The new girl and the SfEP conference, Part 2

By Karen White

(You can read Part 1 here.)

I survived! Actually, I did more than survive – I thrived!

On the day I got back to my desk after my first SfEP conference I spent a lot of time tweeting and Facebook messaging people I had met in person over the weekend, sending follow-up emails, and connecting with people on LinkedIn. I looked over all the notes I took, watched some of the live videos I missed, and reduced my coffee consumption to two cups all day.

I have to confess to having felt a bit nervous last week as all the chat ramped up about nail polish, tiaras and navigating Birmingham’s roadworks, but as it turned out, I needn’t have fretted at all. I did take a wrong turning off the Ring Road, and had to ask for directions to the registration desk (Who did I ask? Only Louise Harnby herself!), but once I’d registered and had the Cult Pens goody bag in my hand, all was well and it was straight into the AGM. Then it was straight from the AGM to the first-timers’ drinks, to dinner, then the quiz, then back to the bar. All the time chatting to people whose names I recognised from the Forums, Facebook groups and Twitter, as well as plenty of people I hadn’t crossed paths with before. And they were all really friendly and welcoming, and all had interesting angles on editing and proofreading work that were mostly very different to mine: maths, menus, fiction, legal, Shakespeare, Welsh. Plenty to ponder as I made my way back to my room (with its king-size bed, fluffy white towels and separate desk area), and the conference itself hadn’t even started yet!

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Sunday was the first full day. After a substantial breakfast and the Whitcombe Lecture given by Susan Greenberg (My favourite quote from Susan’s research, asking editors about their work was: “You have to tell people they’ve got to do a shitload more work, and try to make it sound interesting.” (Constance Hale, freelance book editor)), I was off to a session on developing my editorial and professional career. Chris McNab’s message in this session was all about thinking where you want to be in the future, and working out the skills you need to get there. Getting there may involve stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. This was a message that was repeated in Sue Richardson’s session on moving from freelancer to entrepreneur, and again in the Speed shake-up session on ways to revitalise an established career. I had selected sessions that were on a similar theme because this is the stage I’m at in my career, and the conference has coincided with a quieter than usual patch on the work front, so I’ve come away with plenty to mull over.

The live session I went to on Sunday afternoon was the great fees debate. Always a hot topic, and always interesting to hear others’ thoughts. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to whether we should accept lower rates sometimes, but it’s reassuring to hear that the idea of showing solidarity in the face of unacceptably low fees is popular. This is a topic being discussed a lot at the moment in my community of ELT (English Language Teaching) freelancers, and I know it’s not going to go away any time soon.

On from sessions to the TweetUp, which is such a great idea when you usually only communicate in 140 characters. I’d had conversations with so many SfEP-ers on Twitter before the conference, and it was lovely to be able to get to know the people behind the tweets a bit more. I think I contributed quite well to the #sfep16 hashtag, which is a great way to follow the conference if you’re not there in person, or to follow sessions that you weren’t in.

Drinks reception, tiaras, rapping, gala dinner, award presentation, Lynne Murphy and Antiamericanisms. I have honestly never been to such an entertaining and varied conference before. Nor have I been to one in such a well-appointed venue.

Was Monday really only the second day? I did a quick Live video with John Espirian for my business Facebook page, then headed off to the first session, which was Laura Poole’s look at being an effective freelancer. Entertaining, and full of sound advice. I will never book a 9am doctor’s appointment again, when I could be using the most productive part of my day for working. Appointments are for late afternoons from now on. More useful tips followed in Sophie Playle’s session on making the most of your website. This is something I’m definitely not doing at the moment, so my to-do list just got a bit longer. Then David Crystal’s closing lecture on the impact of the internet on ‘text’ came all too soon.

I didn’t come home with a raffle prize, but what I have brought back are a lot of things to think about for my business, a determination to check and contribute to the Forums more frequently, a lot of new friends and contacts, the knowledge that there is a great supportive community out there, and a resolution to attend another SfEP conference. Oh, and a speeding ticket as a result of my eagerness to get there on Saturday!

