Editor for Life: Barb Porter, Associate Managing Editor, University of Toronto Press

Interview conducted by Alicja Minda.

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 Barb Porter, Associate Managing Editor at University of Toronto 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’m an associate managing editor at University of Toronto Press (UTP), where I’ve been an editor since 1996. Before starting at UTP I worked at John Wiley & Sons and Nelson Canada in marketing and promotion. As part of the managing editorial department, I oversee the copy editing and typesetting stages of publication of about 25 scholarly books a year. UTP publishes in a wide variety of subject areas, so while my focus has mainly been on medieval and Renaissance studies, on any given day I could be working on a book about Erasmus or one about animal breeding or crime or Victorian poetry. It’s a wonderful aspect of the job—people’s knowledge is just so vast, and I love lurking around the edges of it.

One of my favourite things is to figure out how content and layout can work together so that an author’s scholarship is presented clearly, and the reader gets the information they need in a format that is logical and seamless to navigate. If the text and physical arrangement of a book are such that you can’t imagine them any other way, I’m happy.

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

I’d love to work with some of the women who were writing at a time when women couldn’t get published if their true identities were known. There are some famous ones, like the Brontë sisters, but I’d love to find the women who never ended up becoming well known.

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

The Oxford comma would be at the top—it has great clarifying power. As for words, I like a word whose existence is surprising because you might not think there’d be a huge need for it, like defenestrate. I find it kind of amazing that there’s a specific word for throwing something out a window.

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

I’d probably go to London or Dublin—somewhere where there are big beautiful libraries.

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

There have certainly been times like that, but when I think about what else I might do, all of my alternatives end up being editing-adjacent, so that tells me I should stay where I am.

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

It was mainly because I always loved to read. When I first headed to university, I intended to study art history, but then I realized I could take English and just read for four years. And once I thought about the fact that there were jobs where you could actually make books, I was sold.

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

I guess it would be, “First, do no harm.” The goal is always to make the best book possible.

Alicja Minda is a freelance editor and journalist based in Toronto. She is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Leslie Lapides, who works as Word Crisper.

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