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.
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 originally from Ottawa, where I used to be able to skate to and from work, fulfilling a true Canadian stereotype. In more temperate climes, you can find me swimming, scuba diving, or trying to avoid getting a sunburn in the exact shape of the book I’m reading.
All told, I’ve been editing for about six years. I started out in publishing by interning at House of Anansi and working for Penguin Random House Canada. I joined Annick Press (Toronto) in 2016, leaping from adult to children’s publishing, and became the managing editor in 2017. As managing editor, I oversee titles from acquisition through to publication. I also build out the scheduling and workflow of our list to meet the needs of our external sales teams. In a developmental capacity, I mostly work on books for older readers and have a special interest in amplifying queer voices.
I love the generative energy of the early stages of development, but I also love the precision and satisfaction of a comprehensive workback schedule. I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to combine both. When everything is going well, I get to feel like the conductor of an orchestra. I don’t have to play an instrument myself; I just get to keep time and signal to everyone else when it’s their turn to come in.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
There’s a particular feeling that I get when I can see where a novel is heading, and then the author fully delivers beyond even my highest expectations. When all of that built-up anticipation comes to fruition, I think of it as a graduation cap moment—it’s the same transcendent exultation that you get when you throw a graduation cap into the air. I had that experience most recently with Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. When I finished it, I actually lifted it aloft in triumph from my seat on the subway (fortunately, not the weirdest thing taking place on the TTC that day).
I’m not under the illusion that I could have improved the book in any way. But I would love to have participated in the creative collaboration that I imagine Gyasi and her editor must have shared while bringing the story to life. That’s the kind of working relationship I’m hoping to build in the long term.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
If there’s an editor out there who doesn’t lean heavily on the em dash, I would love to meet them. I also appreciate ellipses, but only when they’re formatted to my preference—it’s an entirely subjective choice, but the automatic ellipsis character always makes me cringe. And I love when a word looks like its own meaning, like “awkward.”
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
There’s something about being near water that just makes it easier to think. I would want to post up by a lake. I guess I technically am posted up by a lake, but I’m imagining a lake on a slightly smaller scale than Lake Ontario.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
There has never been a moment where I wanted to stop editing, but I have definitely had some dark nights of the soul over the logistics of breaking into the industry and building a career. Publishing can be intimidating to approach from the outside when you don’t have any connections, and while I’m incredibly grateful for the internships and contract positions I held, they also presented real financial challenges. I’m lucky to feel more at home in the industry now, but I also hold a lot of privilege. I want to use what leverage I have to pay it forward, both at an individual level to help anyone hoping to enter publishing and at a systemic level to disrupt gatekeeping.
Any cultural institution dominated by cis, straight, white voices will self-perpetuate, and that’s what we’ve seen historically in publishing. So I have also questioned the industry itself, my place in it, and what exactly is holding us back from moving at full effort towards meaningful inclusion, when it’s so obvious that representation matters. It seems unfair that I had to do full novel studies on Lolita and Bear in school, but I was in my mid-twenties before I found a novel featuring queer characters by a queer author. What would it have meant for me to find queer stories ten years earlier? Everyone deserves to see themselves on the page and also on the editorial board. I want to continue to question and to dismantle systemic barriers—everything from the prohibitive cost of publishing certificates to the requirements in job postings to the types of narratives we’re taught to appreciate and value.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
In high school I would procrastinate on writing my own papers in favour of helping my friends edit theirs, but I didn’t realize that editing was a viable career option. I wasn’t really exposed to contemporary Canadian literature, so in my head, the world of publishing either took place in the US and the UK or, if it was Canadian, it ended sometime around the 1970s. I read De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage towards the end of twelfth grade, and it was maybe my first ever graduation cap moment with a book. When I realized it was published in Canada, I knew I wanted to be a part of making books like that—even if I had no idea how to get there. Building out the steps between then and now became my first and biggest workback schedule.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
As a managing editor, I have to strike such a careful balance between striving for the highest level of polish and adhering to the requirements of the schedule. So my motto is, “Do the best you can with what you have while you have it.” It keeps me from getting mired in perfectionism and acts as a calming mantra when a deadline has to be pushed out. It’s also a reminder that, ultimately, this is all I want—to do the best work I can while I’m here.
Adrineh Der-Boghossian is a freelancer based in Toronto. She provides editing, proofreading, and writing services through her company More Than Words. Previously the editor-in-chief of BoldFace, she now volunteers her time as a proofreader for The Editors’ Weekly, the Editors Canada blog.
This article was copy edited by Hitesh Thukral.