Karen WhiteKaren White is a freelance project manager, editor and trainer specialising in ELT publishing. She runs a Facebook page where ELT editors can chat and share information, and blogs about editorial issues at White Ink Limited. If you’re a Twitter user, you can find her @KarenWhiteInk.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Social media round-up: SfEP 2016 conference

Anyone following the SfEP on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn will have seen a number of great blogs written by attendees of the 2016 conference. In case you missed them, a selection are summarised below.

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The 27th annual SfEP conference by Katherine Trail
It’s been a couple of days since I returned from my second SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders) conference, and I’ve just about regained the power of speech, although I can’t guarantee this blog will make 100% sense (but when do they ever?!) …

Kat has also produced a great video blog on The value of conferences

#SfEP2016: reflections on the 2016 Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference by Hazel Bird
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 …

Conference Call by Sara Donaldson
At the 2015 conference, as a newbie, I felt like a rabbit in the headlights (it was the first time I’d ever met ‘real’ editors), but this year was a much more relaxed affair, meeting up with all the wonderful people I met last year who I’m proud to call friends (and some lovely new friends too).  It was more relaxed, even if I did take a wrong turning, ended up heading back out of Birmingham, and arrived at the Aston Conference centre a little shaken up (thanks SatNav app) …

Lessons from #SfEP16 by Melanie Thompson
I have been to several SfEP conferences, but this was by far the most enjoyable. I learned a lot and had a great time meeting familiar faces and making new friends. Here are my sixteen top ‘takeaways’ …

Looking back at #SfEP16 by Graham Hughes
This was my second SfEP conference, the first being last year’s gathering in York. That time, I arrived with some trepidation, as if I was going to be surrounded by veterans who were out to judge me. I soon realised, though, that this was nonsense. Everyone was there to learn, share ideas and enjoy themselves. This year, I could turn up without any of those worries. The experience that I’d gained in the last 12 months also helped me feel more confident, and being a local group coordinator had possibly even put a slight swagger into my step …

Converting put-downs into pitches by Liz Jones
I went to the SfEP conference at the weekend, had a brilliant time catching up with friends and colleagues, and came back fired up with loads of new ideas and objectives for continuing to develop my editorial business. And yet … over the course of the weekend, still I came out with some absolute clangers when called upon to describe my professional self and what I do …

Setting up Mastermind and accountability groups was mentioned as a possibility for members of the SfEP at the conference, and John Espirian discusses the key issues in his latest video blog.

Compiled and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

The makings of a successful conference

By Margaret Hunter

Birmingham city centreWell, the SfEP 2016 conference is over. Editors and proofreaders across the land (and beyond) are catching up on sleep, trying to remember what’s on their to-do lists and enthusiastically writing up reports on their blogs. We’re striking while the iron’s hot and putting some of that learning into practice by writing five-year plans, testing out some new macros and even trying to get better at ‘selling’ ourselves and developing positive self-worth.

It was a really great conference this year! What made it so good? Other members of the SfEP have already praised the excellent session presenters and keynote speakers, the great venue and food at Aston University, and importantly each other for being open to sharing and discussing and generally being lovely people.

I’d like to give a shout out too – and a big thank you – to our sponsors, exhibitors and raffle prize donors. Let’s face it, how many of us usually take any notice at all of the list of sponsors printed on the back of our conference folder, or the various flyers tucked inside? It’s easy to go into automatic ad-blocking mode. Occasionally some offer or useful resource might catch our eye but sometimes they don’t seem to be all that relevant or interesting.

The thing is, at this year’s conference delegates DID notice – and appreciate – our sponsors and exhibitors, which is fantastic, and as it should be.

I lost count of the number of times I heard people say that PerfectIt is one of their essential editing tools. If you don’t know what it is, get someone in your local SfEP group to give a demo. You won’t look back!

