Lightning talks: snappy, illuminating and gone in a flash

Last week, in our Tips for fearless lightning talkers, Susan Milligan looked at how to prepare and get the most out of presenting a lightning talk at conference. This week we hear from speakers and audience members about what they thought of the experience.

 

Hazel Reid

Hazel ReidI get lightning talks and elevator speeches muddled up. Both are fast, to the point, explanatory and self-revealing. Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? To tell us something about yourself that we didn’t know in as short a space of time as possible.

However, these two types of presentation are quite different. Everyone giving a lightning talk is restricted to the same length of time for their address and, certainly for the talks I went to, they are accompanied by PowerPoint slides. Whether that’s to help the listeners or the talker, I’m not sure. Elevator speeches, on the other hand, can vary in length – are you going up (or down) ten imaginary floors or just two? – and they need to answer the who I am, what I do and why kind of questions to give the listener a snapshot of the speaker. They’re useful for networking.

Lightning talks are ‘snappy, illuminating and gone in a flash (the clue’s in the name)’. They are also seen as an opportunity ‘for novice public speakers to have a go in front of a friendly crowd’. I’m quoting here from the ‘bumf’ from the SfEP 2015 conference, which is the last, and I think, only time I’ve heard them. I don’t remember ‘snappy’ or ‘flashy’, but illuminating, yes, definitely. Of the two lightning talkers who stand out in my memory, both were SfEP members and I knew each of them to speak to.

One, I’m mentioning no names, spoke about a former career as a sub-editor on a busy daily paper, an interesting and oblique slant on editing compared with ‘our’ version of the practice. That talk was good fun: there was humour and warmth, and perhaps a tinge (but only a tinge) of regret for the busy lifestyle and close companionship of a sub-editor’s day, now left behind.

The other speaker? Well, I confess that from here, two years later, I can’t remember anything about the content of the speech – which is not meant as the criticism it sounds like – 2015 was a bad time for me and my thoughts were often not where they should have been at any given moment. But I do have a clear memory of feelings. There was laughter, yes, and a ready wit, with those wonderful snappy, dry-humour sound bites that I wish I could master. (See, there you are, it was snappy after all.) There was also a feeling of surprise, a dawning realisation of something I had not previously been aware of, and then a strong sympathy or empathy that this person who I knew as witty, confident, clever, was actually, underneath it all, vulnerable.

So, lightning talks: as a listener, a good way to find out what makes someone tick, which can be fun, which can be sad, and which, I would think, must take a chunk of courage for someone to undertake, standing there in front of everyone. Exposed, as it were. For the listener, it’s entertaining, informative and sometimes surprising. For the speaker? Well, that’s something altogether different, I would think; wouldn’t you?

Sara Donaldson

Sara Donaldson Two years ago I attended my first ever SfEP conference. And two years ago I was asked to give a lightning talk at my first ever SfEP conference. Was I mad? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I do it again? Hell yes.

Now, let’s be honest here. I was petrified. I hadn’t given a talk for years. The last time I really stood up in front of an audience was when I taught a night-class, and that was uncomfortable every single time. But when Lucy asked me to give a lightning talk I said yes because it was only five minutes, and how bad can that be, right? Famous last words.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I sorted myself out, dug out PowerPoint, made slides and wrote up a slightly tongue-in-cheek talk about superpowers. It was the only way to go as I felt I had no right to stand up in front of a bunch of editors and talk to them about my limited editorial experience.

What's your superpower?

When the time came, Kat and I sat together waiting as if for the call to the scaffold. It was her first time too. I can’t speak for her, but I was a nervous wreck. There was a room full of people. All looking at the speaker. All of them. Looking.

But you know what, when I stood up there, despite sounding like Minnie Mouse on helium, I think it went ok. People laughed (when they were supposed to). They paid attention. And no one walked out. I was in a room full of professionals and no one heckled, I didn’t pass out and the tech mostly worked.

I won’t say it was fun. It wasn’t at the time; it was an adrenaline rush, which is something completely different. But it was a worthwhile experience, and as a newbie it actually got people approaching me afterwards. People said they enjoyed my talk, they liked my blog … they actually knew who I was!

From first walking into the room and realising just how many people were in there (I honestly thought there would only be about ten people in the audience) to walking back to my seat afterwards, it was terrifying. But that’s a natural response for a slightly socially awkward, imposter-syndrome-suffering newbie. When I had time to reflect, I realised just how much I’d actually enjoyed it and how useful it was for my professional progression. I’ve done it now, I can do it again and it will be less scary.

What surprised me was just how diverse everyone’s talks were. When you are new you don’t know what to expect, but with everyone only having five minutes, the talks crammed in an awful lot of information. It wasn’t boring in the slightest, or preachy, or heavy. Everyone gave an interesting, informative talk without having to pad it out to reach the time limit, and the audience seemed to enjoy the variety.

What did I learn that was unexpected? I learnt that I can actually do this. Despite being out of practice, feeling that I didn’t know anything interesting, and being literally scared stiff, I learnt that anyone can get up there and give a short talk. Editors are a lovely bunch who are supportive and attentive, and even the conference organisers and main speakers get nervous.

