The Art of Copyediting solution to the problem of learning in India
Dec 31, 2022
A copyeditor in India faces almost insurmountable hurdles in learning the profession. I discuss these problems in detail and provide (a) a practical method of learning the basics via The Art of Copyediting group-learning plan (now affordable by everyone) and (b) an engaging, challenges-based plan to grow steadily in your career via The Art of Copyediting Community.
Although I have written this piece as a blog to stay on the website, this is almost a personal note to all ICF members (resident Indian members) and to potential editors in India. Having been in this field for over 25 years and blessed with rare insights on the subject of copyediting, I want to help people learn and grow in the writing and editing fields.
In this post, I discuss in detail the learning-related problems of an editor in India, and provide some practical and affordable ways of resolving them, given the situations that exist in a postpandemic world.
I want to caution you that this is a long post. If you have a reading habit—an essential trait for a copyeditor—you will read it till the end, as you will know that I'm only trying to do everything possible to help you.
It would be easiest to start with the topic most commonly discussed in ICF forums. So let me start with that.
[Things like ChatGPT may trigger all kinds of fears in your mind, but I can tell you from lived experience that the real talent within a human being—the ability to think, decide, and act rationally—can never be overtaken by any kind of automation. If at all we reach the point of artificial intelligence replacing the human mind (and its ability to think and take rational decisions), planet Earth may as well not have a need for human beings as a species. But we Indians are ingrained with the idea that the world we see today has undergone many, many cycles of evolution and involution in various yugas, kalpas, and manvantharas. And ChatGPT is just a tiny spec in the grand chain of earthly events.
So, don't worry about things you have no control over, things that can dampen your efficiency or disturb your peace of mind. If, on the other hand, you can focus on the indestructible awareness within you and understand that fear is merely a psychological idea (an emotion) in your individual mind—the awareness that you are frightened of something specific—you are already on your way to overcome many of the difficulties in life.
For your information, ChatGPT confidently told me to join the (nonexistent) "Indian Association of Professional Editors (IAPE)" to learn editing. Do you get an idea of what's in store for editors, fact checkers, and plagiarism checkers?]
The most common topic discussed in ICF groups
We all know that pricing is the most common topic raised repeatedly in ICF forums. The general theme is that copyeditors are paid low for the work we do and that we must demand and make clients pay us more. Although I am fully with the editors on this issue, there are also other things to consider that I would like to point out.
- First, even with full-time employees, not everyone's salary is the same. Moreover, a copyeditor may be paid a certain amount, a team leader may be paid something more, and a manager or group editorial head still more. This is because each one (successively) manages a greater number of people or helps in generating greater revenue, and is therefore paid more.
- As a full-time employee or freelance editor, you may always be working alone and will therefore be able help your client only in terms of what I would call "single-unit revenues." This in turn implies that the earning capacity of an editor is dependent on individual skill set and the capacity to produce a certain number of quality pages, in turn supported by relevant work experience.
- If you raise the quality of your output and work to international standards, you may be able to earn in dollars, and perhaps earn much more than many others because of the exchange-rate advantage.
- So the focus of individuals (and younger people in particular) should be to learn the art thoroughly, and at the earliest time possible (in your twenties and thirties).
- One thing that surprised me was that while there was so much of talk about how much editors should be paid, there was hardly any talk about what should be the quality of work that should be expected from an editor.
- Any talk about quality would automatically lead to learning and expenses (from our pocket, rather than into our pocket), and so nobody talks about it.
- But the truth of the matter between pay and quality is this: You can demand as much as you want, but you will be paid only according to your quality (even if the demand is by chance tolerated or entertained). If, however, you decide to pay attention to your learning—before you get completely bogged down by the endless complications of life—you have at least a chance of earning something better with time.
I'd suggest re-reading the last bullet point and thinking of the meaning of those lines.
The problems faced by learners in India
The copyeditors of today have a tremendous problem on their hands. They have to learn, but the obstacles they face seem overwhelming.
- There has been no serious training in copyediting in India for the last 10–15 years. So it doesn't matter even if you are a full-time employee in a company—you are never going to receive any formal, structured training.
- The pandemic has also changed things so drastically that companies do not even want to think of training. The world seems to have already reached the state where learning a skill would simply be an individual's problem. (Gone are the days when you can join a company and hope to learn a profession gradually.)
