Editor for Life: Carolyn Camilleri, editor and writer

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.

Photo of Carolyn Camilleri

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 am a freelance writer and editor based mostly in Toronto but also in Victoria. I have been doing this work since 1996, and I have been self-employed since 1998. I write for and edit magazines, mostly custom and trade publications now, but I have a few consumer magazines on my resumé. I especially enjoy launching and rebranding publications; it’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting and fun. I also help businesses with websites, marketing materials, and anything else they have that might need new words or better words.

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

Wow! I am not that kind of editor. I wouldn’t even know where to start with a book, let alone one written by a famous author. On the other hand, I would love to interview a famous author. Someone pleasant and interesting, like Michael Ondaatje or John Irving, though I would need to be very well prepared, so I wouldn’t just stare at them, awestruck and speechless.

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

Fave punctuation: the so-called Oxford (serial) comma. Yup, I’m on that side of the fence.

Fave word: dog, in any language.

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

Actually, Toronto has been a dream come true. I have been here for only five and a half years, so I’m not at all tired of it. I love this city! I even love the TTC! It might be nice to work somewhere else someday—maybe where I can wear flip-flops year-round—but I am very happy to be in Toronto.

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

Oh, my goodness, yes. For the first few years, especially, I felt like, any day, the work could just dry up, and I would have to find something else to do. It was stressful. I always had a backup employment plan ready. I still have moments like that. I still keep a list of backup job ideas. I still wonder if my life would be more balanced if I had just kept teaching ESL.

And, sometimes, when big projects are particularly challenging—and there are so many different reasons a project might be challenging—I get a bit dramatic, thinking, this will be the publication that kills me! Colleagues I’ve worked with for years laugh when I get to that stage and remind me that I’ve said that many times before.

But that joyful moment when a publication is sent to press or when a client says they’re happy or the thrill of new project or even just the delight of sending an invoice—and suddenly everything seems completely manageable.

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

Editing definitely chose me. In all honesty, it had never occurred to me to be an editor until I was one. I was looking for a teaching job in Victoria, when a temporary opportunity with a publishing company turned into my first editorial job. That was in 1996. The publishing company produced mainly custom publications for the B.C. tourism industry. For me, it was a trial by fire. I learned fast and on the job. But I was extremely fortunate to be working with very talented and experienced people, and we had some great clients.

When the company unexpectedly closed in 1998, projects were still underway and needed to be completed. Several of us quickly formed independent businesses—I fulfilled the editorial component—and we all just kept working. That was 21 years ago. I still work with many of those same people—they are a fantastic group—and many of the clients I have today can be traced to those early days.

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

Onward. Better busy than bored. (I know, I know! Those are two mottos which, with a colon, could easily be made into one.)

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, vice-president of the Toronto branch of Canadian Authors Association, and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series.

This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.

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