Interview conducted by Catherine Dorton.
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’ve been working as a senior editor at Simon & Schuster Canada in Toronto since 2017. I acquire and edit fiction and non-fiction, with authors like bestselling Kathy Reichs, Catherine McKenzie, Daniel Kalla, Andrew Pyper, and Sarah Richardson on my list. Although I predominantly edit fiction—upmarket commercial fiction and thrillers—last year one of my memoirs, Jesse Thistle’s superb From the Ashes, was the top-selling Canadian book in Canada. Prior to this, I worked briefly as a book publicist and bookseller, but the majority of my career was spent in magazine publishing.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
There are so many authors I would love to edit, but I’d have to pick Kate Atkinson, whose books I’ve long read. The ways in which she explores the concepts of family and fate, trauma, and the sheer unpredictability of life are fascinating to me, and I would have been thrilled to have been involved in the process of editing Life After Life and A God in Ruins. With their incredible shifting structures, intricate plotlines, and captivating characters, they are simply superb novels.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
My favourite punctuation mark is the exclamation mark—although don’t tell any of my authors that! I adore its exuberance and enthusiasm, and so I tend to use it liberally outside of work. Having said that, I suggest writers be more judicious with it—too many exclamation marks scattered about on the page can easily distract readers. As for a favourite word, it’s sanctuary, both for its sense of sanctity and safety, and for the feeling in my mouth when I say it.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
I’m quite happy where I am, but London. I fell in love with the city before I ever travelled there simply from reading about it in books. And there are so many fantastic authors in the United Kingdom—working with them would be a wonderful experience to add to those I’ve already had.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
No. Although, being the curious soul that I am, I have certainly thought about different careers: working with animals, or perhaps something in medicine.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
In my case, editing did choose me. When I was at Style at Home magazine, I had the great good luck to work with Jane Francisco, now editorial director of the Hearst Lifestyle Group in New York. We adored talking about books—what we were reading, what we wanted to read, what we had loved reading—and when she moved to Chatelaine, she asked me to apply for the new book editor position because of those conversations. I landed the job, became familiar with the book industry, and had the good fortune to meet Nita Pronovost, now vice-president and editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada. She hired me to do some freelance work, and then, when she had the opportunity to expand the publisher’s editorial department, she thought of me.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
I wouldn’t say this is a motto, exactly, but “What is this meant to be?” My job is to make a manuscript the best it can be, and what the author intended, by asking questions—all the questions I imagine any reader would ever ask—and, through that process, to clarify.
Catherine Dorton is a Toronto-based editor and proofreader and co-chair of Editors Toronto.
This article was copy edited by Isobel Andjelkovic.