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Rosemary Shipton


Senior editor mentors a junior
Junior and senior editor mentorship
yupiramos ©

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.

Mentors’ influence

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.

Previous post from Rosemary Shipton: Working With Authors

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8 Comments on “Mentors”

  • Rosemary, if I had an encyclopedia, a photograph of you would be my entry for “mentor”! I’ll always be grateful to you for your kindness, attention and encouragement, back when I was a student in the first class of the book publishing program at Ryerson. I was trying to find my way while also scrambling to manage three kids under six, and you gave me hope! And having the opportunity to proofread all those issues of Scholarly Publishing after you’d edited it — that was like an intensive, several-years-long course in watching a master do the job the right way. I hope all is well with you. I’m still at it, and think of you often.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      Believe me, Kathleen, I always wanted my enthusiastic, talented students to succeed just as much as they did themselves. So I’ve followed your career with enormous satisfaction and pleasure. It’s like passing the torch, and I’m sure you in turn have helped and inspired many other editors on their way.

  • Anita Jenkins


    I am delighted to see an article about mentors. In my view, the two things Editors Canada is doing now that matter the most are the mentorship program and this blog.

    While reading the story of Rosemary’s mentors, I thought about the time I was asked to speak to our local group about networking and finding jobs. I had done that before and nobody seemed to get the message. So that night I simply listed the names of the people I had worked with as Rosemary has done here, because one job led to another. Editing, although a solitary pursuit, depends on connections between people, like every other thing we humans do.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      You’re right, Anita. We can learn only the rudiments and the rules from books, and we need to tap into the wisdom of experienced editors to learn how far to go while working on a manuscript as well as the conventions of different genres of publishing and communications. As a society, we recognize this value in the apprenticeships and residencies we demand of our trainee mechanics, electricians, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and other professions. I hope all beginning editors will have the opportunity to work with a skilled partner on a manuscript and to receive direct and honest feedback on their own work. In the process, moreover, many strong bonds and friendships will likely be formed, so it can be a win-win situation for both parties.

  • I, too, am grateful for mentors. For me it was a professor for whom I was a research assistant in grad school. I edited and helped assemble for publishing two of his books. His feedback on my edits was invaluable. He was the one that told me one day, “You know, people do this for a living,” which started me on the path. And sage advice from a fellow EACer (Christa Bedwin) helped me find my way to where I work today.

    Thank you, too, to any of you who reach out on listserves and social media to answer questions. Mentoring isn’t always a formal affair.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      It is amazing how many people join in chatroom discussions, sharing their knowledge and advice. So yes, mentorship takes many forms, from quick suggestions to formal arrangements for a specified topic to in-depth shadow editing of an entire manuscript. To their surprise, many professionals find that they really enjoy the role of teacher and consultant.

  • Trish Morgan


    Such a lovely article, Rosemary; I agree that mentorship may take many forms. What’s important is that it occurs! I am grateful that it did for me, with you as my first and most important editing mentor. I also agree with you on the sheer pleasure of mentoring; I’ve found it satisfying, engaging, and often enlightening.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      Those classes were enjoyable, Trish. I’m happy to hear that you too are carrying the torch and sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m sure you’ve found that the best way to learn something yourself is by trying to explain it to someone else.

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