If you are asked to give a lightning talk, for heaven’s sake say yes. If you say no you’ll never realise just what you can do, and a few minutes of the adrenaline rush is so worth it. Don’t let the fear take hold.

For those wondering whether to go and see the lightning talks, I’d say give it a whirl. The diversity of talks is stimulating, never dull and often informative. You’re bound to learn something new and it’s a great way to be introduced to new things and new speakers, without committing a whole hour to one subject.

Katherine Trail

Katherine Trail Five minutes sounds like a long time to talk uninterrupted, with a whole roomful of eyes fixed upon you (and not just any old eyes, the beady eyes of editors and proofreaders at that). I was surprised, therefore, when I timed my lightning talk, telling my partner to interrupt me at the five-minute mark. I was rudely interrupted just as I was getting into the flow of things.

‘What?’ I snapped.

‘Time’s up,’ he said, gesturing at his stopwatch.

As I looked down at the whole side of A4 I hadn’t got to yet, I realised then that preparing a lightning talk was not a case of trying to fill five minutes, but rather of trying not to exceed five minutes.

When I was first approached about doing a lightning talk, I signed up with the airy confidence of someone who is signing up for something months in advance and hasn’t really thought about the implications. As it grew nearer, I became uncomfortably aware that soon, very soon, I would be standing at the front of a room attempting to keep the attention of a rather intimidating number of colleagues. As an editor, I’m no stranger to hacking and slashing things, but as we all know, it’s difficult when it’s your own work. Preparing for my lightning talk forced me to be utterly ruthless – and I actually think it was a nice little challenge in editing too. I slashed and cut and binned and tweaked until I was within the five-minute mark with a few seconds spare. I chose to use a PowerPoint presentation to give my talk some visual context (and only slightly because the thought of everyone looking only at me for five whole minutes gave me palpitations) and tried to make the tone informative but entertaining.

Of course, I needn’t have been anxious. As with everything I have done regarding the SfEP, the people were gracious, welcoming and enthusiastic. And what a superb icebreaker when the speaker before me unknowingly used a rather amusing mistake I’d let through in my former life as a newspaper chief-sub as an example of sentences with a double meaning! For the rest of the weekend, I was amazed at the number of people who went out of their way to find me and tell me how much they had enjoyed my talk (which was about my career in newspapers and the challenges of editing a large daily paper). I was also amazed by the diversity of topics discussed by the other speakers, and the different approaches and methods each speaker chose to deliver their lightning talk. One thing was consistent with all of them, though – they spoke with a passion which was infectious and genuine.

For me, doing a lightning talk was a fantastic challenge, speaking both as an editor and just in terms of character building. I won’t deny I was nervous, but the sense of accomplishment after more than made up for any nerves. I can’t wait to hear what this year’s speakers have in store for us!

Julia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke There’s always a conference session that I wish I hadn’t missed, and the first lightning talks was one. I forget why I missed it – I’m sure the session I did attend was excellent (as, of course, all SfEP conference sessions are) and maybe I thought I’d seen it all before. I’d first watched lightning talks at a writers’ conference and was struck by this miraculous resurrection of ‘death by PowerPoint’ – each slide was a photo or very short text, bringing the emphasis back to the content and making more of an impact than a string of bullet points ever could. But how would editors handle the challenge?

Well, I found out the following year when, somehow, I found myself giving such a talk and discovered it’s where the cool kids hang out. Stylishly compered by Lucy Ridout and Robin Black, it was the highlight of my weekend – after all, who could resist short, enthusiastic talks about subjects as diverse and of as much interest to editorial professionals as Barbara Pym novels, the ubiquity of Aristotle and life as a newspaper sub?

My own talk covered my disastrous attempt to learn British Sign Language (spoiler: I failed the exam). I don’t remember being nervous as it was so much fun –  more fun than learning sign language, anyway. Here’s a tip for prospective speakers: it’s amazing how fast time goes so I set each slide on a timer to avoid the talk overrunning.

Would I do it again? Certainly one day, although I’m already committed to running another session this year. But I am already looking forward to the latest crop of lightning talks, so do join me in the audience, eagerly soaking up our colleagues’ wit, skills and knowledge.


Sounds like fun?  If you’re interested in doing a talk, please email your proposed title and a one-line summary to editor@lucyridout.co.uk by 28 June. This year we’re looking for talks around the conference theme Context is key: Why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’. Or perhaps you just want to watch? That’s ok too. See you there?

Tips for fearless lightning talkers

By popular demand, lightning talks are making a comeback to conference in September. At a lightning-talk session each person speaks for five minutes, and five minutes only – there will be a timer! The talks tend to present surprisingly personal revelations and excellent advice, along with a few hilarious and blush-inducing ‘confessions’. They are received with warmth and appreciation, and a lot of laughter. What’s not to like?

In our next blog post we will be looking at how it feels to be a lightning talker and what it’s like to be in the audience [spoiler: it’s great fun]. But first, Susan Milligan offers her insight and some tips for fearless lightning talkers.

