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Kate Cassaday: Not in those words

Gail Vaz-Oxlade's editor puts in her two cents on working with Canada's most hard-hitting financial guru.


Editing any author is a conversation: questions dotting the margins of a manuscript, long editorial notes, suggestions of how a cut or addition might strengthen a passage or chapter, queries to clarify purpose. It starts on the page and often spills out into long phone calls or meetings where author and editor work together to shape a manuscript into the best possible book.

With Gail, it's a loud conversation. One where nothing is off limits. And often one littered with four-letter words and helpless laughter. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Take, for instance, the editing of Gail's most recent book, Never Too Late. That conversation started even before we'd acquired the book. Gail tells the story in NTL's introduction - how I called after reading a blog posting she'd written about how hopelessly adrift Canadians are in planning their retirement. I was adamant that retirement should be her next subject. She told me to go away. Not in those words. But then, in time, she listened.

We'd built up a lot of trust in editing Debt-Free Forever. I'd asked her literally hundreds of questions and probably shuffled as many paragraphs, but I'd always told her why - why one chapter needed to be fourth, not fifth. Why chapter six didn't belong at all. How I had no idea what she meant when she explained the FICO score. She'd complain about all the work I made her do, then burst out in a laugh like no other. And we went on from there.

So by the time she agreed to do Never Too Late, we'd charted the course of our editing relationship - and that was good, because NTL proved to be much tougher than her previous book. We talked a lot. At her house over salad, on my porch nursing cups of tea as my dog circled our feet. Arguing over how to get past seemingly impossible challenges, figuring out new ways to make a single book into a plan that could work for anyone. My phone would ring and the unmistakable voice would boom, "Page 288. I have no idea what you mean," and we'd go from there. Each time a new kind of knot to untie. Always a great conversation.

Kate Cassaday is Editor, Nonfiction, at HarperCollins Canada, where she commissions, acquires and edits a list of practical, popular and narrative nonfiction. She has the distinct pleasure of editing a wide-ranging list of authors that includes Claudia Dey, Arlene Dickinson, Tommy Europe, Frankie Flowers, Kelly Oxford, Lawrence Scanlan, Birgit Stutz and, of course, Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Read Gail Vaz-Oxlade's entry in the Writers/Editors series here.



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