Last updated 15 November 2022
I spent the weekend just gone in Birmingham at the 2016 Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) conference – my fourth. There were over 30 hours of excellent CPD and networking opportunities, and I’ve emerged re-invigorated and with plenty of new ideas for my business and personal development, if a little brain-weary:
This year I was also asked to be a speed mentor, and I spent a stimulating hour chatting to three other SfEP members about their professional goals and helping them with sticking points and hurdles. And it was fabulous to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and put faces to names and Twitter handles.
I always enjoy how the SfEP conference blends opportunities for reflection – on what it is to be an editor and on editorial practice – with more direct and specific chunks of learning.
Susan Greenberg – a rare academic who both is an editor and studies editing herself – opened the conference with an exploration of visibility, artistry, and power in editing. She also gave us such gems as the observation (quoted from freelance book editor Constance Hale) that editing consists of telling people they need to do ‘a shitload more work’ and trying to make them excited about it. So true.
There were many specific tips on offer at the session on legal editing. In this workshop, Lorraine Slipper gave a thorough introduction to the esoteric world of legal writing practices and citations. Despite the fact I have zero aspirations to be a legal editor, this session was well worth my time, as I often come across snippets of legal citations in my social sciences and history projects. I always prefer to be over-prepared to deal with things that are outside my core working practices, especially when I’m managing other editors who may need guidance on areas that are unfamiliar to them.
Rich Cutler’s session on graphic design and typesetting was also very useful. Having explained how graphic design is primarily a matter of communication, with ‘making it pretty’ following much later in the process, Rich moved on to typesetting, giving us some tips on how copy-editors and proofreaders can keep the role of the typesetter in mind. Ensuring your coding and styling are neat and tidy is a core thing to think about – and echoes much of my post earlier this year on how to help (and hinder) your typesetter. Rich also exhorted us to be realistic: if we (as copy-editors) can’t work out how to style an author’s crazy-complex table, why and how should the typesetter?
I particularly enjoyed John Pettigrew’s talk on the ‘tools of change’. His message was apocalyptic yet pragmatically hopeful, talking about there being an extinction event once a generation in which new practices and tech emerge and during which editors must change to survive. In an environment in which new consumption patterns (self-publishing, open access, and library closures) will affect how editing is funded, we need to focus on communicating our core skills while adapting them for new technological realities. This message was echoed in the panel on educational publishing chaired by Out of House, which encouraged freelancers to make sure their clients know about all of the skills they can offer.
At the after-dinner speech, expert in the differences between UK and US English Lynne Murphy introduced us to the concept of Americolexicophobia and to such exoticisms as the notion that in America one can have a sandwich on a bagel. And celebrity linguist and SfEP Honorary President David Crystal closed the conference with a tour of Internet English and its ramifications for what we consider a ‘text’.
The overall impression I am left with after the SfEP conference is one of optimism. Every freelance editor and proofreader I spoke with was in a positive position, whether flooded with work, productively blending editorial work with other paid and unpaid ventures, or enjoying their training. Fees and client expectations are perennial peeves (and indeed sometimes real problems), but I am excited about the ventures underway in the SfEP to enhance our profile and credibility as professional editors – and thereby our negotiating power.
As for me, I have a to-do list spanning the prosaic (streamlining my work environment) and the more ambitious (reviewing how best I invest my time for growth and development, and looking into non-editorial qualifications to complement my editorial work). More than anything, though, I’m happy to be part of this community of interesting, fun, and intelligent people – people who understand the excitement to be had from discovering cute-faced paperclips in one’s conference goody bag.
Thank you to the SfEP conference team for such an enjoyable and productive weekend.