Editor for Life: Allister Thompson, Freelance Fiction Editor and Children’s Acquisitions Editor

Interview conducted by Keith Goddard.

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.

Allister Thompson poses in front of a large tree in a wooded area.

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 grew up in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and now live in North Bay, Ontario, where I’ve lived since 2015 (I love trees!). I started working as an editor in 1998. My first job was with a small medical journal, but I soon moved on to my first small press, called Napoleon Publishing, where I worked for over a decade, before a stint at Dundurn Press. I then began freelancing full-time in 2013. I primarily edit fiction of all kinds for authors who are self-publishing or intending to query literary agents, though I mostly seem to do crime fiction because I have a track record in that area and sci-fi/fantasy. I also edit children’s books/YA and am currently working part-time doing acquisitions for James Lorimer & Company, a midsize publisher. I also enjoy a small gig editing entries for the Canadian Encyclopedia online. I have written one children’s book and one adult novel. I am also a musician. Neither writing nor music has made me any money, so I’m happy to have my editing career!

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

Either Ursula K. Le Guin, because I think it would be wonderful just to get to chat with her, or Daniel Pinkwater, my favourite children’s writer, because his work is so much fun. 

What: What is the one thing that has helped you the most in your career as an editor?

Persistence. If you do something long enough, your work improves. And if your work improves, and you try to be a nice, helpful person to go along with that, you will eventually retain satisfied clients and get a solid business going.  

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

As much as I sometimes picture myself editing with a spectacular view over the islands of northern Norway, I think I’m probably where I’m supposed to be right now. 

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

Yes. When the company I worked for was getting sold, and I hadn’t done much freelance work by that point, I tried to apply for jobs with bigger companies and was sent those horrible personality tests corporations use for pre-screening. I had a couple of really disappointing, condescending interviews, and at that point I thought my career might be toast. But I eventually decided to try my best as a freelancer instead, and it worked out. 

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

I’m one of those people who was always just really good with words as a kid. I was terrible at math and indifferent at science and gym, but anything to do with words and writing I excelled at. So, yes, I suppose it chose me, because after university I was pondering what to do with my life, as we all do, and I thought, well, might as well see if I can be an editor!

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

I guess my professional motto or approach, if I were to have one, might be “the editor’s job is to help authors express themselves as best as possible,” meaning editing should be all about meeting the author’s needs in terms of expressing their truest meaning and intent. On a personal level, my approach to life right now might be best summed up as “every new day is another chance to lead a meaningful life.”

Keith Goddard, a Toronto-based freelance editor, is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Emily Faubert (she/they), a writer, editor, and graduate student studying social justice at Lakehead University.

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