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Revisiting Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees

By Alanna BrousseauRevisiting Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees

“No matter how beleaguered the world of editing has become,” writes Betsy Lerner in The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers (2010), “no matter how short a book’s shelf life in today’s market, no matter how Kindled, downloaded, or digitized, none of us can ever forget the feeling of first discovering the majesty of reading.”

Lerner, an editor turned author turned literary agent, has two books under her belt and a third, The Bridge Ladies, forthcoming in May. I was introduced to Lerner after enrolling in one of my first editing courses in the publishing program at Ryerson University. Her first book, The Forest for the Trees, was one of two primary resources we drew inspiration from over those fast-paced few months. Lerner’s dry wit and self-deprecating humour were invigorating—a far cry from the polite prose we had been reading up until that point.

I did some digging later and stumbled upon Lerner’s blog, and I have been a devout follower ever since. Her posts, often whimsically titled (“You’d Be a Wing in Heaven Blue”), contain the same caustic humour that was the hallmark of The Forest for the Trees. Lerner frequently engages with her readers by posing questions to them at the end of each post. As a result, the comments section has become a lively community where writers encourage each other in their respective endeavours and offer congratulations when the hard work finally pays off. (more…)

The Nitpicker’s Nook: January’s linguistic links roundup

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts from around the web. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

By Savanna Scott Leslie

The Nitpicker’s Nook: January’s linguistic links roundup

  • For many of us, this January will stand out as the month when the world lost David Bowie and Alan Rickman to cancer. John Kelly takes a look back at the etymology of cancer and shares some inspiring thoughts. (Mashed Radish)
  • On the lighter side of the news, the latest Star Wars instalment is everywhere. Of course, Force takes a capital in the title The Force Awakens, but what about outside of titles? Can we treat the fictional energy as a sort of religion, or is it more akin to a Platonic form? Mignon Fogarty has answers. (Grammar Girl)
  • Like R2-D2 and C-3PO, Star Wars links are better in pairs. Linguist Gretchen McCulloch sparked an interesting conversation after she saw The Force Awakens. Is BB-8’s Droidspeak just a series of random sounds or does it hold up as a fictional language like Elvish or Klingon? (Storify)
  • What’s in a name? Editors Canada’s own Iva Cheung wrote earlier this month about whether editors with “foreign-sounding” names face discrimination as job applicants. (Iva Cheung)
  • Choosing the right word helps writers express themselves clearly, but sometimes there’s even more at stake. Consider descriptions of serious crimes like sexual assault, where imprecise words or euphemisms can undermine the crimes’ severity. Zosia Bielski explains. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Often science informs fiction, but sometimes the roles reverse! Terry Pratchett fans have petitioned the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to name a newly discovered element octarine after the colour of magic in Pratchett’s Discworld. Melissa Ragsdale explains why the suggestion might not be so strange. (Electric Lit)
  • As you might expect, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, is a wealth of lexicographical information. He chats with Carol Fisher Saller, of The Subversive Copy Editor fame, about technology to track word usage and the state of language today. (CMOS Shop Talk)

Savanna Scott Leslie is an editor and publishing consultant. She recently relocated from Toronto to Hamilton and is enamoured of all things #HamOnt. Her Twitter handle is @Savanna_SL.

This article was copy edited by Alanna Brousseau.


Editor for Life: Barbara Berson, freelance editor and consultant

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.

Editor for Life: Barbara Berson, freelance editor and consultant

Barbara, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.

I’ve been a freelance editor for the past six years, ever since leaving Penguin Books, where I had been a senior editor for about 10 years. There I acquired and edited literary fiction, YA, and some non-fiction too. I’ve been an editor for 30 years (wow, really?), mainly working for different publishers, first in NYC (where I’m from) and then in Toronto, where I’ve been since 1990. But throughout my career, in between in-house editorial jobs, I did short freelance gigs for book publishers (Grove) and magazine publishers (Rolling Stone, The Nation, Spy). It’s always been a pretty simple transition for me between in-house and freelance work. I enjoy both, though I think freelancing is probably a more natural fit for what I do. It affords me the quiet space that is most conducive to that kind of work.

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

Oh, that’s a pretty multi-faceted question! Whom would I have wanted to get to know more deeply (because, really, editing can be a very intimate process, with such access granted to a mind and heart)? Whose work do I think I might have improved upon? Whose sentences just floor me and make me feel privileged to read them, let alone be entrusted with them as an early reader? I must choose someone dead, as there’s always the chance (even if remote) among the living. I choose Jane Austen, as she is the answer to most of those questions (except the one about improvement). She was brilliant, funny, wise, such a masterful sentence-builder, and a deep mystery in so many aspects. I’d just love to have known her. (more…)

Three months in marketing made me an even better editor

By Whitney Matusiakgreek pillar

If you have read my BoldFace post “Three months at a literary agency made me a better editor,” then you’ll remember I figured out a systematic editorial approach that I developed from repetition. I looked at a lot of manuscripts and worked out the steps to increase an author’s chance of getting accepted by an agent and eventually published. When I switched industries from publishing to marketing, that repertoire only got me so far. It was by breaking the editor’s cardinal rule—and nearly making a career-limiting move—during my three months in marketing that taught me to be an even better editor.

Earlier this year I started a contract with a global architectural firm. They had a short-term project for me: something I could quickly sink my teeth into before moving on to another adventure in editing. The project was the firm’s second-annual “best of” publication on design excellence—a collection of 10 projects submitted by people from their offices around the world that exhibited, well, excellence in design. On my first day I was given a stack of project questionnaires that had been filled out by each of the project’s designers. The answers covered the context, design challenges, and technical merit of each project. As the gal tasked with compiling the content for this year’s publication, I thought, “Geez, I’m in heaven. Look at all this content to work with!” So, I worried less about the words and focused on other elements of the publication, like the layout and the marriage of text with image—things decidedly less content related.

While there are a lot of “rules” that editors should, and do, routinely follow, here’s the one that tops my list: what’s written is necessarily what should be published. As a result, I accepted the native content, and made very few changes under the rationale of wanting to preserve the author’s tone and intention. Of course, this seemed logical at the time. I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible—perhaps my strategy would make me more likeable, land me another job, or help me avoid those tense conversations where you have to say to an author, “This is good, but I’d like to help you make it better.” (more…)

Book review: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius

By Alanna Brousseau

editorofgenius“The most important obligation of friendship is to listen,” explained Max Perkins to his second-eldest daughter, Zippy.

Perkins, the editorial momentum behind such literary heavyweights as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe was considerably more than a reviser of words, straddling at times the roles of confidante, money lender, minder, and mediator—often simultaneously.

A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius illuminates the professional and personal life of perhaps the best-known editor in literary history. Immensely more than a chronological account of Perkins’ life, the biography comes alive through vivid anecdotes borrowed from the editor’s personal correspondence with friends, family, and authors.

Perkins was ambitious and quickly garnered a reputation as junior editor at Charles Scribner and Sons by seeking out fresh, young authors and insisting they be published alongside Scribner’s traditionally conservative backlist. Naturally, he was met with resistance. However, his perseverance paid off with the publication of This Side of Paradise, a book by Perkins’ first author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.