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Editor for Life: Janice Zawerbny, senior editor, HarperCollins Canada

Interview conducted by Adrineh Der-Boghossian.

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 Five Ws: 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.

Black-and-white headshot of Janice Zawerbny

Please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (and where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.

I’ve been an editor for more than 20 years in Toronto. I’ve worked in-house for most of my career: I’ve been an acquisitions and developmental editor, who also completes the substantive and stylistic edit after the books have been acquired. I mainly work on literary fiction and non-fiction but have worked on commercial fiction and non-fiction projects as well. I think one of the best traits of a good editor is versatility.

Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?

I like working with smart, kind, and humorous people, so I think I’d have to choose David Foster Wallace. I think working with him would have been both fun and intellectually stimulating.

What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?

I don’t have a favourite punctuation mark, although I probably overuse the em dash in my own writing. I also don’t have a favourite word, but I do keep a list of words I dislike, mostly because I don’t like the way they sound.

Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?

I would be a time traveller and work in New York in the 1920s to 1940s with Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s. From the 1950s to 1970s, I’d work in London at André Deutsch with Diana Athill. From the 1970s to 1990s, I would astral project and simultaneously work in New York with Gordon Lish at Knopf and Lennie Goodings at Virago Press in London. And from the 2000s to the present, I’d work in Toronto with Patrick Crean at Thomas Allen Publishers [sold to Dundurn Press in 2013] or HarperCollins.

When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?

Every day! I think questioning your career choice is part of the job. It should be in the job description. Being an editor, as Patrick Crean (a successful veteran Canadian editor) likes to say, is more of a calling than a career choice.

Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?

See previous answer. It’s something I was interested in, and through some magical mix of luck and talent, I was able to pursue this career. It’s a very precarious career choice, and I’ve learned to value and appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had.

And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?

My personal motto is advice from Rudyard Kipling: “Drift. Wait. Obey.” If I ever get a tattoo, that’s what it will say. It applies perfectly to every decision in life, including my editorial career.

 

Adrineh Der-Boghossian is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Amanda Clarke.


1 Comment

  1. Erin Scullion says:

    Love these Q and A pieces!

    Like

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