An Accidental Editor: Elizabeth d’Anjou

Elizabeth d’Anjou wasn’t sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, but one thing was certain: she didn’t want to be a freelance editor. As her profile in the Editors Canada Online Directory of Editors says, “Who wants to go into the same profession as their mom?”

Elizabeth’s mother is Lee d’Anjou, a founding member of Editors Canada who is now retired after 40-plus years as a freelance editor. Lee’s freelance status made the family a bit of an oddity in the 1970s: “A lot of my friends’ moms didn’t work, and none of them worked at home,” says Elizabeth. She notes that her friends would come over to the house and would be confused about why they couldn’t interrupt her mother when they needed something. She was clearly at home, but the rules around disturbances during editing time were exceptionally firm.

“Mom’s favourite instruction to us was ‘You can disturb me only in the case of dripping red blood,’” Elizabeth recalls.

While Lee didn’t try to steer her daughter towards an editing career, a series of fortuitous events that began after high school led Elizabeth into a successful career as a sought-after freelance editor and instructor.

Elizabeth’s summer job before entering university was as a secretary at a small publishing house that had recently received a provincial government grant. The program offered economic incentives to small businesses that hired students. While there, she made valuable contacts; the following summer, instead of returning to the publishing house, the ex-managing editor invited her to work with his new editorial collective of freelance editors. Elizabeth worked for this editorial collective every summer break thereafter. She started with word processing and administrative tasks, but with lots of on-the-job training, she moved on to junior editorial work as well.

After college, Elizabeth returned to the editorial collective because it was an easy way to pay the bills while she considered her options. “I absolutely considered it a temporary situation,” she says. “I thought of it as a summer job, not the start of a career. I figured I would probably go to graduate school eventually, in … something.”

Although she didn’t intend it to happen, the collective provided an ideal editing education. Elizabeth received great feedback and mentoring as well as plenty of opportunities to learn about editing as a business. Eventually, despite her youthful vow to avoid her mother’s profession, temporary became permanent. After about 18 months, Elizabeth realized she had moved from saying, “I work for an editor” to “I am an editor.”

It took a long time to realize that she had (accidentally) become an editor, and even longer to decide what type of editing she enjoyed. Her original goal was to edit the types of books she liked to read: fiction books, travel books, children’s books. But, she said, “Several years into it, I realized that a good editing project is not the same as a good read.” She came to recognize that reliable and interesting clients, reasonable timelines, decent pay, and challenging problems that are satisfying to resolve were all more important than the actual content of a manuscript.

More importantly, she realized over time that the job of a freelance editor is not just to edit—it is to run a successful business. “I was a good editor long before I was a good freelancer,” she says. “For the first few years I was overworked and underpaid. I was always broke.” Slowly but surely, however, she developed some business sense.

Her transition into editing instruction was similarly accidental. She entered teaching via the same path followed by many continuing education instructors: she had good skills and experience, and because she was active in her professional community, her name came up when someone was in need of an instructor on short notice. Fill-in work conducting Editors Canada seminars evolved into sessional teaching at George Brown College and later Ryerson University, where she teaches several online courses. 

Given her mother’s reputation within the Canadian editing community, comparisons between the two d’Anjous were inevitable. In her early years with Editors Canada, Elizabeth often heard, “Oh, you must be Lee’s daughter.” She insists she never minded, since her mother was so well respected in the profession. She and her mother now joke that they knew the younger d’Anjou had “made it” when someone said to Lee, “Oh, you must be Elizabeth’s mother.”

While she did not learn editing skills from her mother, Elizabeth notes that they have several things in common. One key similarity is the value they each place on volunteering and supporting the editorial community.

“From my mom, I got a real appreciation of the importance of giving back,”  Elizabeth says. “She often used to say of volunteer tasks, simply, ‘This work needs to be done.’ I came to understand what she meant: if we want to have an organization that can represent us and support us in a significant and organized and lasting way, then we all have to do our part. And I really value and respect that.”

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