Lightning talks are snappy five-minute presentations meant to enlighten and entertain

Lightning talks are snappy five-minute presentations meant to enlighten and entertain

Why be a lightning talker?

So you’re thinking about answering the call to give a lightning talk at conference. What an excellent idea – you will make a contribution, share your knowledge or one of your passions, and rise to a challenge – and you only have to keep your audience’s attention for five minutes.

Such was my thinking when I agreed to give a lightning talk at a recent conference. And so it came about that I found myself watching with detached interest a pair of shaking hands – apparently joined to my arms and holding my postcard notes but otherwise curiously remote from my person.

I not only survived the experience – I actually quite enjoyed it. Trying out new and scary things is good for your confidence. Getting your message across within a strictly limited format is a very interesting exercise and teaches you more about concise and effective language than any number of workshops.

So here are my five tips for fearless lightning talkers:

  • Write out in advance what you are going to say. How many words do you think you can speak in five minutes? A lot less than you can read. I was surprised to find that around 850 words was my limit, unless I wanted to do an impression of an express train. Even if you are not going to read out your talk – and you’re really not – this will give you a sobering insight into how much you’re going to have to leave out.
  • Practise your talk until you are familiar with it, and time yourself so that you know you can do it in five minutes. Do this before you leave home. Don’t assume you will find time to do it in your room after you arrive – time at conferences has a habit of vanishing faster than the ice in a warm G&T.
  • Supply yourself with notes in a format that will keep you discreetly on track. I used postcards onto which I had glued the paragraphs of my talk, and I used colours for cues to change slide. Postcards are good as they don’t flap about like a sheet of paper (see trembling hands above). Don’t just rely on your memory, which on the day may leave you in the lurch and go off to a different session, and don’t rely on your slides to prompt you as this will give your brain an unnecessary extra task.
  • Speaking of slides, get in as many pictures as you can. Audiences react more to an image than to words on a screen. You can be inventive and not necessarily too literal.
  • Stand up straight, take a deep breath, look your audience in the eye and smile warmly at them. You’ve already got them on your side and you haven’t opened your mouth yet. (Except to smile.) Keep looking at them and smiling as you give your talk. You will give the impression that you are enjoying it and this will suggest itself to the audience as the natural thing for them to do too.

What, is that it over already? That really wasn’t too difficult. Now you can sit back and enjoy the rest of the talks. And the feeling that you really have achieved something today.

Susan MilliganSusan Milligan joined the SfEP in 2000. She works mainly for educational and academic publishers, academic institutions and administrative bodies. She enjoys involvement in the SfEP Glasgow group, which she helped to start up, and is a mentor in proofreading for the SfEP.

Has Susan inspired you?

If you’re interested in doing a talk, please email your proposed title and a one-line summary to editor@lucyridout.co.uk by 22 June.

SfEP blog round-up May 2017

In case you missed them, here are some of the brilliant members’ blogs published in May 2017. If you regularly publish a blog and would like your posts included in future blog round-ups please get in touch.

Our Scottish mini-conference at the beginning of May provoked a number of interesting blogs from attendees. Here they are all gathered in one place.

The SfEP Scottish mini-conference: a summary by Denise Cowle

What I’ve learned about attending editing conferences by Sophie Playle

Conference capers by Sara Donaldson

My top takeaways from the 2017 SfEP Scottish mini-conference by Jill Broom

Other interesting blogs from members last month:

Why most grammar guides suck (and where to get answers instead) by Sophie Playle

A day in the life of a freelance copy-editor and editorial project manager by Hazel Bird

Freelancer FAQs by Karen White

What is good writing? by Liz Jones

You asked; I answered: How do I become a freelance proofreader? By Louise Harnby

How to query like a superhero – 5 tips for new fiction copyeditors and proofreaders by Louise Harnby

Thinking fiction: The novel-editing roadmap I and Thinking fiction: The novel-editing roadmap II by Carolyn Haley (published by An American Editor).

OSCOLA Back to basics: Footnote shortcuts by Liz Brown

Making the most of the QAT by Hilary Cadman

Collated by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

Cocktails, superheroes and pick ’n’ mix: SfEP at the UK Blog Awards 2017

‘We are delighted to advise that your content has reached the final stage in the UK Blog Awards process as a company finalist…’

Earlier this year I was thrilled to learn that the SfEP had made the final for the 2017 UK Blog Awards. Over 2,000 blogs had been nominated this year, and the SfEP received sufficient votes to reach the final eight in the Arts and Culture category, alongside blogs by Royal Mint, English Heritage and Bodleian Libraries. As the SfEP blog relies on the support of volunteer writers, I was delighted that their contributions had been recognised and appreciated.

Finalists are invited to attend a glitzy awards ceremony in London, and I was delighted to represent the SfEP with social media volunteer Anna Nolan. Here are our recollections of the night…

Tracey

Confession: I have never been to an awards ceremony before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Reading through the #UKBA17 tag on Twitter, I learned the ceremony was sponsored by Odeon cinemas and would have a superhero theme, which only added to my curiosity!

