Training isn’t the whole story when it comes to a successful editorial career – of course, UK publishers take into account other factors such as copy-editing and proofreading experience, in-house work, publishers’ competence tests, and great testimonials. No surprise there. But if you want to train as a proofreader or copy-editor and you don’t have those strings to your bow, you need to prepare yourself for market. The obvious first step is to train.

If you want to be ready for market, you need to know what your market wants – to spend your hard-earned cash on courses that count. My preferred market is the publishing industry because a) it’s large and b) a portfolio of clients in this sector can generate repeat work without the need for constant marketing.

Publishing consensus … the no-brainer
Call up the production editors in any established publishing house in the UK to ask them what their recommended training providers are for editorial freelancers, and the names of two organizations come up consistently: 1) the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and 2) the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) The SfEP is the UK’s national association for editorial freelancers and it’s our equivalent to the EFA. The PTC is the UK’s premier publishing training provider and offers courses across the full publishing spectrum including editing and proofreading, for both freelancers and in-house staff. It also runs courses in association with the Independent Publishers Guild.

Yes, there are other options, some which are well-established and have a good reputation. But the “newbie” wanting to spend their training pennies wisely cannot make a mistake with the PTC and the SfEP. They are industry-recognized bodies and no one in the publishing industry will turn round and say, “You know what? You’d have been better off spending your training budget with X.”

The SfEP runs the only accreditation test available for proofreaders in the UK, and offers short courses and mentoring opportunities. The PTC runs shorts courses and a fabulous distance-learning program. The beauty is that while the SfEP and the PTC are independent organizations, they are mutually supportive. Their training programmes complement each other and the content and standards of like courses are consistent. Most of the PTC’s editorial tutors are also SfEP members.

Across the pond (from my viewpoint)
I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues in different parts of the world. My US friends have offered some fascinating insights into their world of editing, proofreading and publishing. What’s struck me the most is how in the US there doesn’t seem to be an obvious point of entry for generalists who need nationally recognized training of a consistent standard and recognized by publishers. Here’s Kristine Hunt:

There does not seem to be much consensus in the US regarding the “go-to” choice for editorial training. Certainly there are well-known programs – UC San Diego and University of Chicago extension/continuing education certificate programs come to mind, as do the numerous BA/MA programs – as well as the single or short courses offered by the EFA, Editorial Bootcamp, Editorial Inspirations, and others.

And Katharine O’Moore-Klopf concurs, saying that with regard to US editors and proofreaders:

[T]here is no One True Way to train for them. There are no officially recognized training programs. Instead, there are just programs that people learn of by word of mouth. And most US publishers are totally unaware of training programs and certifications.

Thank goodness for the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which Katharine set up precisely in order to pull together all the relevant strings.

Talking to Kristine and Katharine made me realize how lucky I’ve been to have such an obvious training track to follow. It’s not just the basics, either. The options for continuous professional development are available, too. If I need to brush up my proofreading, the SfEP can help me. If I want to learn about how to optimize my online presence with SEO techniques, the PTC has just the thing. Web editing? Working for non-publishers? Marketing my business? On-screen work? Mentoring? Help with going freelance? It’s all there in just one click each to two websites. And if I put these courses on my CV, publishers will recognize the providers and acknowledge the quality of what I’ve been taught.

Why the difference?
Why isn’t there more of a consensus in the US publishing industry around editorial training? I wondered if it was because of the sheer size of the country – a coordination issue, perhaps. We in the UK can squeeze into California without breathing in. Certainly, it’s easier for people in the UK to meet, discuss, strategize and plan. Or is it a matter of professional organization? Here’s Katharine again:

Every time people in various organizations in the United States complain that there is no nationwide training and certification, the general response is that it’s “too hard” to create such a comprehensive course and examination. The reason it’s too hard is that everyone in the organizations is a volunteer and doesn’t want to spend unpaid time putting together courses and exams.

This is an interesting point. The PTC is not run by volunteers; it’s a registered UK charity with paid staff. It has a course development officer who works with tutors to develop the training programme. However, the SfEP, while having a properly staffed editorial office, is nevertheless reliant on unpaid council members, all of whom are busy freelance editorial practitioners, to develop its strategy, training programmes, accreditation tests and mentoring opportunities.

So the volunteer nature of the work is part of the story but not all of it. Country size may well be a factor. But neither explains the SfEP and PTC’s relationship with the wider publishing industry. I suspect history has a big part to play.

Historical relationships …
Last year Edelweiss Arnold, Marketing Manager at the PTC, did an interview with The Proofreader’s Parlour. She talked about the courses on offer, in particular the distance learning programme. But the little snippet of historical information she shared at the start of the interview is insightful. She told me:

We were born under the auspices of the Publishers Association (PA) and our first courses were run under their banner. Sir Stanley Unwin’s charitable trust identified the need for quality, professional training for the book and journal publishing industry, and his son, Rayner Unwin, took up the challenge.

The PTC website tells us that it was born “30 years ago and remains at the heart of the industry” (my emphasis; PTC and that it is “the organisation appointed by the publishing industry to represent its views on skills and training to government” (PTC

So, the publishing establishment was the driver of editorial training standards in the UK. And the formation of the SfEP just a few years later took place within this publisher-driven desire for high editorial standards. Furthermore, the PTC helped with the formation of the SfEP and there has always been a strong bond between the two organizations.

Perhaps that means that in the US the various training bodies are the metaphorical acquaintances of the publishing industry, whereas in the UK they are more akin to its children. This difference may be crucial to consensus-building – editorial training here developed from the inside.

Does that make the quality of training better in the UK? Not at all. Does it provide a platform on which publishers and freelancers can speak the same language when discussing editorial skills, standards and expectations? Definitely. And that’s got to be a good thing, especially for the freelance novice navigating the training maze.

Louise Harnby is a UK-based freelance proofreader with 22 years’ publishing experience. Her clients are primarily academic publishing houses specializing in the social sciences and humanities, though she also works in the trade sector on fiction and commercial non-fiction. She trained with the Publishing Training Centre and is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Getting in touch: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (@LouiseHarnby), the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services, and her blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour.