Editor for Life: Jess Shulman, owner of Jess Shulman Editorial

Interview conducted by Adrineh Der-Boghossian.

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.

Portrait photo of Jess Shulman

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 spent 17 years at major international corporations, doing sales, process improvement, proposal writing and communications. Those last two involved a lot of editing over a decade, and eventually I took the leap (and studied hard) and tackled Editors Canada’s Certification exams. I earned my CPE, and that gave me the confidence to finally leave the corporate world and start a freelance editorial business in 2016.

I like to keep my options way open, both in the types of editing I do and in the topic areas I work on. I mostly do copy editing, stylistic editing, and proofreading, working on novels, trade non-fiction, textbooks, and all kinds of corporate materials. For indie authors, I also offer a quite detailed substantive manuscript-evaluation service. For my corporate clients, I do quite a bit of writing—web copy, social media posts, marketing materials, articles, reports. Never a dull day at Jess Shulman Editorial! I live in Toronto with my husband, two kids and, of course, a cat.

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

As thrilling as it would be to work with some great literary novelist, the idea also terrifies me a little! But one thing I would love to do is work with non-fiction authors writing about big ideas for regular people, maybe someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

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

I do have a bit of a love affair with semi-colons and em dashes. There’s something so satisfying about elegantly breaking up a long sentence to increase its readability.

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

This past April, I did a proofreading project on the beach in St. Lucia! (It’s a rough life.) I think if I really had my choice, it would be either a cottage by a lake somewhere in Ontario, or else in London or Paris. Or New York. Gah—do I really have to pick just one? I’m also pretty happy working in my backyard “office” in Toronto.

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

Every damn day… until I landed in editing, that is. I took a long time to officially declare myself an editor, even when editing was a huge part of my job. I studied electrical engineering in university, but the courses I really loved were the electives where I got to read, write, and explore ideas. When I was awful at my first job (selling radiology equipment to hospitals) I started searching for a real passion; I enrolled in Ryerson’s Magazine Publishing program—and I loved the editing parts the most. From there I started steering my career toward writing/editing; I spent a bunch of time leading proposal-writing teams, and eventually landed in corporate communications, where I got to do some really cool stuff (in my last job, I was the lead writer for Deloitte Canada’s CEO; that was pretty neat). I did everything I could to take on editing projects and help the writers around me to shape their writing, and finally I was truly doing something I loved. Now that I’m freelance, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The lifestyle suits my family much better than a 9-to-5 job with a commute, and I love the never-ending variety in my work.

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

I remember looking around my copy-editing class at Ryerson, seeing a lot of very frustrated, confused faces among students who maybe were there only to fulfill a certificate requirement. I realized I was one of the few people in the room who were loving every minute of it—and I was good at it! Until then I’d been broadly considering anything in the writing/publishing world, but that experience showed me that I was particularly cut out for editing. A blank page can be pretty scary, but a page full of words is the best kind of puzzle.

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

I work hard not to seem judgemental of the writers I work with, and to let them know they’re in safe hands. I think it’s fine to giggle together about a funny typo—I try to cultivate a fun, casual relationship with all my clients—but it’s important that writers feel coached rather than criticized. Besides, if everyone could write perfectly, I’d be out of a job.


Adrineh Der-Boghossian is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Tamara Zayachkowski.

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