HubPro Editor: Meet Joanna Fonte

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Let’s start with an icebreaker: what is your favorite food?

Well that would have to be cheese. Hard, or creamy, nutty, smoky, or stinky, shaved, fondued, or simply grabbed with fingers and stuffed into mouth.  If you are what you eat, then I am made of cheese. (Either that or Oaxacan or Korean food or anything you can find to eat in New Orleans. Don’t get me started.)

Could you briefly tell us a little bit about your previous experience with editing and publishing?

When I started a blog in 2010, I wanted a place where I could share chapters of my latest novel. Then I began posting personal essays, short stories, poetry, and other literary experiments and today, with more than 4,500 subscribers, it has become more like a literary platform where I get to play the role of writer, editor, designer, promoter, and publisher. This experience has led to me being published various other places, online and in print, and it got me this job as editor at HubPages, as well. I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to do something so much that you’ll do it whether or not you get paid, and if your mania takes you beyond the point of casual pastime into full-time obsession, you may eventually find a way to make it a profession.

Could you also talk about your academic qualifications?

For ten years I taught public high school English. My favorite things to teach were American Literature (Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ken Kesey, etc.), the short story, poetry, and the personal essay. Of course, my real favorite thing to teach was teenagers. When I tell people I retired from teaching, they usually assume I left because it was hard working with adolescents but nothing could be further from the truth: those delightfully complicated creatures full of intemperate attitudes and hormones and swaggering ideas were what I came for and what kept me going for so long, despite administration upheavals, severe resource shortages, and teetering piles of papers to be graded.

Before teaching—so long ago it feels like a previous life—I got my Ed.M. from Harvard and a B.A. in English at U.C. Berkeley.

If I couldn’t be a writer or an editor, a professional student would be my third choice. I know, I know, there’s no such thing, but can’t a person dream?

What’s your favorite thing about working in the editing industry?

There is a myth that writers don’t need anything but their own genius to publish when, in fact, every book on the shelf is the product of a team of people working together to make it happen. It’s the same for movies only more obviously so, since they list all the contributors in the credits.

The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman said that “The film is made in the editing room. The shooting of the film is about shopping, almost. It’s like going to get all the ingredients together, and you’ve got to make sure before you leave the store that you got all the ingredients. And then you take those ingredients and you can make a good cake—or not.” I like to think of myself as being on the author’s team, standing just behind them and handing them what they need: some sugar, a shake of salt, a pinch of chile, or a sharp knife.
In my own writing, I can’t really be objective about what I’ve written unless I put it in a drawer and ignore it for enough time for me to finally see it with fresh eyes. This process works fine if it’s a literal drawer I’m putting the piece into but when I push “publish” online, that’s the opposite of tucking it away—it’s hanging it on a clothesline for everyone to see (picture undergarments flapping in the breeze). Time and perspective are luxuries that the prevalent online writing model doesn’t afford, and this is why people complain about the quality of writing they find. Most writing you read on the Internet is fast and furious and has not had time to ripen. Most online writing is unedited: we have the thought, press “Publish Now,” and move on.

Every time I read something I’ve written, I notice something I’d like to change and every day, I wish I had an editor.

So that’s what I like best about editing: I get to do for others what I can’t do for myself.

What do you like most about editing Hubs, specifically?

Every day, I get to visit a new idea, meet a different mind, and imagine another world. The HubPages community is an amazing gathering of diverse and fascinating perspectives. One day I’m in the trenches of WWI (or in Wisconsin or Arkansas) learning about cool usernames for girls or the best political protest songs of the ‘60s and the next, I’m in Pakistan (Tibet, Nigeria, or Iceland) learning about dubstep or how to play Pokémon or interpret a dream about a snake. I love British humour, a Southern anecdote, and a lilting Indian cadence. After a day of work, the world feels like a smaller, nicer, richer, and cozier place to be.

Could you tell us a little bit about your personal process for working on Hubs?

First, I read it once through to get a feeling for the overall gist and the author’s personality. I take note of the first visual impression the Hub makes and have custom illustrations made or photos taken if needed. Then, with that author’s point and persona in mind, I start going through, one capsule at a time, to gently comb through the writing (separating ideas that have gotten tangled, tweaking and smoothing grammar and language) to make sure the author’s point is coming through. I usually spend extra time on the first capsule because I know that’s where readers make their snap decision to continue on or press “back” to the search engine to look for something better. I may add lists, tables, or other means of helping the information jump off the page and I may add interactive elements like videos or polls to invite the reader to engage with the writing. I check Google’s webmaster tools to see what search terms are bringing traffic and make sure those words are focal. In some cases, I will add current research or information to help the Hub compete with other articles out there: when this kind of work seems needed, I always email the author beforehand. I try do all this with the Hub’s author’s personality, nationality, philosophy, style, and purpose in mind and always, as I work, I’m remembering every piece of feedback I’ve gotten on my writing in the past, from teachers and readers and publishers and friends, both useful and not, and I’m applying those lessons with every edit I make.

When I do this right and the Hubber likes what I’ve done, that makes my day. And if I miss the mark, a Hubber can simply undo what I’ve done. No harm, no foul.

Is there anything you’d like Hubbers to know about you?

I have a short list:

I am a tea-drinker, a thrift-shopper, and I turn the music up very, very loud.

Every day I take care of of two kids, one cat, a garden full of green things, and the flock of neighborhood crows.

I take my job(s) extremely seriously.

If I’m your editor, I’m on your team.

I work with a phenomenal group of people. They are sharp, funny, and imaginative. If I could afford it, I’d pay them to edit me.

22 thoughts on “HubPro Editor: Meet Joanna Fonte

  1. Hello Joanna. I have hubs that could help you with your garden full of green things … hint, hint. I look forward to the day when you offer me some feedback on improvements I could make to them. 🙂

  2. Such an impressive resume there, Joanna! I am glad there are editors out there like you who actually enjoy helping others and love teaching.

    I think I would be a professional student as well since I love learning above all else. Thanks again for sharing this with us!

    • People like you and I who identify as “writers” can be the easiest and hardest to work with—easiest because there’s very little to change, hardest because we feel very invested in our writing. As I told LTM up there, I don’t get to choose which Hubs I edit, but it’s always a real pleasure working with someone who writes really well.

  3. I am definitely impressed by how well Joanna wrote in response to the HubPages Blog interview above. Your fluid writing style kept me glued wanting to read and know more. We love you as our HubPro Editor!

  4. Welcome Johanna – Sorry I missed this post, i am not usually so slow in coming forward. I just wanted to say Hi and Welcome. It is good to have you here.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
    Best wishes,
    Sally.

  5. Hellooo Joanna, Welcome! I like the girl in the hat nome de plume.
    ” Every day I take care of of two kids, one cat, a garden full of green things, and the flock of neighborhood crows.”
    You had me at a flock of crows ( a murder of crows?) (And a cat, and a garden full of green things).

  6. I just read the story on your site about the 2 lb. Baby boy I too had a simler child birth thank you for shareing your story

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