Good-quality training is an investment, and whether you’re just starting out and trying to figure out how to spend a limited budget, or you’ve been working for a while, it can be hard to know what you need. You might even question whether you need it at all.
Here are some reasons why editorial training is essential, though – whatever stage you are at in your career.
I learnt on the job, and my clients are happy. Why should I bother?
Perhaps you worked in-house before going freelance, or you built your freelance business from scratch with a natural aptitude and a handful of reference books. You may reach a point where you’re producing work that is consistently good enough for a few repeat clients. Everyone’s happy.
But ask yourself honestly – would you have the confidence and the skills to move outside your comfort zone? The chances are there’s plenty you don’t know. (You might not even realise you don’t know it!) Good-quality editorial training will cover a range of material, giving you the knowledge you need to tackle more diverse work.
Even on more familiar ground, sooner or later you will come across a really intractable problem. (If you have not yet done so, you’ve been lucky.) Extra skills will help you define more accurately what the problem is, and that’s a crucial step towards solving it.
I’m not interested in working in academic publishing, so will the training be relevant?
These days, plenty of editors don’t work for traditional publishers. They may work for businesses, charities, government departments, self-publishers, students … and the list goes on. They probably work exclusively on screen. Yet quite a lot of editorial training starts with the skills required to work for publishers – sometimes even on paper. So is this kind of training more widely applicable?
The answer is that it is. You never know when a client will ask you to work on hard copy (so those proofreading marks needn’t be wasted). Another point to consider is that academic publishing probably encompasses more of the conventions of editorial work than any other genre. Even if you don’t use all the principles all the time in your everyday work, you’ll have the tools at your disposal when you do need them.
I’ve got plenty of clients without needing to demonstrate any professional affiliation; will training be a waste of money?
One argument for basic training, or continued professional development (CPD) later on, is that it can help you upgrade your membership of professional associations. For example, to become an Intermediate, Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), you will need to show evidence of experience and training.
If you’ve got enough work already, you might question the need to go down this route. Your clients know what you can do already, after all. The first rule of freelancing, though, is not to depend on one client for all your work – or even two or three. This is because companies are taken over or go out of business, move their editorial work offshore or change their business model or way of working. The way to build a sustainable business is to have a range of clients – and one way to appeal to them is to show, through your professional credentials, that you are committed to training and CPD. Training may mean a financial outlay now, but look on it as insuring yourself against dry spells in future.
If I need to know something I look it up online, or ask a colleague. Do I still need extra training?
These ways of finding things out are extremely useful (the SfEP forums are considered by many to be one of the main benefits of membership). However, they are best for fixing specific problems. Training gives you a broader grounding, and you’ll know better what questions to ask to improve your practice further.
Remember that technology changes rapidly, too. If the first you hear about this is when your main client sends a form email about ‘improved workflow processes’, you’ll have to scramble to catch up; all of a sudden your hourly rate will plummet. Training can help you see the big picture and stay ahead of the game.
I’m too busy to train. Why should I take time out of paid work to do it?
You’re established, you’re getting plenty of work most of the time, and you can get through it quickly enough to earn what you need. However, you may be surprised at how much efficiency you can introduce to your practice simply by picking up new skills. It could make quite a difference to your hourly rate, for example (or simply save you having to do lots of very repetitive and boring things). You could find you very quickly make up for any time you felt you ‘lost’ to training.
I can keep my skills up to date through my work, so training is unnecessary, isn’t it?
It’s true that learning on the job is a vital part of successful editorial freelancing, and the SfEP believes that this is as important as training, which is why you will also need experience to upgrade your membership.
However, training can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, however long you have been working. Just because one client wants something done a particular way, it doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the only way. And just because you have your own trusted approaches to various tasks, it doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. Editorial training should be something you return to throughout your career.
You can find out more about the training offered by the SfEP in the training section of our website.
Liz Jones is the SfEP marketing and PR director.
Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.