Stand back, I’m about to do editing
I recently received a letter from the Editors Association of Canada informing me that I’ve passed the last of my exams and successfully earned the right to put the letters CPE after my name: I’m a certified professional editor. The copy itself was very clean, so I sent it back to them with only a few stylistic suggestions.
Joking aside, I now have a widely recognized professional credential as an editor. What might seem a bit strange is that I’ve already edited thousands of pages of text for dozens of clients. That would seem to make me a professional editor by any reasonable definition. The key in this case is the “certified” part.
As certifications go, the EAC program is pretty young: the first round was offered in 2006. So there’s no real glamour attached to the titles themselves yet. What each certification does is demonstrate that the bearer has passed a rigorous test in structural editing, stylistic editing, copy-editing or proofreading. Pass all four, and you’re a CPE. If you want to specialize, a single certification might be enough. I do a lot of editing at Talk Science, so I decided it was worthwhile to pursue the CPE.
For a client, the benefit of hiring an EAC-certified editor is that you have independent confirmation of their skills and professionalism. References are good, but unless the references themselves are trained editors, it’s likely they can only recommend what they think is good enough. Every EAC exam is marked by two experts, neither of whom knows the other’s identity or the identity of the person who wrote the exam. If the scores are too far apart, a third marker is brought in to assess the situation. The markers all score based on the professional editorial skills laid out in detail here. Once these initial steps are done, two more experts are brought in to derive the final scores from the data supplied. If I needed tighter controls than that, I’d still be in laboratory science.
I’ve been editing since 2002. I started out doing copy-editing for a peer-reviewed journal on applied environmental science, and went from there into freelance proofreading for books. I was pretty good at what I did, and like most junior editors, I relied primarily on raw talent and good language skills. Then in 2007, I enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s editing certificate program, and in 2008 I started working in-house at D&M Publishers Inc. (then owner of the Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone book imprints). Working at D&M was like editorial bootcamp. They trained. And reviewed. And trained. I was mentored by some of the best editors in the business—and I learned everything I’d been doing wrong. Overediting. Comma confusion. Many kinds of errors I simply never even knew to look for. And I learned, from the pros, things like secrets of top-notch style sheets.
Raw talent is a great place to start, but it’s no replacement for solid training and experience. The CPE credential is independent confirmation of that training and experience—but even the process of studying for the four CPE exams, which I took over the course of four years, served as professional development, significantly improving my editing.
Of course it’s possible for someone to be a brilliant editor with no credentials, either because of innate talent or extreme autodidactic dedication. But if you are a naturally talented editor, why deprive yourself of the benefits of schooling? And if you’re a client, is talent-scouting really the best use of your time? Solid credentials backed by a respectable work history are a pretty reliable system for finding a competent professional.
And if you need to be absolutely sure that you’re hiring the best? I might know someone.