CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Getting the last word

By Sharon Aschaiek

If you are a lover of language, enjoy fine-tuning and finessing other people's prose, are knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects and aren't seeking great wealth, then you may want to consider a career in editing.

"The profession has the advantage of letting you move around from one publication to another," says Greg Ioannou. "It offers quite a range of variety."

Ioannou is president of Colborne Communications (, which is run by a staff of 10 editors, including himself, out of an office in downtown Toronto.
(Photo, Comstock)

His company is a one-stop shop for companies, publishers and individuals requiring editing services, offering structural editing, copy editing, writing, proofreading, design and project management.

Since launching in 1985, his business has worked on such high-profile projects as the Canadian version of the board game Cranium, Lemon-Aid car guides, and a 700-page text and photo catalogue for the Art Gallery of Ontario. Together with his team, Ioannou completes about 1,000 projects a year.

He says that growing his business to accommodate almost any request has been key to its success.

"The work is cyclical," says Ioannou. "Textbook work has its own season, so does financial work. Bringing in new clients from different industries and sectors is about survival."

And not only has it been a necessary adaptation, it has helped keep things interesting for Ioannou.

"I like the variety," he says. "We've done everything from kids books to cookbooks to corporate websites. It keeps things fresh."

Ioannou is also co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Editors' Association of Canada, which has 708 members and is growing at a rate of 30% per year. Each month, editors and aspiring editors meet to network and hear expert advice on succeeding in the field.

Ioannou advises aspiring editors to check out a meeting, at a cost of $5, to find out more about the profession.

"It's a great place for networking and for getting work," he says.

The Editors' Association of Canada website outlines the wide range of functions an editor can perform: developmental work, substantive/structural editing, stylistic editing, rewriting, copy editing, research, picture research, fact checking, indexing, proofreading and acquisitions. Visit the website,, for more information on these roles.

Editors can work on a freelance basis, or in-house for newspapers, magazines, journals, the communications departments of companies and organizations, website developers and government.

Aspiring editors typically need a bachelor's degree in English, French, journalism or a related field, along with several years' experience in journalism, writing, publishing or a related field.

The federal government's Job Futures index states that the work prospects for editors until 2007 will be "fair," due to the increase of specialized publications and the growth of e-publishing.

But it also indicates that those entering the field will be competing with a growing number of recent graduates, and that maintaining and updating skills and education will be critical to gaining an edge.

According to the book Seven Steps to Starting and Running an Editorial Consulting Business by Jane Frutchey, those considering the entrepreneur route must have a tolerance for risk, be accustomed to an up-and-down financial situation, be able to work alone, able to deal with erratic deadlines and be meticulous about their work.
Jane Frutchey, editor and author of Seven Steps to Starting and Running an Editorial Consulting Business, enjoys the freedom of being her own boss.

Frutchey, who runs her own editorial consulting business in Maryland, has enjoyed a successful career since she first launched it in 1989.

Some of the highlights, she says, are being able to be your own boss, schedule your own hours and steer your destiny.

"There's a lot of satisfaction that comes from starting something that's totally your own," Frutchey says. "You've built something from the ground up."

But the field has its share of disadvantages: the work can be tedious and time-consuming, and the pay less than stellar.

The annual salary survey by Masthead, which covers news and trends in Canada's magazine industry, reports that in 2003, associate/feature editors made an average of $36,260 at consumer magazines, and $49,875 at business (association, farm, trade, academic and religious) magazines, with figures varying according to the size of the publication and the province in which it's published.

The Job Futures index is on the same track, indicating an average hourly wage of $23.45 ($48,776 yearly). However, this does not take into account the higher-than-average number of freelancers (19%, versus 16% for all other fields) who are earning less-than-reliable pay.

Ioannou, who has been in the business 27 years, has seen enough to know that you don't get rich working as an editor.

"You've got to enjoy poverty. Publishing is a job ghetto -- heavily female, young and poorly paid," he says. "Entry level editors can earn as little as the low $20,000s, and an average senior editor makes $30,000 to the low $40,000s. You can make more though if you work as a corporate editor or work in a specialized area, such as medical or legal."

He warns that the burnout rate can be significant, but the work, plentiful.

"Editing is like sitting down and writing a six-hour exam every day. It's brain crunching. If you don't love it, it's hard work," he says. "But if you're willing to put up with the salaries, there's a lot of work to be had."

The qualities of a good editor:
  • Facility for and love of language.
  • Proficiency in grammar, spelling and composition.
  • Broad education, often with specialized technical training, and life-long self-education.
  • Ability to work co-operatively.
  • Ability to work independently and make informed decisions.
  • Elephantine memory for detail.
  • Instinct for recognizing patterns, creating categories and organizing ideas.
  • Willingness to question assumptions, theories and facts.
  • Ability to recognize what's missing in content, argument or presentation. (Pinpointing what's not there is as crucial as recognizing weaknesses in existing material.)

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