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Editors’ Conclave in Chennai, India: Let’s Have More of Them

This blog post originally appeared at

This picture was taken at the end of the first-ever conference for copyeditors held in Chennai, India, on February 25, 2018. Some speakers are missing here. L-R: K. Venkatesh, Surit Das, Visalakshy Loganathan, Arpana Shandilya, Chitralekha Manohar, Bushra Rashid, Ujwala, Lakshmi, Yateendra Joshi, K.P. Eashwar, Anantharaman Venkataram (aka Venkat). Missing: Nilima Vyas, Selvin, Manish Keswani.

I was one of the skeptics of the Indian Copyeditors Forum (ICF) when it began on June 28, 2015. Vivek Kumar, with whom I have had a brief conversation eons ago and had conveniently forgotten all about it, had conceived an idea of bringing together Indian copyeditors under a Facebook group to converse, discuss, have debates, and learn from peers.

Chitralekha Manohar, the new-age copyeditor and business owner now, facilitated the first-ever ICF meeting in Chennai less than 2 years ago on April 16, 2016. I had known Chitra earlier and had met her at the publishing conference, PubNext, in Goa. Her mentor, Vinutha Mallya, is my friend as well. In a gathering of just four or five editors that lasted over a couple of hours at a quiet corner in a Cafe Coffee Day outlet in Chennai, I discovered and learned new stuff—tools for editing. Ashwin Krishnan became a friend from there.

We, the editors from Chennai and Pondy, met a couple of times again, but the networking was unmatched to my earlier experiences and I made new friends. Murugaraj and Arun are the two who still continue to be friends from the meet at Pondicherry. A vibrant community has formed thanks to that one step that Vivek has taken. Thank you, Vivek, for infusing life into my editing career as a freelancer. I think many editors would share the same sentiment about ICF.

Visalakshy Loganathan, whom we call Visa for short, had ventured into copyediting on her own a few years back. One of my dear colleagues at work, Namami Ghosh, had once asked me to help Visa out. I had gone to her office and had met her briefly at Pondicherry. She was warm, nice, and very pleasant. She gave me a nice artificial bouquet as a gift. I think it was a very fancy bouquet made of some wooden stuff or something that always made me remember that only Pondicherry is known for that craft and somehow I connected it to Auroville and the exotic Pondicherry. It was so nice. It stayed on top of the refrigerator in my home for long. But when I again met her in Pondy perhaps a couple of years ago in the ICF meet, she had forgotten all about it. In fact, I had referred her to a customer with whom she had struck a great relationship. I am really happy about it.

Visa spoke passionately about everything concerned with copyediting—training editors, bringing them together, seeking new opportunities, challenges in scaling the business. I used to be amazed at her business skills and thinking of copyediting as a business. For me, copyediting is a passion and humanities books are enough for a lifetime. Now I want to go into unexplored territories thanks to the Editors’ Conclave.

Visa had called me to discuss the idea of a conference somewhere in November or December 2017 and started to make plans for it. She told me that Apex Covantage, in which I have good friends like Siva, Ezhil, and Sathya Dalton, is willing to financially back it. We discussed the format and there was silence afterward. I was thinking she would have postponed it and may announce it sooner or later. Perhaps a month ago, the frenzy began and she asked me for some leads and ideas. And then nothing. Maybe a week ago, she was raring to go. She had completed the work quietly behind, having enlisted speakers and finalizing the venue. She had stuck to her guns and kept her promise of holding it in February much against Vivek’s advice, who wanted it to be held in June when editor-mothers will be free from exam hassles of their children and more wannabe editors will join the conference. I have always found her to be very good at executing and at thinking big. Visit to know more about the conference. I am hoping it will be updated with pictures and videos soon.

When I stepped into the conference on Sunday morning, I was really awestruck. Visa has gone a step further than Vivek. She had physically brought editors from all over the country together under one roof in a charged atmosphere. She always reminds me of the cricket umpire Steve Bucknor. He was called the silent killer. Stephen Brenkley wrote on Bucknor:

To be given out by Steve Bucknor is death by torture. First the appeal, loud, prolonged, imploring. And then nothing. Only a tense stillness. Time is suspended. Packed stadiums freeze. The bowler grimaces in hope, the batsman tries not to look.

Bucknor’s brain computes. Where did the ball pitch, how much did it move? Or could it have taken the edge? Was there a noise? Or a deviation? You can hear the cogs turn. He betrays no emotion. And then the slow nod. Usually, it is just one movement. Slowly comes the final blow, the raising, almost reluctantly of the index finger as if to say: “This is hurting me far more than it’s hurting you. But sadly I have no choice.”

If you have ever seen Visa, she is quiet, talks almost in whispers, and gives the impression of easily getting scared. But she is a storm if you would have known her a bit more. She silently accomplishes and executes. She is not the silent killer variety, but a methodical go-getter and very decisive like Steve Bucknor.

Manish had already rolled out an infectiously enthusiastic video preconference. The cofounder of PaperTrue revealed in his keynote how he accidentally stumbled upon a business opportunity in editing and proofreading. His keynote pushed editors to aim for the sky. He was funny, encouraging, and very delightful in conveying his message.

Then came Yateendra Joshi, whom I was seeing for the first time. He reminded me of a headmaster about whom I had read in a book. When that headmaster wanted to retire, none of the students were willing to let him go. A very methodical editor that Yateendra is, it came through in his presentation. How should you go for certification was succinctly explained by him step by step. It was one of the best presentations of the day.

