Editor for Life: Erin Holmes, managing editor at Firefly Books

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: Erin Holmes, managing editor at Firefly Books

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

I’ve been in publishing since 2001. I had acquired my BA in English with a minor in publishing from SFU. I found a job as an editorial assistant in Hamilton, Ontario, on Workopolis; the interview was via telephone and it went very well. So I packed up my Honda Accord and drove across the country to my first “real” job. It was in medical book publishing, which was a far cry from my dream of being an editor at Random House, but I thought, perhaps naively, that it was just a matter of time. Needless to say, 15 years and only two jobs later, my current position is nowhere near what my 25-year-old self dreamt of, but I’ve since discovered that I am immensely satisfied by completely different aspects of the job.

I now work as managing editor of co-editions, meaning that I take books written for foreign markets and make them suitable for distribution in North America. There are so many different changes that need to be made to each book, from language and style to content and imagery. I liken it to a bunch of balloons that are constantly being pulled at by the wind, and I need to maintain a firm hold on every string. It’s much more project management than editing, but I manage to fill my creative well by designing book covers and interiors on a frequent basis. I’ve been fortunate to mould the job to my interests.

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

Stephen King. I’d love to know what he keeps to himself, if there’s anything that King decides is too creepy, weird, or horrifying to put to paper.

What: What is your favourite punctuation mark and/or favourite word?

I do have love for the semicolon, because it was the bane of my existence for a long time as a student, but now that I’ve mastered its use, I can create structurally sound sentences that go on for days. I don’t have a favourite word, but orientate is my most reviled, since it is almost always used incorrectly.

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

Either New York City or London.

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

Twice. Once was during my last class of my last semester of university, where the professor stated that, in Canada at least, you go into publishing for love, not for money. I feel that was something they should have told us as we chose the minor/major.

The second time was when I received a very kind rejection letter to one of my unsolicited resumés that essentially told me that unless I knew someone in publishing, I was never getting into publishing. To this day, I feel pretty lucky to be doing this job that I love.

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

One of my earliest jobs was doing mindless and repetitive data entry. I would read a book for my entire lunch hour, and when that hour elapsed, and it was time to go back to the keyboard, I would lament, “If only there was a job where I could read all day… .”

Lightbulb moment.

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

In publishing or in life? Editorially, it would have to be that consistency is key. If something is going to be not quite correct, just make sure it’s not-quite-correct throughout.

In life, my motto is “maintain perspective.”

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.

This article was copy edited by Nicole North.



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