ACTWrite / editing

Profile: Canberra Society of Editors

A shortened version of this interview first appeared in the April issue of ACTWrite magazine. However, we didn’t want our members to miss out so we’ve posted the full interview here.

 CSE logo

 What is the Canberra Society of Editors?

The Canberra Society of Editors (CSE) is the professional association for editors in Canberra. The society was formed in 1992, and celebrated its 21st birthday at a dinner in December 2013.

The Society aims to:

  • facilitate contact among editors, professional networking and the exchange of ideas;
  • promote the editing profession and the use of editorial services, and maintain editorial standards;
  • cooperate with other societies of editors and related bodies.

The Society can be contacted most easily via the website:


What qualifications must you have to become a member? And once you’re a member, what programs, activities and resources are available?

CSE has four categories of membership: full professional; associate; student; and corporate associate. All may apply for membership through an online form on the Society website.

All categories of members are eligible to:

  • access the Society’s website and its resources, and attend the monthly meetings to enjoy informative guest speakers and expert panels (as are prospective members and the general public);
  • attend the Society’s other networking events;
  • receive The Canberra editor published regularly throughout the year;
  • receive frequent broadcast emails on a range of relevant subjects and job opportunities;
  • access the Society’s mentoring program;
  • access the members’ section of the website of the national Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd);
  • pay discounted rates for professional development workshops, special events, and the biennial national IPEd conference.

Full professional membership is open to anyone currently engaged professionally in editing or publishing, or who has had such experience in the past. Applicants must fill in a form with evidence of relevant qualifications and editing experience and the names of two referees. The Society’s management committee assesses these applications.

In addition to accessing the basic all-member services, Full professional members are eligible for inclusion in the register of Canberra editors, and may vote and hold an executive office in the Society’s management committee.

Associate and student memberships are open to anyone interested in the activities of the Society. Student membership is available only to full-time students. Neither category requires applicants to demonstrate their qualifications and editing experience. These two categories are eligible for all the standard member benefits. However, while they may be elected to the management committee, they may not hold any of the four executive positions. They are not eligible to vote or be included in the register of Canberra editors.

Corporate associate membership is open to any organisation that supports the aims of the Society. Corporate associates may advertise in the newsletter at members’ rates. Up to five staff members of corporate associates may attend the Society’s workshops at members’ rates, but may not vote or hold office in the Society or be listed in the register of Canberra editors.


Tell us a little about the training the CSE offers to those who want to pursue an editing career.

As well as the access and advice that CSE membership enables—to technical literature and online resources, and to short monthly seminars and peer support and guidance—CSE has two dedicated streams of professional development—workshops and mentoring.

Each year, CSE conducts up to seven training workshops on aspects of editing and writing, and promotes other relevant training opportunities run by external organisations, including the Editors Society of NSW. Topics covered by workshops in the past four years include:

  • grammar, plain English and effective business writing;
  • structural editing, copyediting and proofreading;
  • technical and science writing and editing;
  • software aids for editing, including styles and templates;
  • editing and design;
  • web-accessible writing and editing;
  • digital publishing and EPUB for editors;
  • mark-up and XML for editors;
  • manuscript assessment and editing fiction;
  • editing as a business and building an online presence.

Training workshops are offered in response to member demand. CSE also runs special workshops to prepare candidates for the biennial national accreditation exam; this practical preparation is valuable training, even if one doesn’t sit for the exam.

CSE also offers a structured mentoring program, where experienced editors volunteer as mentors to be matched with mentees seeking guidance and experience in different aspects of their editing profession and businesses. This began in 2012 as a local pilot scheme, and in eighteen months has become a de facto national program, with all but one of the other state editors’ societies having joined the program and started to coordinate mentoring for their own members. There is even interest from other countries. CSE is very proud of this achievement as a service to help build professionalism and standards in editing and is looking forward to the program being truly national.


How many different types of editors are there?

The answer to this question depends on how one chooses to categorise the profession and ‘the market’. Perhaps an important basic distinction to make for readers of this journal is between the newspaper and magazine editors (managing editor, editor-in-chief, acquisitions editor and so on) who find and select stories before actually having the text edited, and editors who work with the text itself, whether short or long, and with standalone manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. In this profile, we’re talking about the second group.

It is useful then to look at the different types of editing and related services, since most editors are versatile, practise in several categories, and apply diverse language and project management skills, whatever the job. Readers can access much more detailed explanations on the CSE website ( and the IPEd website (

The three accepted ‘levels’ of editing are: substantive edit, copy edit and verification edit. All have many discrete elements, but the basic distinctions are these.

  • The substantive edit reviews structure and content, matching the language, style and presentation with the intended purpose and readership.
  • The copy edit covers all the steps most people tend to associate with the term ‘editing’—appropriate, clear, consistent and correct use of language (grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling), consistent formatting, and accurate referencing and indexing.
  • The verification edit ensures that all elements of a document are included in the proper order, any ‘house style’ has been followed, proofreading has corrected any spelling, punctuation, typographical and formatting errors, and the document is ready for printing.

