It was standing room only on the second leg of our journey from Norfolk to Birmingham – not the most relaxing start to the 2019 conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Still, I had to admire the stamina of the hen party revellers who stood in the aisle the whole way, balancing on high heels, drinking prosecco and downing shots. It was still morning (I’m NOT judging).
Navigating our way from New Street Station to Conference Centre Aston proved another challenge. Agnès (another Norfolk SfEP-er) and I added 20 minutes to our journey by turning left instead of right out of the station completing a big loop before finally stumbling upon Corporation Street. We got our bearings and we were off – stopping at Pizza Express for a catch-up before the final leg of what should have been a 17-minute jaunt but, in fact, took us two hours.
SfEP 2019 (September 14–16) was my second conference and the society’s thirtieth. Last year, we trekked up to Lancaster in a people carrier; the weather was cold and wet, and the facilities were somewhat sparse. So, it was a relief to check in to a comfortable hotel room with all the meeting rooms on site. Better still was connecting with fellow SfEP members – mostly matching faces to Twitter profiles – and catching up in the bar after the AGM. And this year, we had much to celebrate – namely the news that the SfEP is to become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. Some ends still need tying up; something to do with a Great Seal and vellum, but it absolutely is a done deal.
Once again, the Norfolk contingent was out in force, with 12 of the 200 delegates hailing from my neck of the woods. Two members of our group – macro man Paul Beverley and crime fiction editor Louise Harnby – led sessions once again, while Julia Sandford-Cooke took to the Lightning Talks stage to give us a taste of her favourite podcasts.
There was so much I loved about this year’s conference; the atmosphere, being with like-minded people, learning new things and having a comfortable room to retreat to. There’s too much to cover in one blog post, so here are a few of my highlights.
A rude awakening from the master of Tartan Noir
Chris Brookmyre – author of 22 novels from Quite Ugly One Morning to Fallen Angel – gave the Whitcombe Lecture on the first morning. Although billed as a lecture, it was more like a one-hour comedy set, peppered with anecdotes from book tours, a visit to his old school (as the boy who did good), and a selection of readers’ reviews. He did warn us partway through, just after his first string of ‘fuck-offs’, that there would be a lot of swearing. He usually makes this announcement, he informed us, at the start of his talks, adding that nobody ever leaves until he starts to swear. ‘Yep, it’s as if they’re waiting to be offended before they decide to walk out.’
Chris talked about the role swearing played in this early days as a journalist, first at Screen International and then as a sub-editor for The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News. The all-important art of swearing properly was a skill he honed in the playgrounds of Glasgow and used to great effect during his newspaper career to put the fear of God into some of the public school types he worked with. Many of them tried to ingratiate themselves with the sub-editors by swearing, but failing miserably – always putting the swear word in the wrong part of the sentence. As for us, we were properly awake by the end of the talk.
From Argh! to Booyah! – Project management is a juggling act
Project management is a tough job. This I know because Abi Saffrey guided all 36 of us through the minefield of taking an editorial project from start to finish. With so many different roles in the chain, including photographers, rights and permissions specialists, fact-checkers, typesetters, copy-editors and proofreaders, it’s easy to see how one broken link can upset the timeline and break the budget.
Abi’s workshop (with sweets!) helped us to anticipate and deal with problems that can arise from unforeseen circumstances, such as a personal emergency or booking a proofreader who’s not trained in using pdf mark-up, when all the proofs are marked-up on screen. I learned that having responsibility for pulling together all the threads, staying within budget and meeting the deadline takes a specially organised and resilient person.
How to avoid common pitfalls when editing fiction
Louise Harnby’s session, Switching to Fiction: Editing for Indie Authors at Sentence Level, was right up my street. Getting to grips with the different viewpoints was enlightening, such as the merits of first-person POV versus third-person limited. I took a lot from this seminar to help with my own fiction editing work and I’ll be watching like a hawk for inconsistent viewpoint, muddled tenses, overuse of words to convey emotion and too much stage direction.
A big bonus from Louise’s seminar was receiving attendees-only access to the webinar and a host of useful resources for fiction editors – including Louise’s book, Editing Fiction at Sentence Level. No chocolate this year – instead, a big bundle of other goodies that will last much longer and won’t hurt the waistline.
