Interview 29: Lourdes Venard

Job title: Professor
Location: Illinois

What was your journey to teaching copyediting?
I was a journalist for 30 years, but even from my first years as a reporter — and, later, a copyeditor — I took part in workshops, classes, and opportunities for students and young journalists of color. These included the METPRO program (run by Times-Mirror years ago to bring diversity into newsrooms) and the student-run paper at National Association of Hispanic Journalists conferences. Throughout all those experiences, I found I really liked teaching the craft.

Toward the end of my newspaper career, I began teaching as an adjunct at a New York state university, and shortly after that, I began teaching online classes through the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). 

I’ve now been teaching for nine years and am the lead teacher for UC San Diego’s copyediting certificate program. As the lead, I’ve created or revamped several of the classes there, and I help new instructors.

We have revamped our program over the past two years, and as part of that, we’ve made a concerted effort to discuss inclusive language, biased language, and conscious language much more. The last class in the program, actually, has students edit a manuscript — and the exercise deals with biased language. So beyond teaching proper grammar and style, we’re focusing on these other important issues.

IN THE CLASSROOM

What copyediting course(s) do you teach? 
Through UC San Diego, I teach Copyediting I, Copyediting II, Copyediting III, and the Business of Copyediting. I’m also creating a class on Associated Press style.

Through the EFA, I teach core classes in beginning, intermediate, and advanced copyediting, as well as fiction copyediting. I’ve also given an EFA webinar on sensitivity reads.

What areas of editing does your course cover?
The core copyediting classes I teach are for those new to copyediting and are meant to teach the basics, although they do concentrate on The Chicago Manual of Style. The fiction copyediting course is self-explanatory. The Business of Copyediting course is meant to help new freelance editors start their businesses.

What books are used in the class? 
For most of these classes, we rely on what I think is the best copyediting manual: The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, and the accompanying The Copyeditor’s Workbook. But we have a lot of handouts and links to other websites, so students get a broad range of information.

Do you feature or discuss any working copyeditors? 
I feature, mostly through videos and podcasts, editors and other language experts, such as Mary Norris, Kory Stamper, Melanie Padgett Powers, Malini Devadas, and Carol Fisher Saller. We discuss Karen Yin’s Conscious Style Guide quite a bit.

Do you invite other guest speakers? If so, from what backgrounds? 
Because these classes are asynchronous, and we have students from many countries and time zones, we don’t have real-time guest speakers. But we do let them know about other online events and webinars featuring editors. For instance, the San Diego Professional Editors Network has a lot of online events, and they invite nonmembers, like our students, to attend.

PREPARING FOR THE WORKPLACE

How do you and your students feel about copyediting job availability? 
I know students are nervous about job availability, especially as in-house copyediting jobs shrink. In freelancing, I do believe there are more opportunities, but this is not for everyone, of course. Some students, understandably, want the security of an in-house job with health benefits. But I believe that, just by taking these classes, they are getting a boost when they step out into the job marketplace. Plus, learning to be a good copyeditor can open up jobs in adjacent fields: writing, marketing/communication, translation, etc. So there are opportunities out there. In our classes, we try to prepare students for job hunting and networking as well.

Students are interested in all sorts of fields: medical and scientific editing, fiction editing, and relatively new fields (role-playing games, for instance). Their interests are really varied, as are their backgrounds. And I think it is this individuality that they should focus on — it is what will set them apart when seeking work.

Has COVID-19 changed these conversations?
Oh, yes! In fact, many of our students come from other fields. Recently, I’ve had many students who were furloughed or lost their other jobs due to COVID and the closing of businesses. They’ve decided now is the time to learn these other skills that have always interested them. Our programs are seeing more students than ever. So even though students are concerned about job availability, they see these careers as more viable and as something they might potentially be able to do from home.

The pandemic made most of us anxious and uncertain about the future, so the past year has been tough, for students and instructors. Our lessons (video slideshows) were created before the pandemic, so some of our suggestions (“attend conferences for editors”) aren’t things students can do right now. It’s been a challenge to find alternatives when we talk about finding work. But one feature of the classes is that students support each other, and they often come up with great ideas themselves. So our discussions have pivoted to reaching out to clients and employers amid a pandemic. It’s a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. By the end of our program, some students have already started getting editing jobs.

Does your university offer any pathways for students to work in editing? 
We don’t necessarily offer any internships or pathways as such. But the Business of Copyediting course, which I created about a year ago, came about because many students were going into freelance work and didn’t know what first steps they should take. This class is aimed at helping students get set up and started as freelance editors. It was a real need that I think we’ve fulfilled.

All of the UC San Diego classes, though, discuss finding work. We found that students really wanted this information, almost from the very first week, so we’ve incorporated that into our lessons. We also encourage students to form informal groups beyond our classes. This helps them network as they move into the world of editing.

Are any of these pathways specific to students of color?
Not necessarily, except for in the Business of Copyediting. This class is structured to give individual help to each student and what they want to do.

SUPPORTING NEW EDITORS OF COLOR

What do you think best supports students of color in entering the editing profession?
I think it begins with instructors. We need — in all our institutions and organizations — to have instructors of color. They bring different backgrounds and experiences that white instructors, no matter how well-meaning or wonderful, don’t have. I often hear talk about diversity in the workplace, but not diversity at the instructor level. But these are going to be the initial role models for those entering the workplace. I hope students hear about my experience and think that they, too, can have a successful and long career in editing. 

As they enter the workplace, I hope students reach out to people who can become mentors. Companies themselves should provide these mentorship opportunities, and I wish they would. But the reality is that they don’t always do that, so oftentimes it falls to the employee to seek these opportunities out. I wish I had known to do that in the beginning of my career.

PROFESSOR’S THOUGHTS

Is there anything you would like working editors to know about new editors entering the field?
They are passionate and invested not only in their careers, but in shaping the language of the future. Language is always evolving, but it seems to be doing so more rapidly these days. For the most part, the editors entering the field understand this. They aren’t stuck in following old rules and aren’t afraid to embrace our evolving language. They are thoughtfully listening to the conversations out there about language and making it more inclusive. They are also thinking about how they can give back to the community, which I think is wonderful. 

Is there anything you would like new editors to know about the field?
You don’t do this alone. This is why I always tell students to network and maintain connections. In the past month, I had two referrals from people who I worked with years ago, on two very exciting projects. Throughout my career, I’ve always been helped by other people and have tried to help others, in turn. Yes, I sit in my office alone all day, but that doesn’t mean I’m alone. People can network simply by joining editorial groups and being active. If you don’t like face-to-face networking, you can do it online. There are many ways to connect.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?
I’m also a subinitiative leader of the EFA’s Diversity Initiative, which is actively working to bring more diverse voices to an organization that is, at present, mostly white, cis women. I would encourage editors to get involved in these subgroups that are moving the conversation forward.

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