On arrival at the Park Plaza, we joined the other attendees for nibbles and drinks. While searching for a waiter serving what looked like crispy fries (sadly, we were too late and they had all gone), we decided to participate in some of the movie-themed attractions on offer. We were transformed into Wonder Woman – including gauntlets and lightning – courtesy of Warner Bros. (apparently, I was too ‘smiley’ and didn’t snarl appropriately). The SfEP was also judged unworthy and we were unable to pull Excalibur from the stone.

When the ceremony started, the first category announced was Arts and Culture, in which the SfEP was a company finalist. Sadly, the SfEP didn’t win, and English Heritage was awarded the prize for this category. But our disappointment was short-lived (for me anyway!) as bags of free pick ’n’ mix were handed out during the break and we got to chat to other finalists, including the lovely blog team from Cancer Research UK.

The event ended with the award for best overall blogs (congratulations to Sortedfood and Bella Coco), yummy macaroons and more drinking. Tired, but happy, we headed back to the hotel to drink more of Anna’s delicious cocktail and inspect the goodie bags given to finalists. Our bags included books, phone cases, superhero lollipops, a fluffy rubber duck and a music festival survival pack. We chatted about the SfEP and other critical issues (who is better looking: Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch?), and agreed it had been a fabulous evening.

Anna

Tracey and I had been in touch a few times leading up to the event, so had booked into the same hotel. The tickets stated quite clearly, dress code: formal. Yikes! Unlike most women I know, I hate dressing up. I’m thinking it might be a common thing among editors, as working from home means we barely get out of pyjamas or tracky pants or … wait … maybe that’s just me.

We met for a pre-event cocktail in my room, discovering our mutual loathing of dressing up. Tracey recalled some of the outrageous and completely inappropriate tweets from people hashtagging the blog awards and so we prepared ourselves for a ‘young’ crowd (not that we’re not).

After a long 15-more-like-20-minute walk to the venue (yeah, thanks, Google Maps!), we took the lift to level–3 (no, not a car park) and stumbled into … a nightclub. Well, that’s what it felt like. Dimmed lights, sparkling dresses, free-flowing drinks, pumping music and a buzzy atmosphere. We didn’t arrive unfashionably early so we missed out on some of the more enticing nibbles, but lukewarm pizza sufficed. That, and a glass of Prosecco.

Odeon was the main sponsor for the evening, and photo opportunities as Wonder Woman and with Excalibur were not to be missed out on. It felt very red carpet and our timing was such that we only just managed to partake in all the fun before being ushered into the awards.

The SfEP blog was a finalist in the company category for Arts & Culture. Proceedings were swift and well rehearsed and as the alphabet would have it, Arts & Culture was first up! The company prize went to the English Heritage blog – and well deserved, indeed. They did so well, in fact, that one category wasn’t enough! They also won the Travel category and were runner-up in an Overall Content category (or something like that!). We had a good laugh at some of the blog names – see Not Dressed As Lamb and Muddy Stilettos (so much for our hatred of dressing up!).

We couldn’t possibly resist the pick ’n’ mix during the break (don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much sugar in one go!), nor the dainty cream-filled macaroons at the close of the event, but we did manage to avoid being the first on the dance floor! What a fun night!

Anna Nolan is a paediatric dietician who started her editing career in 2013, when she joined SfEP. She’s a strong advocate for SfEP, currently active on the SfEP social media team and setting up the Herts & Essex SfEP local group in January 2017.

Tracey Roberts currently works as editorial assistant for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.

There’s more to being a proofreader than the ability to spell…

To celebrate the launch of our three-level suite of proofreading training courses, the SfEP ran a competition to ask people what they had discovered about the profession of being a proofreader and why training for the role is important. Our winner is Stephen Pigney, who is making the move from academia to launching his business as a freelance proofreader. Here is Stephen’s winning entry.

Wiser now than I once was, I make this confession of former folly: for a long time I believed that proofreading required little more than the ability to spell and punctuate, a sound grasp of grammar and a hawkish eye for detail. A text, a red pen (most likely of a metaphorical and digital kind) and someone reading and correcting the text: this was the image my mind conjured up of proofreading. The process was, I supposed, simultaneously interesting and mechanical. Perhaps it is natural to imagine unfamiliar professions in simple ways; no doubt many consider an aptitude for quick thinking and persuasive argument sufficient to make a lawyer. If such misconceptions encourage ventures into a profession, then they are not without merit. We all have to begin somewhere, and simple-minded confidence is not the worst place to start. So it was that, self-assured about my abilities and knowledge, I forayed into proofreading – and soon learned that I knew far less than I had imagined.

