SD/PEN Member Profile: John Cannon

By Sylvia Mendoza, SD/PEN Outreach Chair

SD/PEN regularly selects members at random and profiles their background and experience in an interview-style blog post. These are valuable opportunities for members to introduce themselves to other members and prospective clients through this newsletter and on SD/PEN’s website and social media outlets.

This slightly edited profile features John Cannon, founder and editor of

As a young man, John Cannon’s intention was to save the world, but he has come to realize that being an editor is almost as good. Growing up in Elmwood Park, a Chicago suburb he says most people have never heard of, his love affair with words began when he was sixteen and his high school newspaper published a story he wrote. He went on to earn an English degree from Loyola University Chicago. His first paying job after college—at $110 a week—was as a sportswriter and photographer at a Chicago weekly, and that morphed into news reporter and editor at other newspapers. Eventually he headed west where he worked as an editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune for twenty-seven years, supervising coverage of government, education, the military, immigration, the border, health care, science, and crime.

Now, the best part of editing manuscripts is watching the lights come on, he explains. “When an author I have been working with grasps a concept I have mentioned (okay, harped on) and the result is a better phrase, sentence, paragraph, or chapter, I feel what is probably an unwarranted amount of pride.” 

Here’s more about John Cannon…

How do you describe what you do to someone whom you've just met at a networking function?

I guide authors as they pursue their dreams. That involves editing manuscripts, suggesting minor or major changes, amplifying the author's voice, coaching, consulting, collaborating, and hearing confessions.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of SD/PEN?

I enjoy the presentations from experts. When I started jcannonbooks and began editing fiction, nonfiction, and essays (and doing more writing), I was unfamiliar with certain aspects of running a business. I had created my own website, but I needed to know more about the finer points of being a sole proprietor. Thanks, SD/PEN, I needed that. 

What kinds of projects do you particularly enjoy working on? Why?

I accept and have worked on all manner of manuscripts, from memoir to self-help, from historical fiction to science fiction. But what I really enjoy are mysteries and thrillers. Give me a dose of ratcheting tension, memorable characters, and authentic settings, and I'll read whatever you write. Toss in some noir and I might nominate you for sainthood. The reason, I have concluded, is that such fiction mirrors what I did for decades in newsrooms. Find the unusual, try to make sense of the unexpected, and hope that in the end, we're all better off because of it.

What is the best lesson you've learned as an editor?  Is there anything you would change in your editing journey?

Editing taught me it is important to know at least a little bit about a lot of stuff. Not to go all cosmic on you, but a worthy approach to editing and life is to recognize situations where you don't know enough to answer a question and you need to do more research. The only thing I would have changed is that I really would have liked to save the world.    

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

People who subscribe to my free blog, Take My Word for It, and get the monthly newsletter are probably sick of me recommending books, but no one has told me to stop. And I can't limit myself to one. I enjoyed Peace Like a River and Virgil Wander by Leif Enger because the writing is gorgeous, These Women by Ivy Pochoda because it is such a different sort of mystery, and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan because it is just wonderful.

What is your favorite or least favorite word and why?

Everybody has words they hate, but my distaste for the word “icon” is approaching legendary level in some circles. Icon this, icon that, icon, icon, icon. We ran out of other words? Iconoclast is probably still okay and not ready for the English language's Gigantic Slag Heap of Overuse. But if you use the phrase iconic landmark in a manuscript I'm editing, I'm calling the cops.

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