Throughout my career, I’ve been influenced by many mentors. When I was first hired right out of graduate school, Meredith, the experienced editor I was replacing, spent six weeks working alongside me introducing me to the principles, techniques and subtleties of editing both a scholarly journal and my first book manuscript. As we reorganized the text, I was astounded by the difference between a raw manuscript and the published version. Once Meredith departed, no one else on staff bothered much about my work, so I consulted Chicago and dictionaries as needed and continued merrily on my way.
A few years later, with a toddler and a baby in tow, I decided to resign from my job and go freelance — with my previous employer initially as my main client. It was then I encountered Loren and Barbara — the editors on staff who managed the freelancers. Not only did they assign the manuscripts but they cast a sharp eye over what we delivered, with very different approaches. When Loren found deficiencies of logic or grammar, she called the offending editor into her office and proceeded through her list, point by point, looking exasperated all the while. Barbara was gentle in manner and preferred to clarify issues by phone. “I’m sure you had a reason,” she’d say, “but I don’t understand why you have lower-cased this term on page 69 but capitalized it on page 457” — this in the days before computers and global checks. “Human error,” I’d splutter, feeling ever smaller as the conversation progressed. To avoid such humiliations, I soon improved my act and became a cracker-jack copy and stylistic editor.
As the years passed, I expanded my list of clients and worked on a variety of large projects. As one of five senior editors for the first edition of The Canadian Encyclopedia, we worked closely with our editor-in-chief to carve out the shape and content for that breakthrough work. When I partnered with a colleague to edit commission of inquiry reports for the federal and provincial governments, we were again schooled in myriad procedural matters by two administrators in particular. Every person I worked for in trade and scholarly publishing taught me something and influenced me — and I consolidated all this information and experience when I began to teach editing at the university level.
My greatest debt in mastering the elusive art of structural editing is to Laura, an executive at one of the multinational trade houses who appointed me as lead editor on some of the firm’s nonfiction “big books” — the ones expected to be bestsellers. From her I learned that you do whatever is needed to achieve your goals regardless of the state of the incoming manuscript — reorganizing the structure, plying the author with thousands of questions, filling in gaps by your own research, rewriting passages and working impossible hours to meet the publication date. Ultimately, when the book excels, no one is more proud than the author, the publisher and, yes, the editor — the partner who helped make it happen.
Like all editors, I’ve relied on style guides and many books of editing advice. I’ve also been shaped by colleagues, authors and each project’s hurdles. But the final polish has come from my mentors — the ones who challenged me to do better in my work as well as those who supported me as I switched into new areas of publishing. I am extremely grateful to them all.
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