The lovely people from Out of House Publishing not only sponsored us but also ran a well-received session on the current state of educational publishing and how editors and proofreaders fit into the process. Did they panic when half of the intended panel couldn’t make it at the last minute? Not visibly – they just got on with it, adjusted their presentation and gave us all lots of food for thought.

One organisation doing great work that some of you may not have come across is the Book Trade Charity. It exists to help anyone who has worked in the book trade in times of need. Kat Trail says she had a lovely chat about the charity’s work with its chief executive. For example, the BTBS can assist people who have been made redundant from publishing firms or are otherwise struggling financially, such as helping with deposits for flats, grants for training and so on. It also has its own housing complex, The Retreat, for ex-book trade folks. Well worth supporting!

A constant plea heard on the SfEP forums is ‘How can I get my first paying jobs?’ If you want clients to find you then you need to be findable. Our friends at Freelancers in the UK offer members of the SfEP a generous third-off discount on a listing in their online directory. For £20 a year it’s a no-brainer – get yourself listed!

A familiar face at SfEP conferences, Ann Kingdom represented our sister organisation the Society of Indexers. A common message in many conference sessions was about reaching beyond your comfort zone, challenging yourself to expand your business and move into new areas beyond core proofreading and editing. Indexing is a skill that would suit many of us, and it’s a professional skill that we want to see thrive and survive. Could that be your next challenge?

We’re all used to raffles where the prizes seem to be the unwanted items won at the donor’s last Christmas party. But not so the SfEP raffle! Every prize was fantastic, including books by keynote speakers David Crystal, Lynne Murphy and Susan Greenberg, books by session leaders, a copy of PerfectIt, and a fabulous prize of a two-day InDesign course donated by Certitec. Wow!

As if that weren’t enough, what really got people talking was the AMAZING goody bag from Cult Pens (‘The Widest Range of Pens on the Planet!’ – and I think we had a fair selection of those in the bag!). Just check out the Twitter feed mentioning @cultpens! Said one (normally entirely sensible) experienced editor:

This fab goody bag makes up completely for the hours I have spent every August in Asda, WH Smith and other venues spending loads of money on pens for CHILDREN. These are MY PENS.

Cult Pens goodby bag at SfEP conference 2016Some free pens and books may seem like a trifling thing, but our sponsors’ generosity made people feel good. And that all added up to make this one of the best SfEP conferences yet. Roll on 16–18 September 2017 at Wyboston Lakes – put the date in your diary now!

Margaret HunterPosted by Margaret Hunter, SfEP marketing and PR director.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Local groups spotlight: South Warwickshire and Coventry

Catherine Hanley and Lisa Robertson

The South Warwickshire and Coventry local SfEP group is all about collegiality and collaboration. One of us writing this piece has been a member since the group’s inception, and the other joined more recently, but funnily enough we both started with exactly the same experience: walking unaccompanied into a town centre pub and wondering what a group of editors and proofreaders looked like.

It turns out that they’re fairly recognisable: not because they all carry dictionaries and a range of coloured pens, but because they’re a lively and friendly group who welcome all newcomers. The fact that in both cases it was a cold Monday night in the winter, and there weren’t many other people about, may not be entirely coincidental …

We’ve come from very different backgrounds: one of us had a 14-year career in local government, had always enjoyed writing reports and putting documents together, and was ready to do something different to fit in more flexibly around her children. The other is an ex-academic who found herself moving further into management and further away from the research, writing and editing that she liked better. So we both, in our different ways and at different times, decided to take the plunge.

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Chunky chips or skinny fries? One of the many important topics tackled at local group meetings.

Our local SfEP group has been a key support for both of us, even though we specialise in very different areas. It works like this: every couple of months, our group coordinators book a table in a restaurant-cum-pub in Leamington Spa, and send out invitations. We arrive. Some of us eat, some don’t; some of us have a glass of wine while others stick to the fruit juice. Debates rage over whether the chunky chips are better than the skinny fries. We have an informal agreement that the ‘old hands’ spread themselves out so that new and more established members are all mixed up; there are no cliques here. There is also a convention that we don’t sit next to the same person we sat with last time. This keeps the conversations fresh, and also avoids old pals talking exclusively to each other (the two members of the group who would spend all their time talking about cricket if given half a chance know who they are …).

