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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…)