- Earlier, in a company, many people working with you may also be learning, and so you will have an impetus to learn. But now, such scenarios are already a thing of the past. (Imagine going to the office 2–3 days a week and finding that your coworkers come in on different days.)
- Some of you may have thought of taking a course from a foreign organization—that you'd really learn something worthwhile, because the organization is already well-respected in an English-speaking country. But you may have invariably got a rude shock when the practical reality struck you: most of the courses—whether they meet your expectations or not—are prohibitively expensive for a learner in India (because of the exchange rate).
- And then, when you read that The Art of Copyediting offers 31 courses in copyediting, you simply want to turn around and run away! (How do I learn 31 courses? and Where do I find the money to learn so many courses?)
- You also have to look at the complexity of copyediting as a subject. Somewhat recently, Vivek Kumar mentioned in a post that the preparation time for copyediting is not months but years. A foreigner pitched in on LinkedIn and said, "and decades for some of us!" It did take me decades to master the subject, but that was because I was learning on my own, reading whatever I could lay my hands on, jotting down notes, and applying them nonstop over years.
- That brings in an important question for the learner—are you for it in the long haul? If you just want to try your hand at copyediting, don't waste your time as a freelancer. Simply join a company and test the waters while you get your monthly pay. That will help you know whether you want to take the plunge or not. (And if you do get the feeling that you like it, please do not quit your job and attempt to become a freelance editor—at least not for the first 10 years.)
- Academic copyediting in particular is a full-time profession in its own right; if you think you can do this as a side hustle along with something else, you are just wasting your time.
To sum up, a learning copyeditor in India has to face issues relating to the following:
- Impetus to learning
- Time for learning
- Money for learning
- Practice material, sense of direction during and after learning
- Focus retention (after learning the basics)
- Low pay (and consequently low earnings)
- Efficiency of working
- Growth in career
Now let us look at all these one by one and see how we can address them. At my age, all that I can do is to help you learn and grow in your career, and that is why I started The Art of Copyediting. So I will also tell you how I am trying to resolve all these issues for you.
The Art of Copyediting solution to all your learning problems
Impetus to learning
The postpandemic scenario is that people feel isolated both mentally and physically. So the impetus to learning is almost completely missing.
- The answer to this is not social media, but community learning—learning as a group.
- What this means is that we literally replicate what was happening in the office earlier; that is, we have (or form/join) a group of people with common goals and with whom we vibe well, and we spend some time together periodically and learn something related to our common goals.
The pandemic has taught us that we can do this from our homes (and nobody is preventing us from meeting people physically, as we do in ICF meetings).
- The only important thing is that the people in this group have to be committed to learning (see points 7 and 8 earlier).
- So there has to be an entrance filter for the group.
The Art of Copyediting Community has such an entrance filter, and I will explain this as we move forward.
Time for learning
The first thing to understand is the need for formal training into principles of writing and editing. And that means taking some time out to learn the basics thoroughly.
Two things are important here:
- What are the basics?
- How much time do I need to learn these basics?
Again, I have taken care of both these things for you.
- The Art of Copyediting offers a 3-month 4-course training and mentoring program (called Foundational Skills for Employability and Earning) that covers all the basics you must know for a career in the writing and editing fields (you can see the details here).
- After 25 years of teaching and some experimentation during the pandemic, I am convinced that a self-learning of these 4 video courses plus a set of (about 20) mentoring sessions will help you have a good grounding for a career in this field.
- These will teach you things that are (even today) never taught in Indian schools and colleges.
- I can even guarantee that if you complete this program in earnest, you will be much better than most experienced people who have not had any formal training in the early years of their career.
- In fact, this program can be an invaluable help to such (experienced) editors.
- If you'd like to know why formal training is necessary for copyediting, you can read it here.
- If you'd like to know more about the actual experience of someone who has already taken this program, you can read it here.
- If you'd like to know how a typical mentoring session goes, you can watch it here.
- If you want to take up writing/editing as a career, can you not spend even 3 months to learn the basics?
- If you feel that is too much, I want to remind you that you have years of learning ahead of you in this career. (You might as well run away now and choose a different career!)
- This is not a full-time 3-month course. You can continue to work and earn as usual, but you will have to focus on learning for 3 months.
