Editor for Life: Stephanie Fysh, freelance editor and fine art photographer

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.

Stephanie Fysh

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

I work from a home office in downtown Toronto, where I live with my husband and the last of my three kids. In that office (and occasionally in local cafés), I fill a wide range of roles, from structural editor of YA [young adult] fiction to proofreader of university textbooks, working with both independent authors and established publishers. One month I might be sorting out reader-friendly sentence structure in trade non-fiction that tells a complicated but important science story; the next month could see me revelling in the latest volume of a regular client’s erotic science-fiction series. Between the variety of the work and the ease of getting laundry and baking done, I can’t imagine what it would take to get me to give up my home office for someone else’s corporate one.

For a number of years I taught editing as well, and was co-coordinator of the Ryerson Publishing Program where I’d once been a fledgling editor. Nothing hones your craft better than teaching it to others! I stepped away from that to give more time to other parts of my life—actual leisure time, volunteer work (I sit on the board of the Book and Periodical Council), and photography. Just don’t ask when my next show will be. I’m still working on that “more time” thing.

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

George R.R. Martin. I get such a kick out of continuity and consistency work on big sci-fi and fantasy series, and his is gloriously detailed and marvellously sweeping. I just know I’d need to set aside extra time to work off the extra snacks I’d end up with after editing feast descriptions. Additional bonus: Not having to wait quite as long as you to finally read the next volume of Song of Ice and Fire.

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

I have a weakness for parentheses and dashes in my own writing—here is one of the few I have not forced myself to edit out. And I adore luscious words like lascivious and, of course, luscious.

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

I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather work than where I do now: where I can pop out my door into in the middle of the day, just because it’s nice out, and find myself in one of the best neighbourhoods in one of the world’s best cities. But if I had to work elsewhere—and if I’d won a lottery to pay the rent with—I’d make that New York City, where I could have a similar daily life but easier access, with that American address, to the huge American market in genre fiction. Though there are days when I’d like to be working on some sublime, remote ocean-hanging tip of Newfoundland where there’s no Internet connectivity.

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

The first time I saw what a grad-school peer who had landed one of those coveted tenure-track jobs was likely to be earning. And every time after that. I look away from those reports now.

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

I fell into editing at the end of the 1990s, as a second career. I’d spent a decade in university and a few years beyond that as a struggling academic, but the mid-1990s was rough on my cohort and I’d given up the struggle and was raising kids and playing with cameras instead. I was toying with switching from Sheridan’s Photography Certificate Program to Ryerson’s when I landed on the Publishing page in the catalogue. I tried a copy editing course, thinking that maybe a person could earn money with that, not just spend it, and something clicked. I am now much less in debt over my camera equipment than I might have been otherwise.

I had always thrived in the fine details of scholarly work, while at the same time I’d enjoyed putting a story about my subject together. Something about editing—copy editing in particular—felt much the same as performing literary history had: paying attention to every word, distinguishing fact from opinion, becoming conscious of the relationships of part to part. Ironically, it was not my specialization in the history of the book that got me here, and I had to unlearn a lot of what I learned as an English lit scholar in order to be a good editor. But I would still be happy to tell you about the tangled eighteenth-century origins of modern copyright and the author!

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

This keeps me going when authors push back (which, of course, they should do in a healthy editing process): “It’s not my book.”

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications. She’s also administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series.

This article was co-edited by Carol Harrison and Ana Trask.

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