Fill the gaps in your proofreading skills with a course by the SfEP

Fill the gaps in your proofreading skills and knowledge on one of the SfEP’s respected courses

I discovered that there is more to proofreading than meets the eye. I had been mistaken to think only of a proofreader’s relationship with a text, for I had missed how the proofreader stands at a crucial intersection between different people. The eyes of a hawk are not enough; the proofreader needs to see a text as an author, a typesetter, a publisher or a reader sees it. Proofreading is a delicate art of facilitating communication; it consists of honouring and respecting an author’s voice, a typesetter’s skills, a publisher’s vision and a reader’s needs; it requires precision, judgment, tact and informed understanding. Texts are complex artefacts, embodying language, ideas, creativity, design, meaning and (frequently) commercial intention – and this is before they take on life in the hands and minds of their readers. In the process that begins with an idea and ends with a publication, the proofreader has, perhaps uniquely, both an intimate relationship with the text and a connection with each interested party. Yet – and this too must be learned – the ideal proofreader must strive for invisibility: proofreading is noticed not when it is done well, but when it is done ineptly or badly.

‘…proofreading is noticed not when it is done well, but when it is done ineptly or badly.’

There has been much more I have learned: how to follow a brief; how to mark a text; how to work with various formats; how (and when) to raise a query; how to use style guides. I became familiar with numerous resources and how to utilise them; I became acquainted with typographical and publishing conventions, with workflow, schedules and project management, and with the role played by budgets and timescales. And I learned how different texts have varying requirements and present distinct challenges. A marketing brochure, a retailer’s catalogue, a local newsletter, a scholarly monograph, an illustrated book, a blog post, a glossy magazine feature, a novel – all have their own characteristics, demands and potential complications.

A gradual accumulation of experience has contributed to my growing knowledge. Above all, however, I have benefited from training. Good training (such as that offered by the SfEP or PTC, with their extensive resources, expert tutors and industry recognition) is about professionalisation. I did not so much learn this as have it confirmed: fortunately, when I set out to establish myself as an editor and proofreader, I had the good sense to put training at the heart of my plan. It was through training that my understanding of the proofreader’s role deepened; it was through training that I learned skills and best practice; and it was through training that I became familiar with a wider range of texts than I would have encountered through practice alone.

Acquiring, improving and reinforcing skills and knowledge is reason enough for my professional vision to focus on training – especially given the rapidly changing and digitally evolving world of writing and publishing. But there is much more to training than this. To join a training programme is to connect to a body of knowledge, practice and experience; it is a gateway to recognition, status and a community. It is also about building and strengthening self-confidence. As a freelance proofreader, endeavouring to manage and grow my business from scratch, robust training has given me the confidence that I can develop the skills, expertise and flexibility necessary to enhance my reputation, market myself successfully and, most importantly, provide an exceptional proofreading service. This is why training has been and will remain important to me: it constitutes the fertile foundation from which my business can flourish and my practice can excel.

Stephen PigneyStephen Pigney is a former (although still part-time) academic historian. After many years of occasional proofreading and editorial work, in 2017 he set up his full-time editorial business (stephenpigneyeditor.com). As well as editing, he enjoys thinking and writing about many topics, and even pens occasional fiction. He is based in London.

 

Posted by Margaret Hunter, marketing and PR director

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

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Introducing the Liverpool SfEP group

When I began freelance editing, in 2008, I was living in West Yorkshire, and I benefited greatly from attending meetings of the West Yorkshire SfEP group, run by the ever helpful Helen Stevens. A couple of years later I moved back to my home town of Liverpool and continued freelancing, steadily building up my business.

Early in 2016, I decided I could definitely use more face-to-face contact with other editors. Participating in online forums and social media groups can be very informative (and that alone has helped me avoid becoming too insular in my working practices), but of course it doesn’t offer real live human interaction or, crucially, help me keep my weekly screen time from escalating.


Setting the group up

So, with support from the SfEP team, I set up the Liverpool SfEP group and put the word out. Our first meeting took place in May 2016, so we are coming up to our first anniversary as I write. We meet every other month for a couple of hours, and all our recent meetings have been at The Pen Factory on Hope Street, which tends to be quiet enough in the afternoons for our purposes.

The membership map had initially suggested that any group in this area would be small: very few SfEP members were listed within ten or twenty miles of Liverpool city centre. However, since the group has existed, I have heard from over a dozen people, most of whom have now attended at least one meeting. Many of these were non-members who have since become or are planning to become SfEP members. This shows that it can still be worth starting a local group in an area that has few SfEP members at present.

The coordinator’s role

I said from the start that I intended to keep my coordinating role as simple as possible – I wanted solidarity, friendly company and discussion of good practice, not a lot of extra admin! Even with our expanded numbers, it has been possible to keep the work of coordinating the group to a minimum, thanks largely to help from group member Graham Hughes (he coordinates another local group and he supplied me with a helpful spreadsheet on which to record attendance and meeting content) and also the SfEP team members with responsibility for tech, community support and communications. Plus, in time it might be appropriate for others to take over the coordination of our local group for a while, to spread the admin load and keep the group dynamic fresh.

My core tasks:

  • keeping records of members’ contact details and attendance
  • sending an email reminder the week before each meeting
  • writing up a few notes from each meeting, including the date of the next one; posting them to the Liverpool group thread on the SfEP forum; and emailing them to the group
  • sending meeting dates to the SfEP community director
  • responding to enquiries from potential new members.