One thing that all attendees agree on is how useful the meetings are. Everyone has a different set of experiences and skills, and it’s certainly not one-way traffic. Yes, the more established among the group are able to offer tips on going (and staying) freelance; but equally, those who might class themselves as ‘newbies’ often have a wealth of experience in different fields which they’re happy to share, or a fresh perspective, which means everyone learns something.

When you spend much of your day working on your own, meeting up with others in a similar situation is priceless, and the value of the group stretches far beyond the bi-monthly meetings. We have an email circulation list, and many of us also communicate via Twitter or other social media, all of which is that bit nicer when you can put a face to the name.

One of our initial worries about joining the group was the possibility of local competition, and whether this might hinder getting work, but in fact the opposite is true. When professional and social relationships build up between local group members, some will pass work on to others they trust if they are too busy to do it themselves. There is no sense of competition in terms of how booked up people are, how many regular clients they have, and so on, because everyone respects the fact that we’re all doing this differently.

The invitation to the group’s September meeting landed in our inboxes a few days ago. We’re both looking forward to catching up with the regulars, meeting some new faces, learning some more about anything from pricing structures to how to edit music, and, of course, ordering some of those skinny fries chunky chips!

SONY DSCCatherine Hanley always enjoyed the writing and editing part of her academic job, and eventually decided she’d rather concentrate fully on it. She has been freelance since 2011, specialising in academic work in the Arts and Humanities, particularly history; historical fiction; and (it’s a long story) cricket. She is a Professional Member of the SfEP. www.HanleyEditorial.co.uk

 

Lisa RobertsonLisa Robertson set up Editwrite in April 2015, after working for a local authority for over 14 years in various children’s services planning and commissioning roles. She offers a range of editorial and writing services, including document writing consultancy. Her specialist areas are children’s services, the public sector and charities. She is an Entry-Level Member of the SfEP. www.editwrite.co.uk

Image: Fries w/ mayonnaise (Amsterdam) via photopin (license)

Proofread and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

SfEP wise owls: one piece of getting started advice

Beginning a new career can be daunting, and ‘newbie’ editors may make numerous mistakes while they learn their new trade. Thankfully, the SfEP forums provide a great opportunity for new members to ask more experienced editors for their guidance on a wide range of issues which they have faced previously during their careers in proofreading and copy-editing. But if asked, what would be the one piece of advice that these editorial wise owls think new members need to know? To answer this question, a number of SfEP Professional and Advanced Professional members have been asked to provide the one piece of advice they would share with new proofreaders and copy-editors, which will be published in a series of wise owl blog posts over the coming months.

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photo 2016 croppedLiz Jones (Liz Jones Editorial Services)

Learn to manage your time realistically. When you’re starting out, it is tempting to say yes to everything, and to some extent you have to be prepared to do this. It’s so exciting when the freelance work starts coming in! However, do be careful not to overcommit. It is much, much better to say ‘no’ to a client, however counter-intuitive it might seem, than to agree to take on work that you will not be able to complete within schedule to a high standard. Taking on too much work and doing a shoddy job (or worse, failing to complete the job at all) is a sure-fire way to lose a client for good, and potentially do wider damage to your reputation. In the long run it is also not good for your morale to overwork yourself on a regular basis.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford (Apt Words)

Get a brief from your client and make sure you understand it. Go back for clarification if things are omitted or ambiguous, but don’t fire off lots of individual queries. Your client or project manager will be grateful if you organise yourself and group queries together. Use email if at all possible, as then the answers are recorded for later reference, but if you must discuss things over the phone, send an email very soon afterwards, summarising the decisions made. It gives your client a chance to rectify any misunderstandings and you have a record of what was agreed should there be difficulties later.

