Editor for Life: Sandra O’Brien, editor of Canadian Children’s Book News

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.

Sandra O'Brien

Sandra, 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 only been the editor of Canadian Children’s Book News since April 2016. It’s my dream job and one of two publications that the Canadian Children’s Book Centre produces. I work from home, which is in Ajax, Ontario, and I love being able to do that. I’m a wife and the mom of two university-aged kids and two furbabies—both Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

As the editor of Book News, I choose and assign books to be reviewed by reviewers across the country, decide on and assign articles to be included in the magazine, juggle all sorts of deadlines, and, of course, edit the pieces we include in the magazine. I’m very fortunate that we have a copy editor who catches all the mistakes I don’t. I also work closely with Meghan Howe, the librarian at the Book Centre and our designer. And I read, read, read Canadian children’s literature.

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

Choosing one famous author is just impossible—there are just so many fabulous children’s writers that I can’t possibly narrow it down to one. But if I’d had the opportunity to work with A. A. Milne, Madeleine L’Engle, May Gibbs, Phoebe Gilman, or Maurice Sendak, I’d have been in heaven. The characters in each of their books just make me smile—Winnie-the-Pooh, Meg, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Jillian Jiggs, and Max—I loved sharing these stories with my kids and with the children I taught. (I taught Grades 4 to 6 and English as a Second Language [ESL] in Toronto from 1989 until 1998. I have additional qualifications in drama and integrated arts and a master of education in creative arts, specializing in children’s literature. I loved using children’s texts to support the curriculum.)

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

I think my favourite punctuation mark would be the em dash. I like to use it in place of commas, parentheses, and colons. And my favourite word is onomatopoeia. I just love the sound of it!

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

Sydney, Australia—overlooking the harbour. It’s my favourite place in the world, and I think a little piece of my soul resides there.

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

I questioned my career as a teacher, but as an editor, no, not yet. But there are days when I feel like I’m herding cats as I chase reviewers and contributors, juggle deadlines, and select books for review. But when your dream job comes to you later in life, you just breathe and carry on.

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

I’d been working as the outreach education coordinator at the Book Centre when Gillian O’Reilly, the former editor of Book News, decided to retire. I had been contributing to the magazine for many years and jumped at the chance when the position was offered to me.

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

There’s a sign over my desk that reads:

“Eat less, move more
Buy less, make more
Stress less, laugh more
Feel blessed, love more
Find a quiet spot every day and breathe”

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

This article was copy edited by Erin Bankes.

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