If at first you don’t succeed – own up!
Who knew that failure could be so funny? It is when Laura Poole is leading the session. Her seminar, From the Failure Files: Learning from Big Mistakes, was billed as a campfire session in which we were invited to share our own tales of woe. Laura kicked off in her hilarious self-deprecating style with two examples from her own failure files.
The first involved the referral of a colleague to a client/friend that went horribly wrong. The deadline loomed, the work was being done too slowly and the little that had been submitted was well below par. Laura fixed it, not only by reimbursing the client $500 of her own money but by re-editing the work for free. She then had the difficult task of withdrawing this referral from two other clients but couldn’t take the risk of it backfiring and casting a shadow on her own reputation.
In the second example, Laura talked about a technical editing job she once took on, thinking it would be easy, only realising her mistake after she had started the project – and was struggling. She sobbed with gratitude when the project manager fired her.
We shared errors from our own back catalogues; it was cathartic. The overriding lesson I took from this session was: if it all goes wrong, fix it for free.
David Crystal author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language gave the final plenary session. He explained how the recently published third edition had undergone a sea change when compared to the previous two. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language first appeared in hardback in 1995, paperback 1997 – Google was launched in 1998; the second edition was published in 2003, four years before the first iPhone was released. Fast forward to 2018 with the launch of the third edition, and the world has changed immeasurably.
The new edition contains a section on gender identity and language that goes with this: words we weren’t using in 1997 – or 2003, come to that. David explained how the change in layout has led to a new way of working – back-to-front copy-editing as he called it. Each subject has its own double-page spread, a self-contained, at-a-glance section made up of panels, pictures and main text. For David, the new way of working meant editing on the page and finding pictures that fit the space available, rather than the typesetter working with edited text and pictures already selected. Fortunately, his wife is a designer and the two worked together to produce this epic work.
David’s talk highlighted how quickly things are moving not just in the written and spoken word but also in the use of emojis – how a smiling emoji can mean the opposite of what’s intended. Or, how ‘lol’ doesn’t literally mean laugh out loud, so when you do laugh out loud, it gets changed to ‘actual lol’. A truly gifted speaker, David’s talk was an uplifting end to conference: hashtag brilliant.
What I learned
I know a lot more about PDF mark-up than I realised. Jo Bottrill’s talk, Perfecting PDF Mark-up, was a clear, concise walk-through on editing a PDF document using tools and comments. To my surprise, I already knew much of what he covered, but there were a few very good tips in there. I learned that proofreading stamps are useful, but only when the client understands them, and they’re not as widely used as they once were. Also, I discovered that the free version of Adobe Acrobat has enough features to do most jobs that come into my orbit
Cathy Wassell’s talk, Using Social Media to Market Your Business, has persuaded me that I need to implement a six-month plan and set goals to determine what I want to get out of my social media channels. I also need to make more use of LinkedIn. To set me on my way, I’ve signed up for Cathy’s LinkedIn Love Your Leads Challenge on Facebook. I’ll be pimping my profile to attract more clients. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I love the newly introduced Guidebook app. It helped me to organise my sessions so I could see at a glance where I needed to be and when. It was also a quick and paperless way to rate each session.
Staying an extra night is totally worth it, especially if the journey home is likely to take more than three hours. There was no end-of-conference rush to hit the road or dash to the station. It gave me time to take stock, relax and phone home.
My biggest disappointment was not being able to take part in the inaugural conference run with fellow members of the SfEP Run On group. I’d been building up to this for weeks, hoping my agonising lower back pain would go away. It wasn’t to be. On the morning of the run, I could barely make it across the room to the kettle. I’ve since discovered the pain is the result of a twisted pelvis. I’m getting treatment, I’m on the mend – and there’s always next year.
Can’t wait to do it all again in 2020. Milton Keynes, here we come!
- Chris Brookmyre: Books by Christopher Brookmyre
- Louise Harnby: The Parlour
- Cathy Wassell: LinkedIn Love Your Leads Challenge
- David Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
- Paul Beverley: Free macros at Archive Publications