(Sue has written the SfEP guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business which is now available to purchase on the SfEP website.)

John EspirianJohn Espirian (espirian)

Don’t undersell the value of your time and the benefit you can bring to a piece of work. If your work improves a piece of text by say 5%, what effect could that have on the success of the writing in terms of its commercial success or its influence? How much might that be worth to the author?

Also see John’s blog post 10 tips for handling your first proofreading job.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird (Wordstitch Editorial Services)

Many new editors and proofreaders start out thinking that their role involves hunting down errors and making ‘wrong’ things ‘right’. This is true to an extent, but what is ‘wrong’ is always dependent on the context. Something that appears ‘wrong’ may actually be fine, or even a desired quirk of the project. Sensitivity to context comes with experience, but it’s wise to start out (and go on) asking questions whenever you’re unsure what your client wants, and assessing the big picture rather than diving in to correct each ‘error’ as soon as you spot it.

Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Macros for editing? SfEP conference session preview

By Paul Beverley

The upcoming SfEP conference (Sept 10–12) offers an excellent range of learning opportunities, but unusually this year it offers a total of four hours of training on macros. Can one really justify spending four hours learning about macros?

Well, it depends what you think a (Word) macro is. If you research this via the internet, you will find various definitions such as, “A macro is a way to create a shortcut for a task that you do a lot.”

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The implication of all the definitions I looked at was:

(a task I already do) + (a macro) = (the same task done faster)

If that were all that macros could do, then those four hours would indeed be excessive.

However, I think that you get a better idea of what a (Word) macro is, if you say that it’s an app used to handle Word files. But what does an app do? The answer is, almost anything. So if a macro can do ‘almost anything’ with the contents of a Word file (or indeed a set of Word files), then they can provide the editor with a whole new set of tools.

Indeed, starting to use these new programmed macros (as opposed to just recorded macros) is akin to giving a sewing machine to someone who has only ever done hand sewing. Their hand sewing might be immaculate, and those techniques are still very valuable, but they will end up manufacturing garments much more quickly than before, and those garments can be of finer quality because of the consistency that a sewing machine is capable of – but they will need to learn new ways of working.

You might think this an overstatement, but hopefully the session on ‘Macros for editors’ will begin to open new horizons. Everyone will be able to benefit from finding a few new macros that will speed up the way they work, but for those willing to be more radical and learn new techniques over the next few years, you can expect considerable increases in earning rates.

Paul_Beverley1Paul Beverley has been an editor and proofreader of technical documents for over 10 years. He’s partly retired now, but doesn’t want to stop altogether because he enjoys his work far too much! He writes macros for editors and proofreaders to increase their speed and consistency, and makes them available free via his website.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

photo credit: 2014-08 – Grand Lake via photopin (license)

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

SfEP social media round-up July 2016

You are probably aware that many editors write great blogs for their own websites on a range of issues related to the world of editing, which are regularly shared via the SfEP Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The social media round-up has therefore been expanded to introduce a new section with some good posts from SfEP members’ blogs published each month that we think you will enjoy reading.

If you write a blog and would like to share your work in a future social media round-up, please get in touch (blog@sfep.org.uk).

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Blogs round-up

Catherine Dunn recently attended the Writing East Midlands conference where Cressida Downing gave an excellent workshop on how authors can best work with editors. Catherine shares the tips provided in her blog Working with an editor.

Want to become a ‘digital nomad’? Kate Haigh explains how in her blog Being a location-independent proofreader.

Sophie Playle shared advice on How to edit fiction with confidence in her guest blog for The Proofreader’s Parlour.

Want to start listening to editorial podcasts? In his recent blog post John Espirian shares his favourite Podcasts for editors.

New proofreaders will find helpful advice in Louise Harnby’s guest blog The business of proofreading: taking a long and interconnected view for An American Editor.

