What I Learned at the SfEP Conference 2016 (Part 2)

Every year, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders host a conference. Editorial professionals gather to chat, think and learn. In part one of this post, I outlined what the first full day of the conference had in store for me. After the gala dinner on Sunday night, I drifted off to sleep trying not to think about the session that I was to host the following day …

I woke up feeling a strong sense of what I can only describe as resignation mixed with apprehension. I was going to have to present in a few hours, and nothing was going to change that. Now, I just wanted to get it over with. But I was also keen to face the challenge and give it everything I had.

The SfEP Conference Sessions

 Managing and Developing the Skills of Editors

After breakfast, I attended my first session of the day, Managing and Developing the Skills of Editors by Jackie Mace. I’d decided to attend this session as I’d been considering adding more editors to Liminal Pages, but I’d been on the fence with the idea. More knowledge about the subject would undoubtedly help me decide whether it was right for my business.

We started by considering what makes an editing job feel good for us – a list we then used later in the session to see what kind of project elements we should try to be feature for the editors we give work to. This included:

  • giving the editor the authority to make decisions
  • providing a clear and detailed brief
  • making sure they’re paid well and on time
  • giving editors projects they’ll enjoy and that match their interests and expertise

… and so on. A useful exercise.

We talked about how to assess the editor’s work to make sure it’s hitting the right standards (things like looking at how much they’ve changed, what kind of comments they’ve left in the manuscript and the tone of these comments, and then doing some spot-checking for errors). Giving the deadline enough breathing space means you have time to send work back to the editor if they haven’t quite met the brief. And if they still don’t provide work that’s up to scratch, then it’s time to discontinue the relationship.

I left feeling more confident that I could manage a small team of editors … But, ironically, since then I’ve decided that it’s not the route for me! More on that another time. Either way, the session helped me decide.

My Experience Presenting a Session

Next there was a half-hour coffee break, which I spent setting up my room for my session Making the Most of Your Website. I was very happy to find several people already in the room moving tables around. I had a panic when my MacBook wouldn’t connect to the projector, even though I’d spent good money on a converter …! Kindly, the conference organiser, Christine, let me borrow her laptop, and we managed to get the projector working just as people started filing in.

Technical difficulties …!

The session was completely full, and I stood before a wall of faces in a windowless room. It was time to start. So I jumped straight in. I found myself floundering a little with the tiny lectern on which I was balancing Christine’s laptop, a 30-page print out of my presentation and a print-out of the slides (so I could keep track and not click ahead too early). Note to self: next time, less paper!

Also, because I’d designed my slides on a Mac, the fonts didn’t translate to Christine’s Windows laptop. Not only did this mean my slides weren’t as pretty as I’d made them (sigh) but a few points I was trying to make about fonts didn’t work! Then … the slideshow froze. Not the end of the world, but still not great.

Time, content and audience experience … a balancing act

I used my notes a lot less than I expected I would, which I was pleased about. But the time was flying! I hadn’t expected that. I was barely through half of my presentation by the time there was fifteen minutes left of my hour slot. I thought I’d given time for questions, but I’d underestimated how much time this would actually use.

When I’d read through my presentation from start to finish, it only took me forty-five minutes. But now I wasn’t reading it, and I hadn’t taken into account the slower conversational style of not reading from a paper, and the fact that more needs to be said about a point to allow people to get their heads around it.

I quickly realised I’d crammed in far too much material. I was also acutely aware that there was a big difference in knowledge and experience in the group, which made me worried that I wasn’t given enough value to some and too much information to others.

I managed to skip a few super-detailed sections and wrap up just in time. I promised to email participants the sections I’d missed, and did this a few days after I got home. The benefit of already having written all my material out was that this didn’t take long at all.

A few people stayed behind at the end to ask me some more detailed questions, and I think I handled those quite well. A new friend I’d made at the conference came up to congratulate me, and when I said it was the first time I’d ever presented, he said in that case I did very well, considering. Ha! I wasn’t quite sure how to take that, though I know he was being genuinely kind.

