Editor for Life: David Ross, Senior Managing Editor and Acquisitions Editor, Penguin Canada

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.

Photo of David Ross


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’m a Cancer and a middle child who loves crosswords, turtlenecks, and gossip. I live in the west end of Toronto and ride my bike to the Penguin Random House Canada office whenever I can. For 11 years, I’ve worked at Penguin Canada, first as a production editor, then as a managing editor, and now as a managing editor/acquiring editor hybrid (because I’m a masochist). As a managing editor, I oversee all frontlist titles from acquisition to finished book. As an acquiring editor, I publish and advocate for queer voices. On any given day my tasks could include writing jacket copy, commissioning a freelance editor, briefing a cover, reviewing a proofread, and fretting over a cost sheet or a schedule.

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

This feels like a trap. If I say James Baldwin, am I implying that his work needs a more rigorous edit? Am I assuming that I could improve it in any way?

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

I’m certainly guilty of overusing the em dash. I don’t know that I have a favourite word, but for whatever reason seldom comes to mind. It’s a bit old-fashioned without sounding precious or overly formal; I can imagine encountering it in an Alice Munro story.

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

A room in a Victorian house with shelves of books, plenty of natural light, and many houseplants.

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

No, actually. After finishing my undergrad, I moved to Toronto, got a job at a bookstore, and started taking publishing courses at night. I did an internship at House of Anansi Press and spent three years in scholarly publishing before fleeing to Penguin—15 years combined (and counting). There have been many stress and anxiety spikes along the way, but also lots of wine and many free books. Now that I’m working closely with lovely, talented authors to shape their books, I’m even more invested.

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

My honest, instinctive response: I’m a good writer, but I don’t have anything to say. I’m sort of joking. But I do think my impulse to speak the truth—to show the world as it is—is stronger than my imagination, and there are so many stories more interesting than my own. I’d rather let someone else deal with the blank page; I get more satisfaction from prodding and chipping away at and polishing what’s there. I also love being surrounded by books, and by people who care about books—that’s what led me to the industry in the first place.

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

I don’t really have one. But recently I came across (and dog-eared) this passage in Sarah Schulman’s book The Gentrification of the Mind: “One of the organizing principles of gentrified thinking is to assess everyone based on what they can do for you, and then treat them accordingly. But Kathy [Acker] was acting from the old school—care about something because it’s interesting, has heart, and opens a perceptual door.” I want to act from the old school.


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

This article was copy edited by Jeny Nussey.

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