Additional tasks sometimes arise, such as liaising with other local coordinators about setting up local SfEP training.

How our meetings work

We pick a topic ahead of each meeting, and on the day, following greetings and introductions, we just run with it. On this basis, meeting structure seems to take care of itself, and we’ve had useful discussions every time we’ve met, which is to the credit of all our members. So far we’ve discussed training, the SfEP conference, websites, social media and pricing.

At the moment we have quite a high proportion of members who are fairly or completely new to editing. As they gain experience, and as further newbies join, this balance will fluctuate. Whatever the group profile, every member has a contribution to make, whether it’s a good tip or a good question. I know I benefit from revisiting even those aspects of the job I thought I was fairly familiar with by now, because it helps me understand where I can overhaul my current practices or take a different approach altogether.

What our members say

Because a group necessarily offers many perspectives, I asked our members to comment on their experiences in the group so far, so at this point I’ll hand over to them. And I look forward to seeing as many of our members as possible at our first-anniversary meeting in May.

I admit that I had doubts about whether a Liverpool SfEP group could really get going, judging by the membership map, but it’s working out very nicely. Each local group has its own character (I’ve been in two others), and one thing that stands out about this group is that because we spend most of the meeting talking about one topic, we go into that topic in plenty of depth, with lots of thoughts, tips and ideas coming out. I come away from every meeting with some things to think about and work on.

Graham Hughes

As someone who is brand new to proofreading, this group has been invaluable to me. I leave each meeting full of ideas and ways to improve my working practice. What I find particularly useful is having a range of experience in the group, from experienced veterans to others starting out just like me. Covering a different topic each time is particularly useful and personally I appreciated the discussions about websites and pricing. I leave each meeting with a list of actions for myself and a renewed sense of enthusiasm, which is important when starting out and there is not much work coming in. I have been signposted to resources and training courses, given marketing ideas and encouraged by the success of others. Above all, the most important thing I take from being a member of the group is having colleagues who understand and know what this job is like.

Carol Jennions

Having a group in Liverpool is extremely handy for me as I’m local. There is usually a specific topic that we concentrate on for each meeting, which allows for an in-depth discussion, and because the mix of people ranges from seasoned editors to total beginners, the conversations manage to cover all the angles!

I am still at the very early stages of developing my business and every time I go to the meet-ups I feel encouraged to keep plugging away and know that I’m not alone in the field.

Rita Mistry

Even having only attended one meeting so far, I’m confident that it’s a very useful resource. The group itself is an excellent forum for sharing and developing professional skills and resources, from qualifications and industry developments to tips on how to set and negotiate rates and fees. Being relatively new to the world of editing and proofreading, it was quite beneficial to meet such a variety of people in varying positions in the field and realise how much commonality and overlap there is. The Liverpool group is already excellent for networking and cooperation, and as it grows, the opportunities can only become more fruitful and interesting. In future, considering how important clear and distinct communication is in all media, especially written, anything the SfEP can do to promote the industry and develop the people in it is in the best interest of all parties.

Damian Good

After I left my job in education I searched the internet for information about freelance proofreading, as I thought this would fit in with what I wanted to do. I found the SfEP and was pleased to find that the local group was nearby. At that time I was attending business courses in Liverpool to learn about being a sole trader, but, not meeting any other proofreaders there, I looked forward to the first SfEP meeting. Forums and blogs seemed to be full of warnings about how long it takes to get established as a freelancer, but I didn’t want that to put me off, so it was really important to talk to some proofreaders face to face.

I set off with some trepidation, worried that I might be seen as an imposter, but I quickly felt reassured as I was welcomed into the group. Everyone was very generous about sharing their knowledge and experiences, and I came away feeling positive about my new venture.

I have been to three meetings now and at each one there have been new additions to the group, some of them people like me who are just starting out. There is always a lot to learn and to take away from the afternoon, especially, at this stage of my career, the encouragement from talking to other proofreaders.

Caroline Barden

The SfEP local meeting has been a really useful and enjoyable event for me. The discussions we’ve had so far have been relevant and beneficial.

It has been better than expected, and I’m definitely going to make time to go to as many meetings as possible. Getting to know other local editors has been great from a social point of view. The meet-up is easy for me to get to, and I look forward to it each time, from a social and work point of view.

I hope to keep sharing knowledge as it’s always interesting and useful to see how other people approach their work.

Johanna Robinson

I have found my local SfEP group meetings to be invaluable. It is so nice to be able to pick other people’s brains about freelance or editorial matters, no matter how big or small. The group is very friendly, welcoming and informative, and I always come away feeling motivated and a little more knowledgeable!

Michelle Burgess

Sally Moss has been a freelance editor and copywriter since 2008. She works for a range of clients, including academics, businesses and third sector organisations. She recently expanded her services to include research and social media delivery, and she is always keen to take on innovative projects, especially any connected to cultural shift for sustainability and social justice.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

SfEP wise owls: working with independent authors

Freelance editors work with a range of clients, including publishers and individuals looking to  publish their own work. This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls provide advice on how to get the most from working with independent authors.