Anonymous session rating

Each session is rated anonymously by the participants, and the rating cards are handed into the conference organisers. I wasn’t sure whether or not this was information they shared with the session leaders, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I’d been rated, either. But just last week, a few weeks after the conference, I received a letter in the post. It was from the conference organises. They thanked me for my contribution (which was lovely) and then outlined my feedback.

Two thirds of the session attendants had voted. I’d scored 4.2 out of 5 for content. And 4 out of 5 as a speaker. Win! I’m very pleased with that, though there’s a little voice in my heading saying: The people who didn’t vote clearly hated it, and the rest were just being kind. I have to remind myself that’s highly unlikely.

Someone had commented that the content was good, but there was just too much of it. Duly noted. If I ever do anything like this again, I feel I’ll have a much better idea on how to prepare. No matter what I read about presenting, some things you can only really learn from experience.

Would I do it again?

Would I do another speaking event like this? I don’t think so. It was too much out of my comfort zone for me, though I also know that the more I do it, the easier it should get. The fear and stressed it caused me leading up to it just didn’t feel worth it. Why put myself through it? Saying that, I’m so grateful and honoured to have been asked to present, and I truly value the experience I had.

Start Fiction EditingThe Conference Close

After my session, it was time for lunch. I grabbed some food and sat with my friends, decompressing. It was done! I’d done it! And I was exhausted. I felt relieved that I’d cancelled my place in the next session (I’d signed up for speed networking, and at that point in time that felt like the last thing I wanted to do!) and just stayed in the break room, chilling out.

The closing lecture by the SfEP honorary president David Crystal brought everyone together again. David’s questioning on what makes a text in the age of the internet had people both chuckling and pondering.

After that, the raffle was drawn. I’d donated a special bound and printed edition of Start Fiction Editing, and was pleased to see it wasn’t the last prize collected! In fact, I had already chatted to the guy who picked it up, and knew that he was in the middle of considering a new direction for his business. I hope the course gives him some food for thought. I’d also printed around fifty flyers for Start Fiction Editing, and noticed that there was only five left by the end of the conference. Which again made me quite pleased.

After the closing speeches, most people dashed off pretty quickly to catch their trains or flights or avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic. I knew my good friend Louise Harnby was going to be driving back to Norfolk, and I also knew she’d accidentally missed lunch, so asked her to join me for dinner since I still had a few hours before my train.

Recovering and Looking Forward

We walked to the nearest Pizza Express. I had a lovely time winding down from the weekend and chatting about the conference with Louise. And eating pizza! Yum, yum. Then I rushed to catch my train, and spent the next three hours travelling home. I arrived home at about ten o’clock, totally exhausted and barely able to speak, my throat was so sore. It would take me another ten days for my throat to fully recover!

I had to spend the day after the conference in my dressing gown, lying on the couch for the most part. I’d intended to have a full day of rest, but I couldn’t help but go over all my notes and start doing more research and reading on the things I’d learned.

This year’s conference was a totally different experience for me, compared to the last once I’d attended two years previous. It was just as inspiring, just as informative, just as exhausting. But I learned very different lessons and I felt I navigated it differently; I was more in control and more assured of what I wanted, feeling less sparkly eyed. Presenting a session was a huge achievement for me, and I learned so much by doing it.

I’ll definitely attend more SfEP conferences in the future. I wonder what lessons they’ll bring!


Hey, let’s stay in touch.

Never miss a post. Sign up to Liminal Letters.

Receive monthly emails containing a roundup of my latest blog posts plus my innermost thoughts about running a fiction editing business and a meaningful life

By | 2017-09-05T13:39:23+00:00 October 4th, 2016|An Editor's Life, The Business of Editing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages is a professional fiction editor. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before gallivanting off to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and she trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Every now and then, she slips her laptop into her rucksack and works from a different country for a few weeks.

Leave A Comment