I had my own mixed feelings regarding whether an editor should pursue certification or not. I have been raised in a generation that was taught that you have to be qualified with paper proof in order to make a decent living in any given profession. To some extent, this remains true. For example, I know from personal experience that it is a huge advantage to have an administrative diploma when applying for a receptionist position—a job that was supposedly easy to acquire, once upon a time. At the same time, I know that most editors that I had met in my time working with the Writers’ Guild were not professionally certified. So, what were their thoughts? I reached out to four individuals over email who gave me their thoughts on this topic: Ellen Kartz, from the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (January 31, 2019); Deborah Lawson, a writer with Word Circus Inc. (January 23, 2019); Kristine Buchholtz, CPE (January 31, 2019); and Dave Ealey, a retired science editor (February 2, 2019). After speaking with them, I have to conclude that I do not think that it is necessary for a practising editor in Canada to gain the certified professional editor credential. Portfolio and reputation are stronger qualifications than the Canadian professional editor’s certification for most editorial jobs.
There are many benefits to acquiring the Certified Professional Editor (CPE) credential, according to the Editors Canada website. The top benefits of the certification include improving your editorial craft, advantage when bidding for jobs, and the overall potential to make more money editing (n.d.1). The website also claims that employers can be assured that an editor with CPE status will provide industry standard quality. Ealey believes that certification encourages high quality performance, providing a guide for good discipline (February 2, 2019). Kartz believes that this only goes so far, explaining that there is a nuanced relationship that is needed between an author and an editor, where the editor understands “how to simultaneously encourage and challenge a writer,” something that cannot be taught through standardized testing. She also mentions the value in a good working relationship, especially for works such as poetry where the authors voice needs to be understood by the editor (January 31, 2019). CPE credentials can ensure good mechanics in editorial practice, but they do not ensure a good quality editor because the test standards can only cover the objective content of editing, not the subjective and interpersonal aspects.
When I asked each of my interviewees what they looked for when hiring or working with other editors, their expectations included the following:
“I would expect an editor to be familiar with the variety of editorial standards… and to have a professional attitude…and a sense of professional obligation to the intended readership/audience.” (Ealey, February 2, 2019)
“A good editor has the ability to almost make themselves obsolete.” (Kartz, January 31, 2019)
“Knowledge, tact, professionalism, and the ability to meet tight deadlines.” (Buchholtz, January 31, 2019).
“…that people will complete those parts of the project that they agreed to complete and that they will do their best work.” (Lawson, January 23, 2019).
Not one includes professional certification in their criteria. From these quotes alone, it is evident that there are a great many valuable things to look for in an editor that go beyond the scope of the standardized CPE testing and certification.
Unanimously, each person I interviewed agreed—albeit, to varying extents—that the CPE credential was not necessary to be a successful editor. Lawson speculates that it would be easier to compete for corporate editing jobs where there is a lot of competition (January 23, 2019). Buchholtz does not believe that certification is necessary, but she shared how significantly the exam prep helped her improve her craft (January 31, 2019). Ealey offers a different perspective, commenting on how the younger generations feel that they will be guaranteed work if they get certified in whatever they are pursuing, as I mentioned above. His opinion is that “pursuing certification, even if it’s not the full CPE, is valuable in demonstrating a commitment to editing as a profession,” though not absolutely necessary (February 2, 2019).
Currently, there are only 33 CPEs in Canada (n.d.2). Although there are so few currently and the interviewees agreed it is not necessary to be successful, they also agreed that certification will become more common in the future. Although it will never be the same as a lawyer having to pass the Bar (Lawson, January 23, 2019), the market will have to respond to more people entering the field with finer criteria for distinguishing editors (Kartz, January 31, 2019). Buchholtz not only predicts the certification will become more common, but actively hopes it does:
“I think sometimes people who shouldn’t really be editing ‘hang their shingle’ on their door, indicating that they’re open for business, when they really shouldn’t be offering editing services. Poor or even mediocre editing does not help the editing profession as a whole. Certification can be an effective way of identifying excellent editors…” (January 31, 2019).
Personally, I agree with all of the above statements. History has taught us that, once a profession becomes desirable, higher and higher education is required to be competitive to get that position. This is a frustrating reality for those who have skills in a particular field and cannot get the schooling to prove it. Notwithstanding, regulated certification could help remove those who drag the average reputation of editors down.
Although there are many benefits to acquiring CPE credentials, I do not believe it is strictly necessary to be successful as an editor. As Susan Bell put it, “editing is math and editing is also jazz” (2007). CPE credentials can ensure the math aspect of editing, but not the jazz. I would be so bold as to say that those I interviewed would agree. There are many things that editors look for in other editors that go beyond the technical mechanics of editing, such as interpersonal skills and work ethic. Although certification could provide an advantage in an increasingly competitive market, reputation and portfolio speak loudly for a seasoned editor. But it certainly can’t hurt, can it?
Bell, S. (2007). The artful edit. New York: W. W. Norton.
Buchholtz, K. (2019, January 31). Email interview.
Certification. (n.d.1). Retrieved February 9, 2019, from https://www.editors.ca/professional-development/certification
Ealey, D. (2019, February 2). Email interview.
Kartz, E. (2019, January 31). Email interview.
Lawson, D. (2019, January 23). Email interview
Roster of Certified Editors. (n.d.2). Retrieved February 9, 2019, from https://www.editors.ca/certified-editors