Money for learning
Yes, learning does require money and you may not have money to spare in the early stages of your career. But formal learning is essential if you want to earn reasonably well in this field.
Given these, what are your options?
- If you can afford it, learning and one-to-one mentoring would be the best.
- As every mind thinks uniquely, a one-to-one mentoring would undoubtedly be the most powerful aid to quick learning.
- The next best thing—if you cannot afford one-to-one learning—would be to go in for group learning.
- What this means is that you join the learning program as a group (to gain access to the first course).
- You then learn the recorded video lessons individually but sit for the mentoring as a group (to learn the application of these principles).
- A group of freelance (or work-from-home) editors or a group of full-time employees (those going physically to offices) can join the program together, because you can then choose a common time for the mentoring (daytime/evening/late evening, 2–3 times a week, for 8 weeks).
- You will have to practice beyond the training (ideally during your daily work) to become really good at what you have learned.
- To achieve all these, group learning can work wonderfully.
- A "group" can be anything between 2 people (just you and your best friend) and 6 people (the upper limit for effective group learning).
Now let's look at the money involved, and how group learning can help you bring down the cost of learning by almost one-third. For convenience, I'll mention the pricing for individual and group mentoring separately.
Courses and individual mentoring
- Routine pricing: ₹45,000 payable as ₹15,000/month for 3 months
- You get discounts when you make single or double payments
- If you look at the individual pricing of these courses, they will add up to ₹41,350.
- Given my 25+ years of experience in this field, the charge for 20 mentoring sessions alone would be more than the total course fees.
- This in turn implies that when you take this 4-course program for ₹45,000, you get the mentoring almost for free.
Courses and group mentoring
- The pricing will vary for groups of 2 to 6 people, the lowest being for 6 people learning together.
- For a group of 6, each person will pay ₹10,000/month for 3 successive months.
- This means that you will learn 4 world-class courses at an unbelievable price of ₹30,000 (which is two-thirds the original price—a discount of 33%).
- For more details on how much you can save with group learning, please see the FAQs on the program page.
- Every member of a 4-member learning group (for example) will save more than every member of a 3-member learning group.
- You will have to form your group (get the concurrence of every member) before getting in touch with me for the payment.
- I can perhaps set up a Google form with Vivek to help bring ICF members together (so that you can look at the preferences on the sheet and ask if someone would like to join your group for a group mentoring at a certain time).
- Those of you who want to learn as 2- or 3-member groups (with a lower discount but with greater personal interactions) can discuss among yourselves and get in touch with me immediately.
I can tell you that there will be tremendous losses for me as trainer. But I am willing to ignore my losses for a simple reason: I work as an individual. I am not running The Art of Copyediting to make more and more profits. All I'm looking for is to earn a living now (and pay for all the software I use and the Kajabi platform, which hosts my website and courses) and to earn decently enough to live peacefully when I choose to retire.
All said and done, you may still have other questions. You may wonder how to raise the money needed for the group mentoring (whatever be the number of friends in your group). You can choose any of the following options:
- Save money and then join (agree on a group-saving plan with your friends)
- Borrow from someone who can help you and pay them gradually
- Pay with a credit card and convert them to convenient longer EMIs (by talking with your bank)
Please understand that this is not a needless expense, nor a forced expense—this is something you can choose to do for your own good. And it will be one of the greatest investments you will ever make, because your returns on this learning investment will last for a lifetime. I would urge you not to postpone your learning anymore and to consider the above options seriously.
Group learning is the best possible way to learn at a lower price, and this is the best way I can help you.
Think, discuss with your well-wishers, and then decide.
All these are just about learning the basics. But this is just the tip of the iceberg for those of you who really want to learn and grow in your career.
Practice material, sense of direction, and focus during and after learning
Remember the entrance filter I talked about earlier? Well, The Art of Copyediting has a community feature, and those who do well in learning the basics will gain access to the AOC Community, which will be a continuation of your initial group-learning activities. No separate membership is required except that you complete the 4-course training-and-mentoring program successfully and thus prove that you have the drive to stay on and grow in the field.
The AOC Community—powered by Kajabi Communities 2.0—will be a dream community for learners, with features such as the following:
- These will be the greatest attractions in any learning community. You can think of them as nuggets of learning.
