An Interview with Dania Sheldon, Recipient of Editors Canada’s Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence

Written by Maggie Clark; copy edited by Meagan Kus

Dania SheldonEvery year, Editors Canada presents the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence to an editor for their outstanding contribution to a work published in Canada. A highlight for Editors BC this year was learning that Dania Sheldon, a member of Editors BC, was the award’s recipient. Dania won this award for her editorial work on Charles Gretton: Clock and Watchmaking Through the Golden Age by Dennis Radage, Warner Meinen, and Laila Radage.

Maggie Clark, West Coast Editor’s new managing editor, asked Dania about her experiences with editing and publishing.

First off, I’d like to congratulate you on recently winning the Tom Fairley Award! You must be very proud of the work you put into editing Charles Gretton. What was the editing process like for you?

Thank you very much, Maggie. Yes, I’m proud of my contribution, but I’m especially proud of what our little team was able to create. Given the magnitude of the project and the fact that the authors—Dennis, Warner, and Laila—had not previously written and published a book, the process was remarkably smooth. We did start and remain highly organized, and I think that was crucial. I created a very detailed editing plan and schedule so that the authors would understand what we needed to do every step of the way. It helped that Dennis is a retired civil engineer, and hence, already habitually inclined to be organized, and that Laila also takes a very orderly approach to her research and writing work. So, in terms of temperament and methodology, we were well suited to work together and keep this mammoth manuscript, with over 1,000 images, plus permissions and a myriad of other details, firmly under control—at least most of the time. Another crucial element was communication. We were often in contact, and when confusion or uncertainty arose about anything, we sorted it out as quickly as possible, and always pleasantly. We’ve become good friends through this journey.

You mentioned in your acceptance speech that working on the book was a “dream project.” What about editing the book did you enjoy the most?

I most enjoyed working on materials about the social history and culture of a time period and place that I’ve spent more than half my life studying, on and off, most intensively during my undergraduate and then master’s and doctoral degrees. It was a joy to be able to call upon my knowledge of paleography after many years and to go back in some cases to primary and secondary documents about London and England to check information, dig up further details, and help with image sourcing. I also very much enjoyed the photos; the craftsmanship that went into creating these clocks and watches was absolutely remarkable, and so many of them are works of art, inside and out. When I was a student at Oxford, in my 20s, I would religiously watch the Antiques Roadshow, and I loved it when people would show up with watches or clocks. There were also wonderful specimens at the Ashmolean Museum, where I would wander quite regularly. So, the project did induce some nostalgia as well as very fond memories of my years at Oxford.

What made you interested in becoming an editor?

Books and learning have been at the centre of my life since my earliest memories. When I decided, though, that an academic research and teaching career would be too restrictive for me—as it would demand an utter focus on my career path, to the exclusion of almost anything else—I considered how I might still combine my passion for the written word with the many wonderful things about academia, plus a lifestyle that suits my temperament and preferences (e.g., independence, self-direction, flexibility, a rural home). Editing was, and is, ideal. It did take me several years of hard work before I was able to bring all of those elements together, when I moved to Gabriola Island.

When in your editorial career path did you come across Editors Canada?

In 2005. I had begun exploring the possibility of an editing career in 1997—doing volunteer and paid work for Douglas & McIntyre/Greystone Books (Vancouver) in their production department and for Ronsdale Press (Vancouver) as a first manuscript reader and copy editor. My first freelance editing contract came to me via Ronsdale Press in 1998. Why I didn’t discover Editors Canada sooner is a mystery, although it’s worth remembering that the Internet was, for the public, in its infancy back then. Plus, I’m quite introverted.

I noticed that you have previously volunteered with Editors Canada and were the volunteer of the month in July for the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA). How do you balance volunteer work with your editorial work and social life?

With some difficulty, but it helps that I don’t manage more than six hours of sleep a night, often less (not by choice—I’m just not a good sleeper). It also helps that I love the volunteer work with VOKRA and my local cat rescue group (Gabriola Cats Alive) and with Editors Canada. In my non-work time, I get to hang out with cat people and with editing “geeks,” and that’s never a hardship. I just need more hours in a day!

What is your fondest memory of editing?

I have many fond memories, so it’s hard to choose. The one that comes most vividly to mind right now actually arose from doing image research in the course of one of my Kurdish woman fighter feeds a dove that is resting in the palm of her right hand.editing projects. The author had asked me to locate striking images of female Kurdish fighters in Turkey to include in a book he had written about his journey to Mount Ararat and the surrounding areas. In the course of searching, I found what has become one of my favourite photos ever. It shows a young Kurdish woman, still in battle gear, crouched down, smiling, and cradling a white dove, whom she is helping to drink some water. The photographer noted that the woman and her comrades had just taken a stronghold held by Islamic State militants, and she had found the dove in a weak condition. She took care of it until it recovered and could fly to safety. The image itself is so beautiful, and the visual connection between the white dove and the dove sent out from Noah’s Ark in Genesis was perfect. Plus, the photographer was overjoyed to have his photo in the book, as he felt the book’s contents would respectfully present his convictions and values, and those of the people he photographed.

