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.
Jeanne, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.
I have been an editor for 21 years (gulp), and a freelancer for 16 of those (whoa). My first-ever paid work in editing was as a proofreader for a small company that publishes travel trade magazines. It was spectacular training ground: an endless supply of proofreading, and a production manager who wanted an apprentice, so I was able to learn a great deal about print production. From there, I worked in publications at the Canadian Diabetes Association, and when another staff member left, I suddenly became managing editor of their medical journal! I didn’t know much about the world of journal publishing, so it was a real trial by fire, but that job turned into another job in medical editing, which led to a freelance career specializing in medical and science editing, and I absolutely love it. Now I work with government, non-profit organizations, journal publishers, corporations and individual authors to improve the quality of science communication. My favourite thing is to help people prepare their journal articles for publication, particularly people whose first language is not English. Sort of an odd career path for someone who studied English, Celtic Studies, and Scottish Literature, but you never know where life will take you!
My work in science editing got me very interested in certification, because I work so much with doctors, nurses, and people in other regulated professions. Early in my career, I was very glad to find the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, which runs a certification program for science editors, so I took their exam as soon as I was eligible. Not long after that, Editors Canada launched its certification program, and I jumped at the chance to do that, too. I have appreciated the chance to test my editorial skills against the standards set by two national-level organizations. As well, both certifications have been really valuable in my everyday work: they allow me to present myself to clients as a specialist in another field, which creates a very different working relationship.
Once I got my CPE from Editors Canada, the certification steering committee came calling, and I have been volunteering with them for six years now. It is so rewarding to be part of our association’s amazing program, and to see what goes into developing and administering the tests. The dedication of the people on the committee—and of all the others who volunteer their time to make certification happen—is truly inspiring.
Outside of work, I live in the east end of Toronto with my husband and two daughters: 14 and 11. I love to travel every chance I get. When I’m at home, I love books, music, and tea. As well, a growing interest of mine is patient advocacy and patient engagement with the healthcare system. I had the chance to be a patient representative on a planning committee at our local hospital this year, and I was hooked right away; I want to do more of that in the future.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I love to daydream about working with Neil Gaiman, but I don’t edit fiction, and anyway, I think I’d be terrified to try it! I have often thought that it would be fascinating to work with Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto, Being Mortal). He has a remarkable ability to communicate challenging concepts simply and clearly, and his approach makes science writing accessible to a wide audience. Also, he wrote an entire book about checklists—how great is that?
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I love semicolons; they’re a nice break in the road, but not the end of the journey.
As for favourite words, I have so many! Right now, the word that’s running around my head is dreich; it’s my favourite kind of weather, and it’s the weather outside right now as I write this.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
One of the great fortunes of my life has been that I had the chance to do my master’s degree at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I have been trying to find my way back there ever since! I would love to buy a little cottage near the university where I could work, wander along the beach, immerse myself in the history of a town that has been there for almost 1000 years, and then take little trips into Edinburgh now and then. Heaven.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Never. As soon as I recognized the path towards work in editing, I knew it was the one I wanted to take. I have questioned many things in my life, but never this!
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I originally thought about a career in academia, but I had a lightning-bolt moment one night, working on the quarterly magazine for the postgraduate student society at St. Andrews. It was very late, I had been working on copy and layouts for about 14 hours without a break, and I realized I hadn’t noticed the time pass at all. I thought to myself, “I’m not completely sure what kind of job this is, but whatever it’s called, I need to be doing it!”
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
“Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” (J.M. Barrie) Kindness makes every interaction better!
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 Sarah Newman.