International editing—a panel discussion (EAC-BC meeting)

Anne Brennan moderated a lively panel discussion about editing beyond Canada’s borders at last week’s EAC-BC meeting. On the panel were:

  • Theresa Best, who spent several years editing educational policy documents in the UK, working not only on texts but also on metadata tagging for digital content;
  • Eva van Emden, who has clients in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, many of whom found her because of her background in biology and computer science; and
  • Carol Zhong, who specializes in academic editing for clients in Hong Kong as well as in Europe.

Both Zhong and Best worked abroad and kept those clients when they returned to Canada. Van Emden began editing for international clients early on in her freelance career, beginning with a magazine based in the U.S., which had posted the job on the American Copy Editors Society’s job board. The posting didn’t mention anything about the editor’s having to be in the U.S., so she applied for it and got it. Although some international clients find editors via EAC’s Online Directory of Editors, Best emphasized the need to be proactive in marketing. “All jobs I’ve ever gotten [with UK communications and editorial services agencies] were because I approached them.”

Van Emden maintains a mix of Canadian and international clients, but Zhong works exclusively internationally, as did Best before she took an in-house position in Vancouver a few years ago. Zhong had worked in house at the Open University of Hong Kong, where she got into academic editing, and after she moved to Vancouver in 2000 she continued working for them. She also helps a lot of professors prepare their journal articles for submission.

Jean Lawrence, who had referred some European clients to Zhong, also attended the meeting and had prepared a detailed handout of international editing resources (available in the members’ section of the branch website). “International academics are under pressure to get published in English-language journals,” she said, and “there’s an enormous need for editors in this area.” Agencies that pair academics up with editors exist all over Europe and Asia. “A good way to find reputable agencies is to look on journal websites,” which often have an “instructions to authors” section that strongly urge academics to have their work edited before submission and may list several agencies they would recommend.

Lawrence warned, though, that there’s a disconnect between what we expect to be paid as editors in Canada versus what people in some parts of the world can afford. And PayPal fees in some countries can be outrageous. An audience member chimed in, saying that on the flip side, to some businesses and organizations in countries like Iceland and Switzerland, Canadian editors are “cheap offshore labour” and that there are opportunities if you look for them. “How much can you charge an international client?” Brennan asked the panel. Best was able to make 30 to 40 pounds per hour; Zhong charges one of her clients 230 Hong Kong dollars per hour. Frances Peck noted that on an Editors’ Weekly blog post was a reference to what editors typically charge, but those rates are from the U.S. and are considerably lower than the going rates in Canada.

“How do you get paid?” asked Brennan. Van Emden has a U.S.-dollar bank account, and she transfers from the U.S. account to her Canadian chequing account. She also keeps an account in Holland. “It’s easy for Europeans to do bank transfers within Europe,” she said. Best and Zhong also maintain separate accounts for different currencies. Otherwise currency conversions have associated fees, and the bank may put a hold on foreign-currency cheques for up to thirty business days.

Brennan wondered, is it helpful—or maybe essential—to speak another language, if you want to edit internationally? Best worked in the UK, so English was all she needed, she said. Zhong speaks French, some Spanish, Italian, and a bit of Cantonese and Mandarin. “Absolutely it helps,” she said. “It helps with the text, because you know how they’ve translated what they’re trying to say.” Van Emden does a little Dutch-to-English translation and so can correspond easily with her clients in the Netherlands. Zhong said that she never has to communicate with her Hong Kong–based clients in any language other than English, because English is the language of academic instruction there.

Brennan asked the panel which style guides or style manuals they had to use. Van Emden said that one of her Hong Kong clients uses The Economist Style Guide, and her U.S. clients use the Associated Press Stylebook. Each journal, in contrast, has its own way of doing things, which can be frustrating. In the UK, Best said, everything is Oxford—Oxford English Dictionary, as well as the Oxford Guide to Style. One of her current clients uses the UN Editorial Manual. Zhong says that her clients sometimes use a mixture of U.S. and UK spelling and punctuation. The Chicago Manual of Style is used quite a lot, and she’s also had to use Harvard style for citations.

Brennan capped off the evening by asking the panellists what they considered the best and worst aspects of international editing. Van Emden struggled with time zones, which Brennan acknowledged could be a problem even in Canada. “In Europe, their working day is our midnight to 9am,” van Emden explained. “The turnaround times are short. Once, one of my projects got spam filtered, and I didn’t find out until eight hours later.” Sometimes, though, time zones can be an advantage, Zhong remarked. If she receives something during the Hong Kong working day, she can spend her day working on it and send it back to the client, who would receive it first thing in the morning. “What I love most [about international editing] is that I get to read interesting manuscripts that I wouldn’t normally get to read. It’s a cultural education. And it’s always gratifying when clients appreciate your work, especially when a journal accepts an article you’ve edited for them.”