How has your editing experience shaped your view of author-editor relationships?

I have always viewed this relationship as one of teamwork, whether I’m working with a single author or several. Hence, I take a collaborative approach to editing, and my experience has so far reinforced my view that this is, for me and my clients, the healthiest, most effective way to work together. Respect, kindness, and an honest, ethical approach on both sides are crucial; in the very few instances where I have terminated a client relationship, it has been because one, or more of these, was no longer there. I have also striven to write and be edited as often as time permits so that I remind myself of how it feels to have one’s writing scrutinized by another person skilled with language and communication.

What inspired you to write and publish your own book, The Book of Lua?

Lua and her story had drawn attention and support from others in the cat rescue community, and I received many requests to write a book. Being in this profession, I knew how much work such an undertaking would entail (no pun intended), so I was initially reluctant. However, I was eventually convinced by the prospect that a book about Lua might be able to help other cats who have mobility or other challenges, as well as humans who live with similar challenges. People of my generation have witnessed many positive changes in social attitudes toward and resources for people who are differently abled (I find this phrase more accurate than the word “disabled”). We have public figures such as Rick Hansen to thank, in part, for that, along with the tireless work of countless other private individuals. But there is still a great deal more to be done. And when it comes to non-human animals, the availability of resources and skills to care for those who are not “typical” is scant, and the prevailing attitude is still, by and large, that euthanasia is the better option. I decided that I’d like to make a meaningful and hopefully lasting contribution to the conversations with and about differently abled human and non-human individuals in our society so that we can all live together more happily, fairly, and ethically, and so, The Book of Lua came into being.

Did you have a hard time separating your writer and editor roles when writing the book?

At first, yes. I couldn’t relax enough to “just write,” because I was scrutinizing everything too much, from an editor’s point of view. Realizing that if I were to do this properly I would need a professional editor to help, I approached Gudrun Will, who had previously edited my submissions for Vancouver Review magazine and with whom I had developed a close friendship. Once she was on board, I was able to “let” myself be a writer, knowing that Gudrun would keep me on course or steer me back there if I wandered (which was sometimes inevitable).

How was your experience of publishing from the author’s side?

Between having Gudrun as my editor and having Fiona Raven as my book designer and my guide on the production side of things, it was excellent. Exhausting, but I expected it to be, given that I was doing it on top of running a full-time business and looking after a home and family. There were hiccups in the printing process, but nothing disastrous. The whole marketing side of things is huge and not for the faint of heart, but again, I feel well supported. Publishing my own book has taught me to be a wee bit better at asking for assistance, which is not my forte.

What was it like to have your own book edited?

Wonderful. I would feel such relief when I received Gudrun’s feedback and suggestions. Writing became less scary, less fraught with the possibility of failure. I knew that I could rely on her to be honest and clear, so even when I hadn’t quite gotten something right yet, I didn’t feel despondent or frustrated or embarrassed. I felt supported and encouraged.

What would you say is the best advice for editors interested in becoming published themselves?

My advice for editors is pretty much what it would be for any writer considering publication. Be very clear with yourself about why you want to have your work published, because this is going to be your guiding light and motivation through a heck of a lot of hard work and doubts, yours and others’. Ask yourself whether you believe in the worth of what you’re considering doing and whether that belief will sustain you through the ups and downs. Also, although this may sound tedious or unpleasant, do the financial math and be sure that you can shoulder the expense of seeing the project through professionally. Don’t cut corners; work with professionals, and pay them what they’re worth, as you expect yourself to be paid as a professional. Along with this, don’t paint yourself into a financial corner that ruins the project for you because you’re fretting about money. Plan and budget before you take the plunge, because if it’s a book you’re creating, it’s a significant plunge. For freelance editors, remember to factor in the time that you’ll spend on the book rather than on paid work; lost earnings are a form of expense. Finally, be as professional with your editor, designer, and printer as you’d expect one of your author clients to be. Stick to deadlines and other commitments, stay organized and focused, communicate clearly and in a timely way, and don’t be afraid to ask for information, clarification, and other help when you don’t have the answers. Be your dream client.

Maggie Clark is a post-secondary student whose goal in life is to work as a professional editor. On her way to achieving that goal, she has earned a Professional Writing Diploma from Douglas College and a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University. Her next step is to complete her studies in SFU’s Editing Certificate program.

Meagan Kus is a freelance copy editor and proofreader with an 18-year background in arts administration.

Image of Dania by Martin Godwyn
Image of Kurdish woman fighter by KurdIshstruggle

4 thoughts on “An Interview with Dania Sheldon, Recipient of Editors Canada’s Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence

  1. Congratulations for winning the Tom Fairley Award, Dania! Your enthusiasm for the Charles Gretton book beams through; it sounds like you were a perfect fit for editing this book. Thank you also for the realistic advice for authors. This was a fascinating article to read!

    Liked by 1 person

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