As part of an ongoing series, Q&Q is talking to people in the Canadian publishing industry about how physical distancing and the COVD-19 pandemic has affected how they approach their work. This week, House of Anansi Press editor Michelle MacAleese shares her thoughts.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working mostly on Emily Urquhart’s exquisite new memoir, The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father and Me, the newest in The Walrus Books imprint, and a cool little book I acquired for the Ambrosia imprint, The Conscious Creative: Practical Ethics for Purposeful Work by designer and creative director Kelly Small. It’s a creative confluence on my desk.
How have you adapted to working solo?
It was relatively easy for me to adapt to working remotely, because I spent a good portion of my career as a freelance editor. I have the privilege of a modest lifestyle that works for me, including a secure and affordable apartment within walking distance of a grocery store and green space, great friends and colleagues who check in with me, and an established self-care practice.
Our team has shifted to digital-first processes with surprisingly little friction. We use Zoom for group meetings, as well as for staff trivia, an Anansi-Groundwood Friday afternoon tradition that’s going strong despite the distance. Last week we even dressed up for trivia. It was “Not-So-Casual Friday”!
Are there resources you don’t have access to?
Bookstores! That’s one way to answer, but another answer, more focused on just my responsibilities, is that there are hardly any resources I don’t have access to.
I have my own copies of the Chicago Manual of Style and the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary here at home, as well my beloved standing desk. Anansi sent me home on March 13 with my company laptop and an external monitor and sincere wishes that we all remain safe and well.
One thing I don’t have is access to is what no one has access to: a crystal ball. (And this is my biggest challenge.) No one knows when bookstores may reopen, how the market will change, and is changing already, and what books we will want to read in the coming years to make sense of our new reality.
Has it changed how you approach your work?
I am editing on screen instead of on paper, and the bursts of focused attention are shorter given the stress of these pressurized conditions, but working remotely hasn’t truly changed the way I approach my work. An editor’s job includes being a steady source of information for their authors, guiding them through the process.
These days, I have to keep saying, “We don’t know.” It’s the only honest answer, but it doesn’t feel good. During this time when much is unknown, our team is paying close attention to what is working to connect readers with books.
Have there been any upsides?
Book publishing was always a rather collaborative industry, and that seems to be even more true now, which I think is pretty cool. Writers, booksellers, book marketers, publicists, festivals, and various arts organizations are working together and talking about new ways to make space for books. Everyone is doing their part to create and deliver new books to readers at a time when many need them the most.
And, as I have discovered, the copy editors of Twitter remain as generous as ever and keen to help me puzzle out the finer points of usage of pop-culture idioms. It seems to me like everyone is doing their jobs with gusto; the lack of in-person contact has necessitated even more collaboration and creative solutions.
Speaking of creative solutions, one of my intrepid authors with a book out on May 1 – Sidura Ludwig, author of You Are Not What We Expected – began a weekly Facebook Live program called “Kneading and Reading,” to share passages from her new book set in Jewish Thornhill and share tips on baking challah every Thursday evening. She could hardly be any more on brand with online baking content.
Anansi has always produced very good books that inform and delight. I rest assured that I am investing my care and working hours into these books in partnership with their creative, driven, brilliant writers. Making connections across time and space is something writers have been doing for ages. We are fortunate that we have built a reading culture in this country, and we can lean on it now. A more personal upside I have discovered is the pleasure of watching my cat slowly move across the carpet to lie in the sunshine. Sometimes I join him.
Michelle MacAleese has been a book editor for 15 years. She has a BA in English Literature from Bishop’s University and studied publishing at Simon Fraser University and Ryerson University. Michelle is currently an editor at House of Anansi Press in Toronto.