- These can be 7-day/14-day challenges where (for example) you can do something definite that will help you move forward in your career/learning.
- These challenges can be anything related to practice exercises, some MS Word activity, file-management, practical things you can adopt in your daily work—and reporting them as done.
- You can take up these challenges at your own pace (or keep pace with a group of friends).
- But the beauty of these challenges is that they will give you a clear sense of direction, an undeniable satisfaction of having completed a specific task—something that will help you move forward by at least one step in your career.
- These are smaller groups within the community that may want to focus on something specific.
- These can also be free and pay-to-access groups that (with sufficient practice and challenges accomplished) may want to learn and get mentored further, perhaps at a discounted group price.
- You can steadily move forward, and I can bring in levels of certification with higher circles of learning.
- You can decide where you want to go and how fast or leisurely you want to.
- Group calls, private discussions
- This can be used for periodic or ad hoc discussions on anything related to the community or to learning.
- These can also be private discussions with the leader or with Circle coordinators.
- These can hold ready references for group discussions, some recorded sessions for people to watch, links to specific topics, comparative notes, even some life-management principles.
All these will give you enough impetus to practice what you have learned and remain focused for continued learning. The Art of Copyediting can give you any amount of material for you to practice whatever you have learned.
In short, you can use The Art of Copyediting community as your safe harbor for constant learning and the ICF forum and other editorial sites for networking and all-round growth.
Resolving low-pay issues
When you complete the 3-month training-and-mentoring program from The Art of Copyediting, you will receive a certificate indicating successful completion of the program.
- Although you may be honing your skills to perfection in the next few months, you can always display it to your employer/client and to the world.
- Show them your certificate, give them proof of your ability, tell them the value you bring to the workplace, and gently ask for a raise. If things don't work out, you can always move to an employer/client who respects your talent and pays you accordingly.
- When you start earning a little more, you can start saving some of that extra income, and after some months of practice, you can decide whether you want to learn and grow further.
- Within the AOC Community, you can grow at your own pace, as you will always have a clear sense of direction (in turn because of the list of challenges laid out for you).
As I said earlier, it took me decades to become really good at editing, but that was because I was learning everything on my own, with the limited resources available at that time. But with the complete support system I have envisaged for you
- You will be able to satisfy the general expectations in India in a year or so.
- Your work can be on par with international standards in 2–3 years,
- You can complete your entire learning within 3-4 years, with as many short gaps as you may want in the interim.
At each of these stages, you may be able to demand a reasonable pay simply because of the value you provide. With steady learning and practice, your capacity to earn will become much higher in just a few years—and for life-long thereafter.
Efficiency of working
As you work on growing in your career, you'll understand that one of the key things you have to learn parallelly is the ability to use Microsoft Word efficiently. There are three things you have to do to achieve this:
- Learn keyboard shortcuts and use them routinely
- Learn to use Word styles
- Learn to use macros
You can learn many of the things related to these three areas simply by being part of the AOC community and by paying attention to the directions you receive there as part of the challenges laid out for you.
Growth in career
- As I mentioned earlier, you can have a clear sense of direction and growth when you are part of the AOC Community of editors.
- I'd prepared a growth and certification plan for copyeditors many years back.
- This document was the basis for my presentation titled Precise and uniform definitions of light, standard, and professional levels of editing—A proposal at Editing Goes Global, the First International Conference for Editors, at Toronto, in 2015.
- This document outlines what skills a copyeditor must demonstrate in daily work at every stage of learning and certification. It can therefore serve as a guideline for successive challenges and growth targets.
- The concept of Challenges and Circles in the AOC Community can greatly facilitate
- the setting up of these challenges for its members (challenges that can be greatly engaging, rewarding, and satisfying for many editors)
- recognition of these accomplishments
- an understanding of the next steps to be taken to move to the next level of learning (which can be greatly supported by private discussions).
- You can move from being an amateur to a standard editor, to a professional, and an expert.
- You can continue to grow while being fully employed—both in terms of remuneration and position.
- Some of you with exceptional skills may be able to become part of the international community of editors.
So, there you have it—a practical, well-thought-out, and affordable learning and growth plan for a career in the field of copyediting (which you can tweak as appropriate for the field of writing). Look forward to seeing you as a learning member!
Feel free to comment on any of the ideas presented here.
Happy New Year to everyone!