These three levels together constitute a comprehensive edit.

Many editors offer all of these services, or do so for certain sorts of publications. Others specialise based on their skill, experience or preference.

Editors may also offer related services: assessing a manuscript; rewriting all or parts of a document; preparing an index, glossary or abbreviations; formatting for digital access; commissioning other specialists; liaising with designers and illustrators; managing the whole project—indeed almost any part of the publication process.

Where editors tend to ‘specialise’ most are the fields they prefer to work in. While some editors are prepared to work in many subjects or media, most tend to prefer particular subjects and certain categories of writing and documents. Obvious examples of the latter include: academic and scholarly work; corporate and government documents; annual reports; promotional literature; technical manuals; journals and magazines; websites; and the many different genres of fiction, both prose or poetry. Of course, there are others.

This is where it is especially worthwhile to research an editor’s specialties before taking the next step.


What questions should writers ask before they hire an editor?

The first question is not ‘Do I need an editor?’ Even editors who write books hire editorsTo quote Janet Mackenzie, one of Australia’s most distinguished editors (and also an author): “The purpose of writing is communication; the purpose of editing is to improve communication by removing distractions.”

The real question is: ‘Is the manuscript ready?’ This requires the author’s judgement, especially if it is a fictional work. You don’t want to waste money on a copy edit if the work needs restructuring. And you don’t want to waste money on a substantive edit if there are more fundamental problems with the story. Consider whether it might be better to have a manuscript assessment first. Or ask the editor to review an excerpt and advise you.

‘Which editor shall I engage?’ You need to find one with the skills and experience appropriate to the work you intend to publish. The editor also needs to be available to work during the period you’re hoping for—as long as that is not unreasonable. And life will be easier if you choose an editor you can get along with. And one you can afford. It is very wise to start this search well before you think you may be ready; don’t expect to get the editor of your choice at short notice.

With those caveats, you should start by learning what skills and experience an editor is supposed to have, so you can use those as benchmarks when choosing who to approach and when framing your own questions to ask in your initial discussions. A valuable reference is the second edition (2013) of the Australian standards for editing practice. You can download this from the IPEd website at

‘How do I find an editor?’ You can find many editors in the register of Canberra editors (, where you should look for the editors whose entries appear to match your needs, and make a shortlist to talk with. As with finding any good professional or tradie, you will almost certainly ask your friends and colleagues what they know about those on your list … or any others they may suggest. You could also ask the staff at the Writers Centre.

The list of Accredited Editors (AE) and Distinguished Editors (DE) on the IPEd website ( can help you to narrow your choices. But it is worth keeping in mind that there are some very experienced professional editors who are not accredited, and who may not even be listed in a freelance register, usually because they have as much work as they need. You learn about them by asking around.

Frame your questions to suit your own needs, not according to some formula. Having said that, the following questions provide a good guideline:

  • What are the editor’s formal qualifications, professional background, and length of time in the editing profession?
  • What is the nature of their editing experience, specialties and preferences?You will have some idea of this from reading their CVs, but seek confirmation and examples. For example, if you’re seeking a fiction editor, ask what genre they enjoy reading.
  • What do they concentrate on most when editing (e.g. copyediting, or structure/logic/ repetition/pace/continuity and so on)?
  • Will they be available when you need them?
  • Can they provide names of repeat clients and references? (And be sure to contact their references.)
  • Can they provide examples of their work?
  • Could they do an editing sample of your own work? This isone way to get an idea of the future working relationship.
  • What is their understanding and experience in the whole publication and marketing chain?
  • What are their fees? This is important to be able to compare with the market and what you think your budget is.  Don’t expect an estimate of the whole job until the editor has had a good chance to assess it.  Note this adage: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you’ve hired an amateur.”
  • If either or both of you decide not to proceed, are they able to recommend one or more colleagues?

You will think of different issues and questions as you go and as you read and talk to others. In any written work, the author-editor partnership is very important with great potential benefits, so go about this process in a professional manner.


How can ACTWC members get involved with the CSE?

The simplest way for Writers Centre members to get involved is to come along to a CSE general meeting on the last Wednesday of each month—and then perhaps keep coming, and take it from there. You never know; what you learn could improve your writing, and you might meet the editor of your dreams.

Members could offer to speak at CSE meetings and, in turn, invite editors to join in or speak at writers’ groups or functions. Even better, members could get involved in some capacity in the next national editors’ conference, to be held in Canberra on 6–9 May 2015. It is a joint editors–indexers conference, hosted by CSE and the ACT branch of the Australia New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI), and its theme is Write. Edit. Index. We’d love to have Writers Centre members involved.

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