of those Doc Savage pulps from the sixties or, from the present, maybe one of those Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child? It would be fun to edit a book where the bulk of your criticism is just things like, “You should mention how tall the main character is again.”
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I used to really like the square bracket and I would use it incorrectly all the time in college papers just because I felt like it had a cool austerity to it. But I got made fun of by my profs and now it’s not really in my life at all anymore. I haven’t really liked anything else much since then.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
I feel uncomfortable answering this question in case it’s a monkey’s paw–style situation. I mean, I’m sure it would be lovely to edit books from a beach in the south of Spain, but not if I had to wear a horsehair shirt, you know what I mean? I guess it would be nice if I worked somewhere with free bagels and energy drinks.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
I was previously working as a baker (I wasn’t good at it), and my boss told me I was a terrible baker and that I should try to get a job with my English degree. That sounded easier said than done, but then she fired me and so okay. I asked some friends for a job and they helped me out, then later I asked some other friends for a different job and they were like, “Do you have any experience” and I said, “Yeah I had that first job.” I feel extremely lucky to have a job where I don’t have to wake up at 4 AM, so I haven’t questioned much since then.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I used to really like writing when I was younger, and I even went to creative writing school in England. I wrote some poorly received Medieval fiction, but it took so much time and energy, and then no one liked it after all that anyways. Writing is hard work . . . you have to generate so much text, and you get so little feedback along the way. Being an editor is much easier. You can delegate all the ideas to other people, and they generate the text for you! Just kidding, sort of. Maybe this would be a good place for an emoticon.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
Do whatever you want, don’t do whatever you don’t want.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications. She is also chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series.
This article was copy edited by Afara Kimkeran.