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Nancy Flight

40 Years: An Editor’s Perspective

40 forty year anniversary
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Forty-six years ago, when I embarked on my editing career, my first assignment was to edit a 500-page novel, which the publisher plunked onto my desk along with a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and a dictionary. “Here, edit this,” he said. That was my instruction in its entirety. There were no courses in editing back then, and for years afterward I wondered if I was doing it right.

So when the fledgling B.C. branch of what was then the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada decided to offer a few sessions on editing, I thought, “Great. Now I will finally find out how it is supposed to be done.” To my dismay, however, it turned out that I was to give one of those early sessions.

Now I see what a wonderful gift this was. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I had learned about editing since that first manuscript and set me on the path to teaching novice editors, which has enriched my life so much.

This is just one of the many benefits that membership in Editors Canada has bestowed on me. It has been incredibly rewarding to serve on committees whose members met face to face — sometimes cloistered in a nunnery — to set the early certification exams, revise editorial standards or propose long-range plans for the organization. Most of all, I cherish the long-lasting friendships I have made with editors across the country through my involvement in Editors Canada. These are benefits that, unlike editorial skills, cannot be so readily acquired elsewhere.

Many things have changed since I began my career in editing. Back then, when all editing was done on hard copy, it was imperative that editors write neatly — a skill that is not so necessary now. It was also useful to know how to wield an X-Acto knife and do paste-up — other skills not in high demand today. But manuscript editors of books were not expected to be as knowledgeable about sales and marketing as we are now — at least not in my experience. In general, we book editors are now expected to do much more than in the past. And, of course, our technological skills must go far beyond competence with an X-Acto knife.

Many things have remained the same since those days, however.

As Thomas McCormack, one-time editorial director at St. Martin’s Press, so memorably wrote in 1994, the ideal editor must possess “intelligence, sensitivity, tact, articulateness, industry, patience, accessibility, promptness, orderliness, thoroughness, a capacity to work alone, a capacity to work with others. Plus sensibility and craft. No humans need apply.” [Italics are mine.]

In 2019 an editor must still possess those qualities. But perhaps McCormack’s final words will turn out to be prophetic, as technological solutions threaten our profession. If so, I am sure that Editors Canada will rise to that challenge, as it has in response to so many others.


This year marks Editors Canada’s 40th anniversary. If you have a story to share about the association, send us an email.


Previous post from Nancy Flight: Are Book Editors an Endangered Species?

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3 Comments on “40 Years: An Editor’s Perspective”

  • Anita Jenkins


    Nancy, it’s about time we heard from you on this blog! I am thrilled to see this great post. (And I had forgotten about being cloistered in a nunnery. Ah, the life of an editor.)

    You say, «I cherish the long-lasting friendships I have made with editors across the country through my involvement in Editors Canada.» Ditto. That is what the association means to me as well.

  • Frances Peck


    Nancy, speaking as one who first met you «cloistered in a nunnery,» I echo all you’ve said about the tremendous relationships, both professional and personal, that we can forge by being engaged, collegial members of Editors Canada.

    And thank you ever so for the quote from Thomas McCormack. I stumbled on it once ages ago (maybe from you?) and have been trying to track it down ever since.

  • Nancy Flight


    Thanks, Anita and Frances. I forgot that we met in one of those nunneries, Frances!

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