Editor for Life: Jane Warren, Freelance Editor

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 Five Ws: 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.

Jane Warren

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 been in book publishing for close to 20 years, first in New York as a literary scout, then in Toronto as a literary agent, and then as an editor at (the late and lamented) Key Porter Books and at HarperCollins Canada. Between stints as an in-house editor, I’ve always gone back to freelance editing, as it enables me to pour all my attention into my favourite part of the work: the relationship with the writing and with the author. I perform substantive and stylistic editing, and primarily work on literary fiction, as well as some narrative non-fiction and commercial fiction. I live on the top floor of a house in Roncesvalles, in the west end of Toronto, where I try not to be too distracted by the proximity of High Park.

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

There are a number of brilliant Canadian authors I would love to work with—in many cases, work with again—but in the interest of not playing favourites in a very small publishing world, I’ll go with an American. Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of my favourite books, in which a series of sharply written, loosely connected stories (including one told through PowerPoint!) brilliantly build to one of the most vivid and affecting novels I’ve ever read. Basically, I just want to figure out how she does it.

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

I’ll admit to loving the semi-colon, and I know I’m not alone in that, as it’s one of the more subtle and satisfying punctuation marks. My favourite word is harder to choose, but I’ll go with the one that carries a similar sense of connectivity: meanwhile. To my mind, it calls up Shakespearean plots, hijinks in another part of the forest, and life happening all around us.

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

I love the freedom of freelance editing, and I’m lucky enough to spend a good portion of my summer at my family cottage, editing in an “office” that faces a breathtaking lake. For the perfect editorial conversation, though, I’d happily spend an afternoon or two at a cozy pub in Ireland…

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

I’ve known I wanted to be an editor since I first started in publishing, although it took a few years to land my first proper editing gig. With the exception of those moments I’ve craved something less sedentary to balance my days, I can’t say I’ve ever really doubted that this is my vocation.

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

I grew up with my nose in a book, as my mother often reminds me, and I always knew I wanted to do something with writing. Reading and thinking about books is immensely satisfying work, but it’s in the dialogue with the author that I find the greatest fulfillment: having an in-depth conversation about a manuscript is stimulating, creative, and deeply gratifying, and it’s hard to think of a better job.

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

Editing is a conversation.


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

This article was copy edited by Tamara Zayachkowski.

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