Interview 40: Rahul D’souza

Years editing: 11
Job title: Senior editor at Packt
Job description: Development editor for IT books
Location: Bangalore and Mumbai, India

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I had stayed in touch with the manager of a previous company I worked for. When I began looking for a change from editing scholarly papers, I got in touch with him. He had a book publishing role that was exactly what I was looking for, so I took it.

What copyediting training have you had?
When I was just out of graduate school, I was lucky to find a job at a publishing house that specialized in art history, archaeology, and other subjects (my degree was in the history of art and archaeology). The average work experience in the editing room was 25 years, so I benefited from working there. I learned copyediting from a group of very experienced mentors. The publishing house was still transitioning away from editing on paper, so I learned to do things the old way for the first three and a half years, and while computers have made my job more convenient, that experience helped me develop instincts about how editing and proofreading changes affect the final product. 

What positions have you held?
I was an editorial intern at my first publishing job, and after six months, I transitioned to a full-time role in the editing room. After that, I tried freelancing for about a year and a half but missed editing as part of a team. So I took a job as a copyeditor at an e-learning firm. This was a change of pace from the academic editing I was used to, and I learned the ins and outs of what we called “instructional writing” (which was a fancy name for writing instructional material in a conversational tone). 

I felt the pull of academic publishing again and joined a copyediting company that specialized in editing articles meant to be published in scholarly journals. I was a part of the Quality and Training Team, evaluating editor work quality and providing feedback and training based on my evaluations. After this, I transitioned back to my publishing roots by joining Packt, where I now work as a senior editor, looking after the editorial quality of books and training junior editors.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
At Packt, I work with authors on much longer time scales than I did at my previous job; this makes communication very important. You can edit a book perfectly and be left with an angry author if you forget that there’s a human being behind all the words. Communication is necessary for all forms of editing but is especially important when working with authors on long-term projects. 

Also, given how the content world is quickly moving away from mono-specialization to multi-specialization, I find it important to develop basic photo-editing and page-layout skills. The dynamic nature of our field values the ability to perform more than one role. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
In the past, I’ve used PerfectIt and MEROPS. These days, I use Grammarly. What I’d really like is something that combines PerfectIt’s ability to customize how it runs based on wildcards with Grammarly’s interface and grammar tips. 

Ultimately, these tools take away a lot of mechanical work from our workflow, but you need to be vigilant. They can often come up with incorrect suggestions, because English is quite a weird, abstract language.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
Talking to other editors on my team is one of the most important aspects of the job. There’s an endless number of hurdles that come up when you publish books, and being able to draw on the experience of a big team gives all of us a better chance of solving these issues quickly. When I first began working, all the editors sat in the same room and spoke face-to-face everyday. These days, we rarely see each other (especially because of the pandemic), but tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack make collaboration and discussion quite easy. 

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a part of a few editor groups on Facebook, such as Indian Copyeditors Forum and Editors’ Association of Earth. I learn a lot of important culturally specific information that becomes useful when editing books by authors who are from different parts of the world and who write in different types of English.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking is quite important for editors. Being able to build relationships in different companies and across different countries allows editors to find new opportunities and learn important lessons that are essential for staying up to date and keeping our editing relevant. Content work has become so dynamic that being able to connect to new people, new ways of working, and new applications for our skill sets makes networking one of the most important parts about being an editor.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
It’s important to understand where your author’s reluctance is coming from. You have to approach with boundaries in mind. The author will always be protective about their writing, even when they accept our changes.

Once you have that mindset, you need to begin thinking about what compromises you can make to ease the author into the more important changes. Very often, when you demonstrate to the author that you are willing to meet them where they are, they become more inclined to listen to your reasoning for proposing changes. 

For example, if you are editing a book that’s supposed to be in a conversational style, but your author likes their writing to be very formal, you can compromise on aspects like contractions. Instead, focus on getting the author to tone down the word choice, to use less jargon, and to use active voice.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
Our company has offices in Birmingham (UK) and Mumbai, so we have a substantial Indian workforce. Even our Birmingham office has people from different parts of the world, as Birmingham is quite a diverse city. In my time here, I’ve found that besides having a diverse workforce, the management is open minded and always ready to make changes to fix any issues that crop up. 

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
Whenever I have tried to work as a freelance editor, I’ve faced reluctance from clients and scholarly editing companies to give high-paying editorial work to editors who don’t come from “native” English–speaking countries. While I’ve always been an L1 speaker of English, as a freelance editor from India, I feel like there’s a higher standard applied to my language skills than to editors who come from the Anglophone world.

What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
Because I began working at a publishing house that edited and proofread on paper, I learned to use macros and wildcards much later in my career than I should have. 

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I’m a big supporter of companies getting involved in the communities based around them. Editorial companies and publishers have the ability to mentor young people who wouldn’t otherwise think about working in our field. These companies can also provide paid internships (unpaid internships tend to exclude people who do not come from privileged backgrounds) and ultimately help young people transition into full-time jobs. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I worked on a project to bring on board a very important economics journal as a client. We needed to carefully select the editors who worked on the project. Besides delivering high-quality edits, we were also expected to provide quick turnarounds. As the quality manager for the project, I was expected to monitor the quality of all the edited articles and to make sure that the editors working on them had all of the editorial support they needed. 

Ultimately, we managed not only to get the project but also to keep the quality and speed of our edits to the standards we set for the client. It felt good to know that some important academic work out there had been my responsibility.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I like reading, karaoke, and cooking for friends.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Right at the start of my journey as an editor, I read The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson. It is a quick, fun history of the English language and one that helped me get rid of a lot of biases that I carried about “proper” English. I like to keep a copy of the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I also like to follow a few linguists on Twitter, especially Nicole Holliday. I like to think of linguists as people who are continuously questioning my perception of language and pushing me to reinvent the way I look at editing.  

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
There are a few personal beliefs that I always try to live by. Firstly, we need to build healthy diversity. This means not just ticking numbers but making sure that everyone is empowered and that nobody’s privilege gives them an unfair advantage over others. We can only do this as a collective, so it’s important to establish solidarity across all organizations and build from that foundation. 

Secondly, it’s important for each individual to understand their privilege to ensure that they aren’t standing in the way of someone else and to ensure that they don’t deny people a platform. 

Finally — and this goes beyond the physical community around us — as editors, we must fight to normalize inclusive, humanizing language. Whether that’s something as simple as inclusive pronouns or something as complex as getting rid of oppressive words, phrases, literary characters, and so on. 

Are you an editor of color who would like to be featured on Outside-the-Book.com? Email Info@StyleSheetsEditorial.com

One thought on “Interview 40: Rahul D’souza

  1. Wow, Rahul! So proud of what you have accomplished! May you achieve greater heights of success. Stay focused! Stay blessed!

    Like

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