Editor for Life: Jennifer Grimbleby, Managing Editor, Kids Can Press

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.

Photo of Jennifer Grimbleby, managing editor at Kids Can Press.

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 in the publishing industry for 13 years. After graduating from university and being dazzled by the glamourous publishing world portrayed in the movies and on TV (thank you The Devil Wears Prada and The Hills), I enrolled in the Book and Magazine Publishing program at Centennial College. I started out interning at Tribute magazine, where I was lucky enough to help with interviews and press junkets at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Several pinch-me moments were had during this internship, including meeting Jennifer Aniston!) But after working at a few magazines and never being offered a trip to Paris, I started to realize The Devil Wears Prada might not be a realistic portrayal of the magazine industry!

I made the switch to children’s publishing shortly after and I haven’t looked back since. Of my 13 years in publishing, 12 of those years have been at Kids Can Press in Toronto. I started at Kids Can Press in 2009 as an editorial and production coordinator, then moved on to production editor and senior production editor before landing my current role as managing editor, where I’m responsible for the day-to-day happenings in the production process. My favourite explanation of this role likens it to a traffic-control centre—I make sure each book stays on schedule and goes where it needs to go, all while considering everyone’s needs.

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

This is a tough choice, but my inner 10-year-old is telling me to go with Francine Pascal of Sweet Valley High fame. (Even though I was devastated after learning the books were written by a team of ghost writers and not Francine Pascal herself—but she did create the characters and story ideas.) These books were such a huge part of my childhood (I was more of a Sweet Valley Twins kid than a Baby-Sitters Club kid), and I can imagine having so much fun helping to shape the stories and create all sorts of hijinks for Jessica and Elizabeth.

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

I’m a big fan of the em dash. It’s so versatile and elegant—it’s like the Swiss Army knife of punctuation. Does your sentence have parenthetical information? Add an em dash! Need a comma, but want a bit more emphasis? Add an em dash! Not sure if you should use a colon? Add an em dash! This little line has so much to offer—from emphasizing to interjecting to silencing—and it does it all in a perfectly eye-pleasing package.

My favourite word is persnickety—it’s fun to say and sounds much fancier than fussy or picky.

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

I’m still waiting on that trip to Paris, but I think I’d choose anywhere warm with a view of the water. I’ve been spoiled at Kids Can Press, where our office is located right on Lake Ontario, so views of the water come easy there, but I’m thinking more of a tropical setting where siestas are encouraged.    

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

Absolutely. But in those rare dark times, I reminded myself that I get to read children’s books for a living, which is kind of amazing!

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

Books have always been an imperative part of my life. I was one of those nose-always-in-a-book kids, who preferred reading over just about anything. Even before I learned about grammar, I remember the sheer joy I felt whenever I found a typo or a sentence that didn’t quite sound right. I knew I wanted to be a part of creating content in some way, whether it was writing or playing a part behind the scenes, but over the years I’ve learned that I prefer polishing and refining work rather than creating it from scratch. (And I still feel sheer joy when I find a typo before a book goes to print!)  

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

Progress, not perfection. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, though, this is one of the hardest parts of my job! It’s so tempting to tweak this and shift that at the eleventh hour, but knowing when to let the little things go so the project can move on—all while still maintaining high standards—is vital. (I may or may not have “Let It Go!” from Frozen playing in my head on repeat…on second thought, maybe that’s my motto!)

Catherine Dorton is a Toronto-based editor and proofreader and a former co-chair of Editors Toronto.

This article was copy edited by Patricia Tomaszewski.

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