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Rosemary Shipton


mentoring - Rosemary Shipton ArticleWhat’s the best way to pass skills, experience and business smarts from one person to another? Mentoring tops the list. We humans have always known the value of one-on-one instruction: parents teach their trade or profession to their children, apprentices work for years with their masters and young hires look for an old hand in the company to guide them.

There are many different kinds of mentoring:

  • Speed mentoring has been popular at conferences for several years. These sessions work best if the mentee arrives with specific questions that the mentor can handle in 15 minutes or less.
  • Many professional associations, including Editors Canada, offer mentoring to their members. To protect mentors and mentees from feeling exploited or short-changed, these mentorships are carefully described in scope and duration. They might cover estimating, transitioning from in-house to freelance work or moving from one specialty to another.
  • The gold standard in hands-on editing is shadow editing — where the mentee edits the same manuscripts as the mentor for a set period and receives feedback on their work.

A few years ago, I was asked by a university researcher to participate in a study of editorial training. My role was to mentor a student who had received a high grade in my recent class. Over the next semester, the mentee edited three projects I was working on — a novel that needed heavy reorganization, a non-fiction text written by a journalist unaccustomed to book form and an article for a scholarly journal. I cleared with the publishers and the authors that the student could observe the process ahead. As the only editor for these projects, I was responsible for the substantive, stylistic and copy editing.

Once a week the mentee emailed me her work and later came for an hour to discuss her edits or her comments with me. When I made appointments with the journalist, the mentee came too. I sent her copies of my emails with the other two out-of-town authors. I showed her how to estimate and run a small business, and how to deal with the staff in the various publishing houses.

The mentee already had a solid foundation from the class, but as she gained confidence, her editing became more innovative and accomplished. When she suggested some particularly pleasing phrases, she let me include them in my edit. As we concluded the mentorship, she told me that she would always feel that these texts were “her” books and article too.

Soon after we sent our reports and our sample materials to the researcher, the mentee launched her own freelance business. I was not surprised that she quickly built up a solid client base with both trade and scholarly publishers. Knowing I could trust her work implicitly, I have often recommended her — and we’ve collaborated on many large projects, too. For both of us, that mentorship became an enjoyable and productive win-win situation.

Have you been mentored or shared your experience with another editor? We would love to hear your stories.


Previous post from Rosemary Shipton: How to Become an Editor.

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About the author

Rosemary Shipton

Rosemary Shipton edits trade, scholarly and art books as well as commission of inquiry reports. From 1990 to 2007 she was the founding academic coordinator of the publishing program at Ryerson University in Toronto.

5 Comments on “Mentoring”

  • Anita Jenkins


    Absolutely right, Rosemary. As always. An Editors Canada mentoring task force chaired by Carolyn Brown has recently submitted its report to the national executive. I hope this initiative will go far. I personally learned from others far more than I learned from reading or taking classes. Admittedly, I didn’t take many classes. Rosemary’s seminar on substantive editing was memorable, though.

  • Rosemary Shipton


    Ah, I’ll be interested to hear what the mentoring task force recommends – no doubt the members have invested a lot of time in preparing the report. I’m also hoping that readers here will share some of their own stories about mentoring or being mentored with us.

    As I recall, Anita, you were in the substantive seminar I taught at a Montreal conference way back in 2002, was it? We had a lot of fun that day. And you followed up with a hilarious article in Active Voice on the “fashionistas” at the conference that year!

  • As an editing instructor, I’ve tried to be a role model. I’ve encouraged talented students to the best of my ability. But only once have I done the sort of mentoring that you’ve described, Rosemary.

    Years ago I gave an excellent former student an editing project that came my way, a short nonfiction ms that was the latest in a series of self-published books by an author successful in her field. The arrangement, with the author’s permission, was that the student would edit the book and deal directly with the author; I would review the editing and be in the wings in case anything went wrong.

    My former student did an excellent job of the structural, stylistic and copy editing (this ms needed it all). I reviewed every line of her work, making a few suggestions, but only a few. As I went through the ms, my suspicions were confirmed: this young woman was a born editor.

    The job wrapped up, I invoiced and the trouble began. The author wouldn’t pay. And wouldn’t pay. And wouldn’t pay. I’d never dealt with this author before, but I’d assumed from her successful track record that she was trustworthy. Wrong. In the end, she defended her failure to pay by citing editorial problems on the part of the “inexperienced” editor—failure to query, decisions made without the author’s input, that sort of thing. All were problems that didn’t exist, and all were problems I had to refute by highlighting early edits and queries (tip: for every project you work on, keep every email and every edited version).

    Eventually the client ran out of excuses, and eventually, after some terse emails from me that included the words “further action” and “lawyer,” she paid her bill in full. But that wonderful, talented former student, who had editing in her blood, dropped out of the editorial world. I often wonder: was it because of that one experience with a malicious author, an experience the likes of which I’ve never had before or since?

    This is a discouraging story to contribute on a topic that’s dear to my heart. Mentoring matters hugely in the editing field. It’s by far the best way for new editors to learn their craft. But in this instance, the author took advantage of the situation, thinking that the editor’s inexperience might excuse her from paying for good work done. I realize after reading your post, Rosemary, that I should have done it your way: remained, in name at least, the primary editor and the primary contact. I’m convinced the author wouldn’t have tried to wiggle out of paying if it was the senior editor she was dealing with directly.

    There you go. A cautionary tale.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      An awful cautionary tale, Frances. Yes, I think it’s wisest to regard any hands-on mentoring experience as training for the mentee, and for the mentor to be the lead editor and primary contact for the writer. In any training arrangement – dental colleges, for instance – people expect to get cut rates simply because the “operator” is still a student, regardless of the fact that a highly qualified professional is checking on the whole process. That’s simply how our human psychology works. To me, shadow editing is a huge opportunity for almost-ready professional editors to work closely with experienced editors and to observe the whole complex process. It’s still training, however, and not the first step for new editors in running their own business.

  • Anita Jenkins


    Thank you, Frances. I am going to ask the mentoring task force members to read your story. All the good things seem to come with complications.

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