By Lynn Slobogian
Nancy Flight is associate publisher of Greystone Books. She has been editing books for more than 40 years, both as an in-house editor and as a freelancer, in Canada and the United States. She has worked with such authors as David Suzuki, Evelyn Lau, and Wade Davis, among many others. She received the 1988 Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence for her work on Genethics: The Art of Engineering Life, by David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson.
In addition, she has taught in the SFU Master of Publishing program, the Banff Book Editing Workshop, the SFU Book Editing Workshop, and the SFU Book Publishing Workshop, and has taught writing at SFU.
Nancy is also a past president of Editors Canada and of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, and has served on the executive council of the Association of Canadian Book Publishers. She was responsible for revising the standards for stylistic editing during Editors Canada’s review of professional standards in 2009. She currently sits on the Langara College Publishing Advisory Committee.
Nancy will be teaching Editors BC’s October seminar, Stylistic Editing: Beyond the Basics, on October 31. Lynn Slobogian, professional development chair, chatted with Nancy about her extensive editing career, her predictions for the future of publishing, and choosing one’s battles while editing. Read on.
You’ve been an editor for over 40 years, Nancy. How did you know this was the path for you? And how did you get started?
When I was growing up, a friend of my mother’s told me that publishing companies hired people to read manuscripts all day. That stuck in my mind, and much later, in the early 1970s, when I moved to San Francisco and had to find a job, I decided to look for something in publishing—I didn’t even know that most publishing companies were in New York. Luckily, I landed a position with one of the many new publishing companies springing up in San Francisco at that time, and when I was given my first manuscript to edit I immediately felt that I had found my niche.
Your upcoming seminar focuses on a deeper understanding of stylistic editing. What do you see as the greatest challenge of stylistic editing?
Because decisions made in stylistic editing are seldom a matter of right and wrong—it is not wrong, for example, to use many words where only a few are necessary—one of the greatest challenges is not to go too far or tamper with an author’s voice or style, while also striving to ensure that the author’s prose is as clear and coherent as possible. Decisions made in copy editing are much more clear cut, and even in substantive editing, decisions about what content belongs and what doesn’t, and whether it is in the right place or not, can be relatively straightforward. A great deal of judgement and sensitivity are required in stylistic editing—as well as a thorough grounding in the principles of clear, coherent writing, of course.
From your perspective, how will the next 10 years of publishing continue changing?
I wish I knew how the next 10 years of publishing will continue changing! I have faith in the many creative people in publishing who come up with ingenious ways of dealing with new challenges. I do think that more and more responsibility for the commercial success of a book will lie with authors themselves.
Tell us one of your personal and professional goals for the next year.
As always, I hope to do the best I can with every manuscript. I always wonder if I will be able to help draw the best book out of an author, to do it justice in the editing, and to help it reach its intended audience. Beyond that, I hope to discover an exciting manuscript that we absolutely must publish, that wins many awards, and that showers riches on us. My personal goal is to win my next 10k race (in my age group, that is!).
What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve been given, Nancy?
It is hard to single out one piece of advice as the best. I have received much good advice from other editors and publishers. Maybe to choose one’s battles—to know when to push an author harder and when to let go.
Lynn Slobogian plunged into full-time freelance editing in 2014 after 15 years in international development. She is the professional development chair of Editors BC and co-chair of the 2016 Editors Canada conference, along with Amy Haagsma. She has been a student member of Editors Canada since 2012.