I have only heard about Dr. Venkat. He gave an in-depth presentation on how to sift a manuscript into components to look for where the slip happens. He gave an insight into the stages of an editor’s life. He harbors ambitions of training an army of copyeditors and wants to improve the copyediting quality of the country as a whole. For that, he has started an elaborate website (The Art of Copyediting), which has 22 courses offered online.

I was always looking forward to meeting Surit Das. If someone really represented the Bengali intellect to me, it is Surit. He was funny and held the audience in splits when he showed a slide simply named “Pubic Woks Deportment.” I am sure a Bengali wrote it. When he got into copyediting, his first copy almost drove him of out of the profession. He explained how an editor’s life goes, with a great sense of humor. There were many useful tips. But Surit didn’t let out the secrets of saving money. He went on saying how much investment was needed.

Arpana Shandilya, after a lunch that is sure to drive us to drowsiness, gave a presentation on social media for copyeditors. I missed a part of it, but she gave some useful information when I joined the talk a few minutes later.

Then came Bushra Rashid, a very polished and hep copyeditor. Bushra and I were colleagues in two organizations. She is as nice and as warm as she has always been. She gave a forceful presentation on why you should become a member of various editor associations and the benefits you get out of it. It was the most useful presentation of the day for me.

Nilima Vyas would have made a great teacher if she took up that profession. In the alt-text presentation she gave, I almost went back to a classroom in my university. She was clear and succinct, and illustrated the concept very well. I really enjoyed her presentation, which was without a hiccup and very free-flowing. If you ever get a chance, watch that video and you’ll know what I am talking about.

My colleague at a previous organization, Selvin, came up to give a keynote after Nilima. I didn’t recognize him as he is now sporting spectacles. Selvin’s hair has grayed a bit, but his manner has not dimmed in the last nine years we haven’t met. I didn’t know he knew so much philosophy. He gave a clarion call to all the editors to unite against the practice of undercutting prices. Many editors fondly remember his training at Integra where he was the chief.

The sweet Chitralekha, whom I have always admired for her approach to copyediting, told the stunned audience how she gradually built a business out of copyediting. Many were gaping at her presentation, wondering how they missed doing what she was doing. Many best wishes to her to go further. She was perceptible enough not to fall into the trap of fast editing and competitive pricing (competitive is an euphemism here). She went for niche work and she is now building her business gradually.

Then I, Eashwar, Ujwala, and Lakshmi had a panel discussion on in-house and freelance copyeditors. Eashwar and I had met almost a decade ago when I had started out as a freelancer. He told the story of his starting up, Ujwala was interested in knowing how the freelancers “manage” their work, and Lakshmi gave an overview of how she chooses freelance editors for work. After Ujwala revealed how things go awry when editors miss deadlines, I feel we have to turn a lot professional in our ways. One common concern was lack of talent although enough work is available. I think that is another issue we need to address.

There are capable Indian copyeditors, but as Bushra lamented, we are not visible outside. We need to get out there and tell the world. I think after the publishing markets in the West, we have made a beginning as a services market to come together and raise our stocks. We need to continue this journey.

One final thought about a discussion that happened. Will automation eliminate copyeditors or will artificial intelligence change the way we work? I think the future is getting invented now. I learned on-screen copyediting 20 years ago. And it has bettered editing in many ways. I am sure artificial intelligence will disrupt to the extent whatever is mechanical will go to the machines. But till the Chinese and Japanese learn to write good English and as long as the nonnative world keeps writing more English, we are in demand. Let me say more power to the East European authors as well. This is not to demean them, but because they are not native speakers lacking knowledge about the intricacies and nuances of English, we are there to help them. They will hopefully keep us in business.

My take is that the demographics are shifting. We are likely to have more nonnative speakers writing academic content. There will not be enough native speakers to handle the volume of content, although they are now preferred. We need to equip ourselves to take this opportunity and make the most out of it. We need to become better editors and better professionals. We need to think global. And the demand for copyediting will exist. The Western population is getting older and our population is getting younger. The demographics favor us as of now. As Nandan Nilekani said, we need to tap into this advantage by bringing more editors into the business. Those who don’t read Chetan Bhagat.

K. Venkatesh started his copyediting career in 1998 and turned to freelance editing in 2009. Though he started with editing journals, he has decisively moved to editing books in 2004.

When his existing customer offered him humanities books to edit in 2009, he wasn’t aware that it is

going to open a new chapter in his career. Since then, he has been passionately editing humanities titles for many large international publishers, which renews and recharges his cerebral energies. He also has edited journal papers for authors, annual

reports for corporate organizations, and books for individual authors. He briefly dabbled in journalism, covering the emerging entrepreneurial scene in the country, predominantly in Chennai, for for four years. He was very interested in developments in the software product industry in India.

A chance meeting with the chronicler of Madras, S. Muthiah, brought him in touch with heritage of Chennai. He started working with another eminent culture historian of Chennai, V. Sriram, from 2011. As a result of his interest in history and heritage, he was able to author a book on two schools in Chennai, A Tale of Two Schools, when he was offered the opportunity by the Indian Education Trust. He edits for bread and butter, writes for finding new grounds of his talent and reads out of passion and love for books.

VirtualPaper – Your Books Copyeditor and Content Specialist

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