Liz Jones

Independent authors might not know as much about the ideal publishing process or typical editing workflows as some other clients. Be prepared to take more of a lead in helping them assess what they need, and explaining your services so they understand how you can help them and the value you offer. This can be interesting and rewarding work, but make sure you factor in the extra hand-holding time when you quote, and bear in mind that commonly understood labels for levels of editing won’t necessarily apply. You also have a responsibility: it’s fine to upsell your services, but make sure the author understands what you can actually provide as their editor – and what you can’t. Brilliant proofreading will never turn a badly written or boring book into a bestseller.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Carefully explain exactly what service you will provide and always, always get authors to sign a contract (or agree to a set of terms and conditions). Independent authors are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with ‘standard’ working practices in publishing, so it’s important to be clear about the terms of the service you’re providing. It’s rare for relations between client and editor to sour such that legal action becomes a possibility, but a quick perusal of some of the major editing-related forums shows that it does happen, so it makes sense to take basic precautions. The SfEP has a set of model terms and conditions and there are various sample contracts available through other sites.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Working with independent authors can involve more hand-holding about the publishing process. Some will have done lots of research, joined supportive writers’ groups, become a member of ALLi, sussed out exactly which Amazon deal to go for and come to you knowing exactly what they need you to do. But more often than not (in my experience) they don’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing: they may have the makings of a pretty good book or document, but just not know how to get to the final output. It can be very rewarding helping an author through the various steps to publication.

Communication is crucial here. Authors may not ask for what their work actually needs (they usually ask for proofreading), so you need to be very clear from the start about what you can do, what you will do – and what you can’t or won’t. Some authors will keep coming back to you with lots of questions, not just about the text but about the publishing process itself. Do I need an ISBN for my ebook as well as the print one? Where can I find a cover designer? I’m listing my book on Amazon but it’s asking me about BISAC categories and DRM options – what do I put? It’s worth knowing the answers yourself or building up a bank of stock replies with useful links to where your authors can find out. Or, of course, pointing them to SfEP colleagues or the Directory for other services.

Set up good working practices that put you in control, with clear instructions on how the author can see your changes, accept them if required, make further edits or add text. Because there is no intermediary, the author must answer all queries and take all decisions. Inevitably there is a great temptation to keep on tinkering with the text. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself having to deal with changes made in different ways in different files. State clearly how much time is included in the fee for taking in amendments after you return the initial edit (from none to negotiating a further fee if it goes over X). And always cost in a second pass anyway.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Novice independent authors are unlikely to be speaking the same language as you – so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you understand each other. It’s not enough to agree a brief; you’ll need to make sure that your client actually understands what it means in practice. What do they mean by ‘proofreading’? Probably copy-editing, sometimes developmental editing. Sometimes proofreading! How will they take your critique or queries? As if you tortured and murdered their literary baby, or as help towards making that self-same baby ready to meet the world? Explain your process in lay terms and check your client has understood. A mismatch between their expectation and your actuality can be painful and time-consuming.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

When working with independent authors, the initial negotiations are key to establishing a mutual understanding of what will be involved because you can’t assume they will know the different terms we editors use and what they entail. I prefer to show as well as explain, and I usually edit a short sample so they know what to expect from me. How the person conducts themselves in these first interactions is also a clue to what they will be like to work with, and it’s sometimes possible to spot a red flag and steer away if need be.

Which brings me on to one potential downside of working with independent authors: it’s harder to verify an individual. If a publisher or a company contacts you, it is relatively easy to check them out to see if they are a legitimate enterprise and to form a judgement about whether it is ‘safe’ to work with them. This is more tricky with an independent author. They might have an author page or a Facebook profile, but many don’t, and there is really no way of assuring yourself that they are who they say they are and that you will be paid. To guard against this to some extent, I ask for a proportion of the total estimated fee in advance. In fact, I’ve found that, in any case, it’s good to be flexible about payment arrangements. An indie author may not have the funds to pay the whole fee at once, and offering payment in instalments helps ease the pain for them. All that said, in my experience, independent authors pay quickly and happily.

Indie authors have been a source of constant surprise and pleasure, chocolates, flowers, and personalised drawings, and even a few gardening tips. I love ’em!

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

Five reasons I’m a fan of the Judith Butcher Award

Nominations are now being sought for this year’s Judith Butcher Award (JBA), but what’s it all about? OK – cards on the table: I was the proud recipient of the JBA in 2013 for my work on social media. Perhaps that means I’m slightly biased. But it also means that I can give you a very personal take on this annual celebration of exceptional contributions to the community that is the SfEP.

Official recognition

I was proud to have my efforts officially recognised, epecially as it meant that my name would appear in the same sentence as Judith Butcher’s!

I joined the SfEP in 1997, but it was only when I became a marketing and PR volunteer in 2009 that I really started to appreciate just how much valuable work goes on behind the scenes, and how much the Society’s volunteers contribute to the running of the organisation. When I became a director in 2010, I relied on the help of such individuals, particularly when our social media activities started to expand and we needed a team of people to keep the show running.

