What I Learned at the SfEP Conference 2016 (Part 1)

Every year, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders invites its members to gather for a long weekend of chatting, drinking, eating, workshops and seminars. I attended my first SfEP conference two years ago, knowing only a single person. This year, knowing more people, being another two years into my editorial career and having been invited to lead a session really gave the conference a different feel this time around. Instead of turning up not really knowing what to expect, as I had done last time, this year felt more about deepening friendships and getting (even more) serious with the development of my business.

SfEP Conference Sessions

I was really pleased to see a lot of sessions geared more towards people already established in their careers and looking for ways to move forward. I’ve felt as though my business has been treading water lately. I’ve been doing the work that needs doing, but I haven’t dedicated the time and effort needed to propel it in the direction I want, so I chose sessions that I thought would help me do just that.

cult-pensI arrived at Aston University on Saturday afternoon, dumped my stuff in my swanky top-floor hotel room and headed straight back down to the welcome coffees – picking up a very lovely pack of free pens and pencils from Cult Pens! First up was the Annual General Meeting of the society, where the council talks about the direction of the society and members get to vote on decisions.

I must admit, I played truant with some other naughty editors and ducked out of this 90-minute meeting. I’ve not kept as up-to-date with society news lately, so I was happy to trust my fellow members! After a quick break chilling out in my room, it was time for dinner, which was finished off with a pub quiz. (Note to self: I lose all ability to spell after three glasses of wine, so let someone else write the answers!).

The Hidden Art of Editing

The following morning, the conference really kicked off. Dr Susan Greenberg gave the opening lecture and spoke about the hidden art of editing. (Editors are the ‘invisible’ contributors to a text.) I loved what she said about editors needing the skill to see the text as if it is not yet finished. In this way, we aren’t judging the text or its author because we understand the nature of development.

Greenberg also called the editor the most embodied reader; it’s our job to try to link the author’s intention with the understanding of all readers. I say ‘try’ because this is obviously an impossible task, though we try our best by being both a human filter and applying the skills and knowledge we’ve accumulated in order to look at and assess a piece of writing in the most objective way possible.

Where Do You Go Next? Developing Your Editorial and Professional Career

After that, I went to my first seminar, ‘Where Do You Go Next?’ led by Chris McNab. Chris was an excellent speaker, and his authenticity, friendly attitude and proactive approach was highly motivating. Points that hit home included the idea that we can sometimes set income limits on ourselves without realising because we feel there’s a certain amount that we ‘deserve’ and it’s hard to get past that. Something I will definitely keep in mind.

His two-option approach to building your business reiterated what I already knew:

  • build your career inside the publishing industry
  • or build it beyond the publishing industry (where there are usually higher-paying clients)

I know there’s more money in corporate editorial work … but I also know that’s not the avenue I want to go down.

Building your career inside the publishing industry included: finding new clients, attracting repeat work from current clients, and collaborating. The trouble with the first two options (which is essentially ‘get more work’) is that there are only so many billable hours in the day, and only so much you can realistically charge for these hours.

So it reaffirmed to me the importance of collaboration as my next step.

Chris also talked about the value of offering training, though he was talking about leading training days in person and didn’t touch on offering digital training. Digital training (i.e. offering online courses) is something I’ve been getting stuck into recently, and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’m definitely going to be doing more of it.

Live Fiction Editing

After lunch, I attended a more intimate session led by Gale Winskill in which a handful of editors from a range of backgrounds discussed some of the editorial decisions we might have to make on some sample fiction extracts. We talked about story issues, editing for the intended readership, fact checking (points to me for spotting the incorrect use of ‘hijab’!), and editing for colloquial style.

As I thought it would, the session really highlighted to me what different editors will bring to a text. It also made me think again about how different kinds of editing (proofreading, copy-editing, line editing, development editing, substantive editing, critiquing) have no concrete definitions – what one editor calls a proofread, another might call a copy-edit. In the end, being clear about what you’re offering is key.

Freelancer to Publishing Entrepreneur

Next up at the SfEP conference was Freelance to Publishing Entrepreneur, led by Sue Richardson. Sue was incredibly inspiring. Full of smiles and encouragement, she told us about how her first business failed and how the wonderful contacts she had made along the way had helped her pick herself up again and start anew. It reminded me of the saying that you only fail when you give up.

Sue spoke about the importance of thinking of yourself as a one-person business (rather than a freelancer), and then broke down all the traditional business roles we have to fill on our own. One of the best ways to expand is to hire people to fill some of those roles – e.g. hiring an accountant, or hiring a virtual assistant to help with admin. They don’t have to be full-time employees. They can be other freelancers who you hire for a couple of hours a week. I’ve thought about all this before (and it’s why I’ve hired Lynn to contribute to the Liminal Pages blog!), but it was useful to go over it again.

The most useful piece of information, though, (perhaps the most useful thing I learned from the whole conference!) is that if I want to work with other editors and create an editorial team, I don’t have to subcontract. Instead, I can work with people on an associate basis – a relationship based on trust.

It sounds risky, but as one of the council members, John Firth, reiterated in the session, an email is evidence of a verbal contract, so as long as I have the particulars of a professional relationship agreed in writing somewhere, that will be enough to cover my back. (This, along with having clients agree to my terms and conditions is also the way I manage my professional relationship with my clients.)

Gala Dinner

bathAt this point in the SfEP conference, I nipped back to my room to go over my notes for the session that I was going to lead the next day. All of the speakers I had seen had seemed so confident and in control, I was now terrified that I wouldn’t live up to the standard that they’d set.

I had written out everything I was going to say like a long essay. I know, it’s the cardinal sin of presenting, but I was legitimately concerned that I would lose the power of speech through fear if I didn’t have every word written down. But now I was adamant that I wasn’t going to just read from my print-offs. So I spent an hour going through my writing and highlighting what would have been written on my note cards, had I had note cards.

After that, I sank into a warm bath (oh how I love my baths!) and tried to forget my fear, but it thrummed in my chest no matter what I tried to think about. I just about got ready in time to not be late for the gala dinner. I felt pretty good in the one smart dress I own and black strappy heels! And I was relieved to find out that I’d been seated next to my friend Kat. The food was delicious (chocolate torte for dessert … drool) and I managed to chat to nearly everyone at the table.

By this point, though, I was struggling to speak. My voice was feeling incredibly strained from all the loud talking, and as soon as Lynne Murphy’s highly entertaining after-dinner speech on Antiamericanism in literature and the media was finished, I slinked back up to my room and watched Family Guy and American Dad until my brain was too tired to worry about my presentation the next day.

Continue to Part 2


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By | 2017-09-05T13:39:30+00:00 September 26th, 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.

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