Social media round-up

Linguist Oliver Kamm argues it’s finally time to stop correcting people’s grammar.

Taking a dip into the language of swimming.

Omitting periods? It’s about genres.

Pick the right fights when you’re editing.

Birdies, bogeys, and baffies: the language of golf.

Watch the Gutenberg printing press in action.

Written and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

 

Practice makes (closer to) perfect

By Liz Jones

Imagine that you’ve recently completed some solid training in proofreading and/or copy-editing, and you’re looking forward to your new existence as a fully fledged editorial professional. But wait! How can you be sure you’re correctly applying all that you’ve learned?

One of the best places to learn is on the job, but this can be particularly stressful when you’re starting out. You want to be sure you’re doing the best work you can for a paying client – not only to offer them a good service for the money, but also to secure repeat business.

Practice
Here are some tips for getting valuable proofreading or copy-editing practice when you’re starting out, or if you’re expanding into new areas – without risking your reputation on a live job.

Mentoring

Once you’ve undertaken enough basic training, one further training route that the SfEP offers its members is mentoring (as do some other editorial organisations, such as EAC). You can be mentored in general proofreading or copy-editing, and there is now also the option of specialist mentoring in areas such as fiction, biomedical journals, law and music. Your mentor will send you exercises to work on (usually extracts from material they have edited previously) and will then provide you with detailed feedback and guidance on your strengths, as well as where you need to improve, over the course of several months. On successful completion of mentoring you will be awarded points that can be used towards upgrading your SfEP membership.

Books

You might choose to carry out practice in the form of further self-study after completing more formal courses. One book that comes highly recommended and has been used by many proofreaders when starting out is Advanced Professional Member Margaret Aherne’s Proofreading Practice: Exercises with model answers and commentary.

Forums

Those of us who work freelance can lack opportunities to simply lean over and ask a more experienced colleague for help if we get stuck, or if we don’t know where to turn to support an editorial decision. One ever-reliable source of information on best practice is the SfEP forums. You can ask your own question as it arises, or search the extensive archives to see if the topic has been discussed before. (Often, it has!) Alternatively, read the forums regularly and see what others are asking. Sometimes the battle when trying to improve as an editor is not finding the answer to a particular question – it’s finding out what questions it’s necessary to ask.

The SfEP forums aren’t the only places to go for advice. Other online forums, such as the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, are also invaluable and easily accessed sources of advice and support, and can provide a slightly different perspective.

Critical appreciation of others’ work

This is one method that does require a live job and a dash of good fortune, but sometimes as a proofreader you will be lucky enough to see the work of an editorial professional employed earlier in the process, such as the copy-editor or the development/commissioning editor, as part of your proofreading or copy-editing job. Even a small insight into how someone else – perhaps someone considerably more experienced – works can be illuminating. Don’t simply collate what’s there, or skip over it – try to understand why editorial decisions have been taken, and what the implications are for you and the wider publishing process.

Local group

If you are able to attend a local SfEP group, this could provide an ideal opportunity to pick colleagues’ brains about best approaches to work. Perhaps you could suggest sharing examples of how group members have tackled real-life jobs, or short extracts from them … NDAs and client confidentiality permitting, of course.

Read, read, read

It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the need to read voraciously, outside of actual work. If you specialise in particular types of editing work, and most of us probably do, it’s obviously important to read widely in these areas – but really, almost any kind of reading will help to train your eye and help you to know what good writing looks like (and what it doesn’t). And let’s face it, it’s not as if more reading is a chore for most editors!

Finally …

This might sound obvious, but you can’t ever have too much practice. It’s possible to get up to speed with the basics of editing fairly quickly, but it can take years to get really good. You never stop learning, even over the course of decades – technology and software move on, and editorial fashions and tastes change. Keeping up to date with innovations and reflecting on your practice never stop being important.

photo 2016 croppedBy Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Image: Photopin. Creative Commons (license).