The fact that I’d seen how much work went on behind the SfEP scenes made me all the more pleased to have this official recognition.

Nominated by peers

One aspect of the award that makes it very special is that nominations come from one’s colleagues within the Society.

Although many of the people who are involved in running the SfEP do so out of sight of most of their fellow members, I’m sure we can all think of individuals who’ve contributed, perhaps on the forums, on a particular project, in our local group or in a more public sphere.

I can tell you that having one’s efforts noticed and appreciated by colleagues is a very lovely feeling indeed, and I’d encourage everyone to think hard to see if they can call to mind someone who’s impressed them and ought to be recognised.

Social media

In the past, not all members saw the value in the SfEP being involved in social media, so I was really pleased that my JBA was awarded ‘for significantly raising the national and international profile of the SfEP, and the work of editors and proofreaders in general’ through my voluntary work on social media.

I believe social media has played a significant role in promoting the SfEP, and it was heartening that the JBA recognised this.

Team effort

When I was awarded the JBA, I felt that it was a reflection of the efforts of all those who had contributed behind the scenes to these activities. Although I couldn’t share the award with all those who had helped, it did make me appreciate their support, dedication and commitment. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

Book token

And now I have a confession to make: for many years I didn’t actually have my own copy of Butcher’s Copy-editing. I know, right? So when I won the JBA I decided to use the book token prize to buy myself a copy. It just seemed like the right thing to do (and it is an invaluable resource).

So please do get your thinking cap on and consider nominating someone who has:

  • made a clearly identifiable and valuable difference to the way the SfEP is run, and/or
  • carried through a specific project that has been of particular value to the SfEP and/or its members.

See the full rules here, but note that this year the timetable will differ from the one described on our website. Please email nominations to jba@sfep.org.uk by 12 noon on Friday 5 May 2017.

 

Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys playing Scrabble and walking, though not at the same time. Saltaire Editorial Services

 

 

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

So, what is editorial excellence…? We asked visitors to London Book Fair 2017 to tell us.

The whirlwind that is London Book Fair is over for another year. We are very grateful to LBF for again giving us the opportunity to exhibit at the fair. We wanted not only to spread the word about the SfEP in general, but also to push our message that editing does matter. Which raises the question of what good editing looks like.

We ran a competition* inviting fair attendees to tell us what ‘editorial excellence’ means to them. We had a mixed bag of responses, but with some common themes. Here are some of them:

Do you agree with them all? It’s interesting to note that entries from some of the publishing students and those newer to the profession have a common theme of ‘going above and beyond’ and producing error-free work, whereas those from more experienced hands focus on retaining the author’s voice and balancing the demands of the process.

Perhaps that experience is telling. Learning how to be a good editor takes time. It very much involves acquiring and nourishing our sense of what and when not to change. As editors and proofreaders, we all want our work to be error-free (and cringe when we let through a blooper), but what would ‘perfection’ look like? Often one person’s notion of what is ‘right’ is quite different from another’s. Our job, perhaps, is not to impose our picture of perfection but to get to know what our client’s picture looks like.

Ian Howe presented a seminar for us called ‘Editing matters – doesn’t it?’ This was met with great enthusiasm by a packed room. He gave us some good examples of when not to change, proving that there’s more to editing and proofreading than just knowing the ‘rules’ of grammar and being able to spot typos. To apostrophe or not to apostrophe, that was the question. (The answer is yes if it’s King’s Cross, but no if it’s Barons Court. You just have to know that. Or know when to look something up.)

It’s a tricky business this editing malarkey, isn’t it? It’s just these sorts of questions that we’ll be exploring further at our annual conference from 16–18 September, Context is key: Why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’. Booking is open now, and there’s an early-bird rate until 28 April. But don’t ponder too long – our conference places usually sell out fast!

*Congratulations to Sophie Eminson, whose name was drawn as the winner from our competition entries. She wins a complete set of SfEP guides.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is the marketing and PR director of the SfEP. She works as an editor and proofreader as Daisy Editorial, and particularly likes helping independent authors with business guides, memoirs and general non-fiction. She loves taming Word’s styles and templates.

 

Social media round-up March 2017

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links and members’ blogs shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in March.

Members’ blogs

How to write great characters by Sophie Playle

Plagiarism: how to spot it and what to do about it by Hazel Bird

The highs and lows of editorial fees (or how not to trip up during rate talk) by Louise Harnby

Fact checking – vital or a waste of time? by Sara Donaldson

What are the types of transcription? by Liz Dexter

The business of editing: a page is a page – or is it? by Richard Adin

London Book Fair 2017 by Catherine Dunn

5 tips to reduce stress and boost productivity by John Espirian

Social media

5 ways to break the vicious circle of newbies

Is writer’s block a real thing, or just a figment of the imagination?

Tracing the birth of words: from ‘open’ to ‘heffalump’

I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)

How to print dyslexia friendly books – and why

13 kinds of grammar trolls we love to hate

What’s logical about English?

Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator