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.
Kerry, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.
My true confession is that I don’t feel totally comfortable identifying as an editor—I’m not very good at it. I learned this when I edited the essay anthology, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published in 2014. I was very effective at coming up with a vision for the book, for conceptualizing it, coordinating the writers and the project as a whole. But when the time came for the nitty-gritty editing work, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully my publisher, Goose Lane Editions, enlisted their fiction editor, Bethany Gibson, to come on board, and it’s from watching her work that I learned that editing is truly a vocation. She had such an awesome sense of the shape of the book and how its pieces fit together, and also a spectacular talent for diplomacy, which is an essential part of the job.
Since 2011, I’ve been the editor at 49thShelf.com, a huge and wonderful Canadian books website, where my tasks involve those that “editor” has grown to comprise in the digital world and helping to envision the site’s focus. I’ve been similarly fortunate to work with an excellent editor who makes me look legit. My colleague, Kiley Turner—nominally the site’s managing editor, among many other hats she wears—has taught me everything I know about style, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and being detail-oriented. Unfortunately for her, I forget a lot, and she has to tell me over and over again.
While I might fall down in the grammar department, I’m very good at other parts of my job, including staying on top of the hundreds of Canadian-authored books released each month and choosing which ones to feature on our site. Right now I am going through spring 2018 books to find noteworthy titles to feature in our spring preview. I write blog posts and create reading lists to draw interesting connections between different books and find different ways to spotlight titles and catch readers’ interest. I love that reading books is officially part of my job, and that I get to work with authors to help spread the word about their books. This isn’t a job that existed back when I was dreaming up my future, and my younger self would not be able to fathom it. Quite frankly, I still can’t quite fathom it.
My office is my kitchen table at my apartment in downtown Toronto, and I work while my children are at school.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I’m going to cheat, and say I did it already: the women who contributed to The M Word are such a terrifically talented group of people and that they trusted their work to my project is one of the great privileges of my life—authors including Alison Pick, Saleema Nawaz, Susan Olding, Heather Birrell, Carrie Snyder. Working with their words was such a pleasure.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I love the semicolon. Grouping unlike things is basically my religion.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
I would keep on working right here at my kitchen table. The kettle is close by and so is the fridge, and the afternoon light never fails to fill me with inspiration.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Only in order to repeatedly ask the question: How did I ever get this lucky? (I still don’t know the answer.)
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I didn’t really choose to become anything, except a writer, which I’ve been choosing to be every time I’ve sat down to write anything since I was eight-years-old. My first novel, Mitzi Bytes, was published in March 2017, and once again I worked with a terrific editor, Jennifer Lambert at HarperCollins Canada, who taught me so much and whose faith buoyed me. And don’t get me started on the talents of copy editor Grace Yaginuma, whose notes in the margins delighted me. If I’d planned better, I might have undertaken formal training as an editor by studying publishing at college or university. But, if I’d planned better, I would not have left all the possibilities open, and it’s this openness that’s led me to becoming an editor at all.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
If I had a motto, it would be something like, “There’s enough for everyone,” which means writers and editors alike should be generous in supporting each other, because we all benefit from a robust literary culture. Underlining this is my sense that editors must make space in that culture for diverse voices, and that we all win when everyone gets a seat at the table.
I also swear by a line the novelist Caroline Adderson once wrote, “Of course, the best antidote to the disappointment of the literary life is to read.”
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.