Building Skills and Confidence in Editing: How skills training programmes can support a more diverse editorial workforce

Aki Schilz

In 2018, The Literary Consultancy offered a pilot initiative for aspiring editors, with three short seminars giving an introduction to the basics of copy-editing, proofreading and substantive editing. Within the first two days, we had over 100 expressions of interest: clearly, the demand for this kind of training is there.

Responses from a survey 12 months on showed us that all respondents were in employment (hurrah!), including one participant who credited her promotion to Editor directly to the TLC training which her employer, a major publisher, recognised as part of her commitment to professional development. 30% of respondents had gone on to seek further training, and 90% would recommend similar training opportunities to peers. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

This time around, we wanted to make the offer bigger and better, extending the training to intensive half-day workshops, adding access to PTC’s e-learning environment, and a panel event with the opportunity to learn from industry professionals working in-house and freelance*. The Editing Skills Training Scheme was born.

(*Did you know? Freelancers account for an average of 43% of employment across the Creative Industries)

The Scheme is open to all, but particularly encourages applications from those belonging to communities currently under-represented in publishing. It’s clear that until the people bringing books to life – from commissioning to marketing to copy-editing and proofreading – are diverse, we can’t expect our literary culture to be. Cultural change takes time. But it’s possible, and it’s happening right now. We need to keep pushing.  

What I found particularly interesting was that 30% of our 2018 applicants were already working in publishing (half in editorial, half in other departments), but felt lacking in confidence around their editing skills. This suggested to us that there is a lack of access to editing skills training even once in the workplace. Getting someone ‘in’ is one thing, keeping them there and making sure they feel genuinely supported is another.

We are not the only ones working in this field: there are brilliant traineeships run by the Publishers’ Association, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Usborne Academy, HarperCollins, and the Society of Young Publishers. But there is still room for practical skills training, travel and access bursaries and outside-of-London opportunities to support genuine regional diversity, and schemes that are open to all ages.

There is, I think, an untapped wealth of skill, expertise and talent in the 30+ age bracket that we are overlooking (30 being the cut-off for lots of schemes currently available). Career-changers are an enormous asset to any industry, but the reality is that leaping from one to another without support is extremely challenging. Skills training is a great way to begin to bridge this gap.

And there are other gaps. Of our 2018 cohort, 71% were state school educated, and 80% had accessed Universal Credit in the last 5 years. These are socio-economic markers rather than specific to class, but it takes only a glance at the headlines of the Bookseller’s working class in publishing survey to realise that the actual workforce demographic isn’t the same as the application pool. 19% of our participants identified as disabled which I suspect is also significantly higher than the corresponding ‘actual’ figure (interestingly I can’t seem to find any data on this), and 59% identified as BAME, compared to just 11.6% working in publishing in the UK today.

So to those saying, I don’t know where to find this so-called diverse talent. You aren’t looking hard enough. And you aren’t providing the vital stepping stone to those who haven’t had access to a lifetime of stepping stones. If we truly want a workforce that reflects our society, we need to accept that this is our responsibility, not our applicants’.

This isn’t just a scheme. It’s an invitation to the sector. We talk a lot about doors and gates, but isn’t it also time we designed new buildings…? For an industry founded on the creative imagination of artists, we can be astonishingly un-imaginative about our structures. So, together, let’s re-frame them. Our industry will be the better for it.

The Editing Skills Training Scheme, run by The Literary Consultancy in partnership with the Publishing Training Centre, is open to applications from UK-based aspiring editors until December 4th 2019. Travel bursaries are available. All details can be found here.

Aki Schilz is the Director of The Literary Consultancy, the UK’s longest standing editorial consultancy for writers offering editing, mentoring, and events. In 2018 Aki was named as one of the FutureBook 40, and nominated for an h100 Award for her work to improve representation and accessibility in the literature sector, including the #BookJobTransparency campaign she started in 2017. Aki was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for Women in Publishing in 2019.

The Literary Consultancy believes that professional feedback can unlock the creative potential of writers at all levels. It offers industry-recognised manuscript assessment and editing services, one-to-one mentoring, and literary events that focus on cultivating the personal value of writing, equipping writers with the context, confidence, and skills they need to thrive and flourish.  

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