My life in publishing

By Alysoun Owen

‘Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea.’
Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is expressing her views as an author of course in the above quotation, but it might just as well have been uttered by a publisher or an editor: a variant on the ‘publish and be damned’ theme. A strange maxim on which one’s whole working life has been based! And by one, I mean ME and my living and breathing of all things literary and publishing related for, ahem, the last 25 years. Ah, the wonderfully inexact, mercurial world of publishing, a put-your-finger-in-the-air, test-the-waters, wait-and-see sort of profession.

As we publish the 110th edition of the great red tome, all 816 pages of it, that is the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (on 28th July), I’ve been reflecting on the two strands of my life and career that have led me to my current role as editor of the Yearbook: the love of literature and desire to see the best possible writing made available to the many combined with a need to get things right – to create saleable ‘products’ that are accurate, reliable and economically viable. Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2017That’s what we hope to achieve with the Yearbook: a successful book that readers, in their tens of thousands, want and need (what Susan Hill calls ‘the writer’s Bible’ and Deborah Levy, who penned this year’s foreword, describes as ‘full of information that all writers need to know’). A book that is full of reliable, factual information: who to contact at a book publisher or literary agency, how to write an agent submission, mastering social media, the dos and don’ts of self-publishing, copyright, tax and other financial advice AND which brings together the words of wisdom of great writers who were once themselves debut novelists, poets, screenwriters, journalists … to inspire each new generation of writers and illustrators who wish to try their luck in the turbulent waters of publishing; hurling their own message in a bottle into the high seas.

I started my own publishing life when I was little, making up little books of stories when I was a child. Not very good stories: I was always much better at collating my sister’s efforts and illustrating them into a creative whole than being an author. I was blessed: I lived in a house lined with bookshelves and chatter that was often about books and plays. My mother was an English teacher. My father, now I think about it and fittingly for a blog on the SfEP site (see the BSI symbols for proof-marks), worked for the British Standards Institute (BSI); he was an electrical engineer and concerned himself with international safety standards in that field. Often in the evenings, my mother would be sat marking or editing her pupils’ work at the kitchen table, whilst my father sat at his desk reviewing and revising (i.e. proofing and editing) the latest Standard. You could say it was no real surprise that I would then opt to take a degree in English Language and Literature: a three-year scamper through the literary canon from Beowulf to Woolf (with a smattering of more modern American writings thrown in). From university, I spent six months learning from experts how to print, desk-top publish, take photos, bind books and most relevantly to copy-edit and proofread using the correct marks. Armed with a degree in English, a diploma in Publishing and my trusty red and blue manuscript-correcting biros, I began my career shepherding hundreds of titles for students of literature in Longman’s Higher Education Division. What a delight to actually be working with and editing the texts of former tutors and the writers of edited texts and critical editions that I had relied on so heavily as a student.

Each of my subsequent roles in the industry has contributed to my present position: from Longman I headed to OUP to desk edit and then commission notable reference titles: The Oxford Companion to English Literature, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, The Oxford Companion to Wine … and one of my proudest and most lucrative (for OUP that is!) commissions, celebrating the magic of words, Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Forays into online publishing at the dawn of a new era of digital publishing, establishing a publishing consultancy and project management company and working with publishers large and small in a new freelance capacity offered me the chance to experience all sorts of editorial and strategic avenues: coming up with new ideas for print and digital propositions, establishing teams of freelance editors, project managers and designers residing in far-flung places, but working collectively to make each print book or ebook or CD or website the best it could be. I love being in charge of my own destiny, professionally speaking, not allied exclusively to any one employer. Yes, freelance life can be precarious, but highly rewarding and flexible. Which takes me back to the Yearbook – which I edit for Bloomsbury from January to June each year with a band of expert editors: as a group we commission, collect and collate the content for each new edition. It reminds me how lucky I am to be working in such a field.

Photography by Paul Wilkinson Photography Ltd.Alysoun Owen is the editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. She has worked in publishing for 25 years, runs her own publishing consultancy business and is a regular speaker at literary festivals on how to get published. For advice, news, blogs and details of editorial services and events, visit www.writersandartists.co.uk.

