Meet the Instructor: Lesley Erickson

Written by Carl Rosenberg; copy edited by Katie Heffring

This photo shows a headshot of Lesley Erickson smiling.

On Saturday, November 25, Editors BC presents Lesley Erickson’s seminar on editing academic works. Designed to promote a better understanding of the needs of academic authors and how editors can help them achieve their goals, this seminar will be useful to editors and writers at all stages of their careers.

Lesley Erickson has more than 20 years’ experience as an author and editor in scholarly publishing. She has worked as a freelance copywriter, substantive editor, stylistic editor, copy editor, and proofreader for individual clients and university presses, and she is currently a senior editor in the Production Editorial department at UBC Press. As a production editor, she focuses on books in history and Indigenous studies. As a substantive editor, she edits trade and trade-crossover titles and is passionate about helping academic authors make their research more accessible to the general public through well-edited, jargon-free prose.

She holds a PhD in Canadian history and is a graduate of SFU’s Master of Publishing program. She is the author of Westward Bound: Sex, Violence, the Law, and the Making of a Settler Society and co-editor of Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West through Women’s History.

Carl Rosenberg, a volunteer on Editors BC’s communications and social media committee, spoke to Lesley about her advice on academic editing.

Hello, Lesley! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. How did you come to your career as a writer and editor in the field of academic publishing?

My pleasure. I’ve always been fascinated by history and wanted to be a historian at an early age, but I didn’t become passionate about writing until I took an advanced composition course during my undergraduate degree. The instructor had us write one essay a week and revisit and rewrite essays written for other courses. I found it exhausting and humbling, but I acquired an appreciation for the craft of writing, and rewriting, that I carry with me to this day.

To make ends meet during graduate school, I often took on the odd writing and editing job for professors and discovered that I enjoyed editing as much as, if not more than, researching and writing. I didn’t think seriously about editing as a career, however, until I began my postdoctoral research and began weighing my career options. At that time, I had just moved to Vancouver and learned about SFU’s Master of Publishing program. I entered the program and did an internship at UBC Press, and I’ve never looked back.

What are the differences between academic and trade editing and publishing?

This is an interesting question because academic and trade editors share the same editorial standards and goals: to ensure that material is consistent and correct and that its content meets the needs of the intended audience. To complicate things further, trade houses often showcase the research of major scholars, and university presses often publish books for general readers.

The output of scholarly publishers is surprisingly broad, but most would agree that their core mandate is to facilitate the peer-review process and distribute the results of research as widely as possible. Unlike trade publishers, scholarly publishers delegate the decision to publish to experts in the field through peer review and publications boards. Some view the peer-review process as a form of developmental or substantive edit, but I think there are a number of problems with this view. Regardless, once a book enters the copy-editing stage, the publishing process doesn’t differ much from trade publishing.

What are the main challenges of academic editing?

Good academic editors not only have to meet professional editorial standards, but they also have to have a solid grounding in the writing conventions and documentation guidelines of multiple disciplines. Scholarly books and essays tend to be longer and more complex than their trade counterparts, and outside of disciplines such as history or literary studies, the authors rarely consider themselves writers.

You don’t have to be an academic to be an academic editor, but it helps tremendously if you understand why scholars write and publish and how they read or approach books and articles.

On a lighter note, what are a few of your favourite books and publications—academia- or editing-related or otherwise?

I love books on writing and the writing process, and there are a few authors—William Zinsser, Roy Peter Clark, John McPhee, and Joseph Williams, for example—that I return to often for inspiration. My favourite historians write books that blend deep scholarship with a gripping narrative. Books such as Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre or Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World come to mind. At the end of the day, though, I like nothing more than to kick back with a good thriller or romance.    

Lesley, thank you very much for sharing your experience and expertise. We’re looking forward to your seminar on November 25.

Carl Rosenberg edited “Outlook: Canada’s Progressive Jewish Magazine” from 1998 to 2016. He has a diploma in Latin American studies from Vancouver Community College and a bachelor of arts in Spanish language and literature from UBC. He has recently begun volunteering with the communications and social media and committee of Editors BC.

Katie Heffring is currently completing the Editing, Plain Language, and Technical Communication certificates at SFU. With four years of experience in the publishing industry and her love for editing and writing, she decided to pursue a career as a freelance copy editor and proofreader. She is also a volunteer copy editor for Vancouver Island’s “Take 5” magazine.

Image provided by Lesley Erickson

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