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.
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 started out as an in-house production editor in 2013, and now I work as managing editor at House of Anansi Press in Toronto. I describe my role in the editorial department as a mix of air traffic controller and book doula: I support our team by creating and managing editorial schedules and by liaising with our publishers, in-house editors, freelancers, authors, and members of our design and production departments to ensure books are sent off to press on time and error-free (gulp!). Working at an independent publisher affords a wonderful opportunity to wear many hats, and I’m learning constantly. I also love to work collaboratively and in a supportive role—it’s really the authors and their editors at any given stage of the editorial process who do the heavy lifting.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
It would be an absolute dream to work with Hilary Mantel, though I can’t imagine I’d have anywhere near the wits or editing chops to meet her at her level of craft! My motto in this scenario could only be “do no harm.”
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I’m a fan of the em-dash—so much so, in fact, that I am trying to wean myself off of it. Shoot!
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
In a stone cottage with a fireplace and a windswept shore nearby. Or, if I could pack a manuscript, I would love to bring my work to remote and wild places—maybe on an epic hike. But I suppose lugging around the Chicago Manual of Style and Canadian Oxford Dictionary wouldn’t exactly be practical.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Not yet, I’m glad to say! Though when I graduated university with a specialized focus in book publishing and still couldn’t seem to land an interview for any in-house internships I applied for, I was a bit demoralized. Taking courses in the Ryerson Publishing Certificate program tipped the scales.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
Please bear with me: my answer is a bit cheesy. A high school creative writing teacher was the catalyst. Her approach was to nurture in her students the ability to analyze syntax as well as the interplay of sentences in passages of writing—all with the intention of teaching us to understand and describe tone, how style is applied, and what is and isn’t effective in those two realms. We focused on all this analysis more than we explored and experimented with our own writing! When I told this teacher I was planning on pursuing a degree in psychology, she predicted that I would switch out of my science program and into a literary studies program after one year. I scoffed, but that’s exactly what happened. Ms. Kee, if you’re out there: thank you for setting me on this path!
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
In fact, I think “do no harm” is it!
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 Ann Kennedy.