 

SfEP members get a discount when buying the WAYB or CWAYB. Click on the book image above or go to benefits in the members’ area of the website.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Talking about fiction: Why bother? SfEP conference preview

By Gale Winskill

At the time of writing there are almost eight weeks to go before my 2016 SfEP conference session: Let’s talk about text. As editors we deal with text on a daily basis but we don’t necessarily talk about it. We might mutter exasperatedly to ourselves in the confines of our working space, communicate our thoughts diplomatically (or not) on paper or in emails … but in these days of remote working we rarely discuss the nitty-gritty of a text face to face with another person.

So, much to my surprise, I find that at some point I seem to have agreed to lead a group discussion, masquerading as a live editing session on fiction. Currently in the midst of trying to choose/tweak/finalise my materials for said event, part of me wishes that I hadn’t agreed to talk about anything to do with any sort of text. After all, most of the time not talking about text seems to work just fine, doesn’t it?

conversation-1468159_640And what on earth am I supposed to talk about with regard to editing fiction anyway? After all, it’s a construct, a conceit, a deception. There’s no truth to it, so there’s certainly no benefit in discussing it, is there?

Like the five stages of ‘panic-buying’ – something to do with the financial world apparently – my preparations for the live editing session have gone through similar degrees of doubt and anxiety:

  1. Denial: Agree to do live editing session on fiction and then promptly blank all recollection of this fact from my mind. After all, September is ages away, so there’s no need to worry about it.
  2. Anger: Receive polite request to deliver the session summary during a particularly intense work crisis, wonder why on earth I agreed to do this and get cross with myself for not saying ‘no’. Write something vaguely pertinent together with my fellow group leaders, then bury myself in work and revert to denial.
  3. Bargaining: Eventually read the live editing brief properly and try to convince myself that I can use one text for all three parts of the session, as surely that will be easier! Stare blindly at my author folders and bookshelves for inspiration. None is forthcoming.
  4. Depression: Decide that the subject of fiction is far too large to squeeze into an hour-and-a-half session. Book a last-minute holiday two weeks before my children’s school term finishes at the end of June and flee the country. (I’m just back!)
  5. Acceptance: While away, and on receipt of another gently worded reminder that session materials need to be delivered by a certain date, acknowledge that all of the above is utterly self-indulgent, it’s too late to back out and that working through these various stages is actually my natural default setting. In addition, (most of) my authors are wonderful, generous people who might just grant me permission to do all sorts of unspeakable things to their text without asking too many questions.

So, with another conference deadline looming – one that theoretically means I now have a rough idea of what I might talk about in my session – I have rediscovered three things: that panic, especially when interrupted by a two-week holiday and a pile of good books, is ultimately a great enabler; that the patience and good humour of the conference director are seemingly endless; and that text – even fiction – really does merit talking about.

And how did this final epiphany emerge? Well, the longer I stared at my selected text options, the more I swithered about what ought to be altered, left or queried. And on further study, I found other things that could potentially be marked or considered. Then, on comparing these musings with what I had actually marked on the texts when I edited them properly – years ago in some cases – I discovered that some of my thoughts were now ever so slightly different.

So, does that mean I was wrong back then, or that I am wrong now? What’s the right answer? And if I don’t know, what hope is there for my live editing group? Will they agree or disagree with me, or with one another? Will they even glean the same approximate understanding of the texts?

To be honest, it doesn’t matter. As I have said on many previous occasions, fiction has no one right answer … and the myriad possible interpretations of any fictional text are, therefore, definitely worth talking about for no other reason than they are endlessly fascinating and a great starting point for an interesting blether!

photo_Gale WinskillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She leaves it up to the reader to decide whether there is any truth or merit to the above text, but admits that there may be a large chunk of fiction in there somewhere … or not. Discuss (preferably in her live editing fiction session).

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP