Alphabetti spaghetti

Recently in our forums, Ally Oakes started a thread called Alphabetti Spaghetti, in which she began an alphabetical list of all the things we get from the forums. Others were quick to take up the challenge.

Why do we love the SfEP forums? Let us list the ways:

Advice, Answers and Anchorage

Buddies Bending over Backwards and Bringing things to our notice before we know we need them

Conference and Colleagueship, Cheese and Chocolate (not exactly provided by the forums, but our Collective Cravings make them all the more delicious)

Detective-work and some Dastardly Discussions

Encyclopaedic Expertise from Experienced practitioners

Friendship, Finding true gems, Functioning/ality and Furthering Freelancing

Graciousness, Gratefulness and Getting over ourselves when we’re bothered about something

Honesty, Humour and Helpfulness

Intriguing questions, Informed answers and occasional Impertinent suggestions

Jokes and Jocular observations

Knowledge (limitless) and Know-it-allness (occasional)

Love for our fellow-editors and Links to relevant topics

Mentors, Moral support, Management skills and Macro solutions to Minor problems

Nurturing and Networks for Nervous Newbies

Openness and Organisation, support of and helping with

Practical exPlanations, Proving the Pudding and Patient aPpraisal

Quick replies to Queries and Questions

Rapid Reassurance, Reinforcement and Real-life problems and solutions

Solidarity and Straightforward Support

Teamwork, Team spirit and Tangential Trains of Thought

Unstinting Über-Unselfishness

Valuable Validation and Varying Voluminousness

Wisdom, Wildcards and Wonderful Words

X-ray vision, eXplanations and all-round eXcellence

Yakkedy-yak-yak-yak (occasional) and Youthful enthusiasm shared with old-timers

Zip-files or oZalids, Ziggurats or Zoology – whatever your query, there’ll be an expert in the field.

And so, with zeal, zest and zing we continue to read and contribute to the forums. Thanks all!

Especial thanks to fellow-contributors – in first name reverse alphabetical order for a change (one of whom was ‘just crossing the Atlantic’ while contributing):

Sue Browning, Sabine Citron, Ruth Lewis, Priscilla Balkwill, Philippa Tomlinson, Michelle Bullock, Margaret Aherne, Lucy Metzger, John Firth, Guy Manners, Beth Hamer, Ayesha Chari, Anna Nolan and Alison Shakspeare

Ally OakesAlly Oakes

Precision, punctuality and a passion for clients’ words. These are all in the pot that is Oak Proofreading. Add many spoonfuls of focus, a large tub of knowledge from training and experience, and an overflowing ladle of SfEP wisdom-sharing. Season generously with great client-communication – and there’s a pot of Ally’s proofreading curry.


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

Round-up of blogs published by SfEP members

Many SfEP members share valuable professional advice in their personal blogs. We have collated our favourite recent blog posts below, covering a range of topics, including setting business goals for the new year, and advice on self-publishing, writing and social media.

If you currently publish a blog on your business website and would like to contribute to a future round-up, please contact our blog coordinator, Tracey Roberts.

Year in review and goals for 2018 by Sophie Playle

The long haul by Liz Jones

A year in review and looking ahead by Katherine Trail

End of year reflections of an editor and writer by Sara Donaldson

2017: an end of year review by Liz Brown

Forget the resolutions – 5 New Year practices for proofreaders and copy editors to help the working day go with a swing by Alexa Tewkesbury

Why editors are like actors by Melanie Thompson

How to write a synopsis by Sophie Playle

What should I write in my first blog post? By Liz Dexter

Consistency matters in business writing: developing and individual style guide by Howard Walwyn

On the basics: so you want to be a blogger? By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (An American Editor)

Process flow for a manuscript by Kate Haigh

LinkedIn: how to improve engagement in 2018 by John Espirian

Preparing for self-publishing: how to get started by Catherine Dunn

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

Upgrading your SfEP membership: Advanced Professional

If upgrading your SfEP membership is a career goal for 2018, it can be daunting to begin the application procedure. But members who have successfully upgraded their membership can be a source of valuable advice on how to prepare your application.

To help, the blog team will be publishing a series of posts on applying to upgrade your membership, beginning with advice on achieving Advanced Professional Membership.

Toby Selwyn

My overriding impression of the upgrade process was how incredibly easy it was. In part this was because I had upgraded to Professional Membership around eighteen months before; since the information I provided for that application was transferred directly to this one, there was no need to resupply it. The online system is easy to use, mostly very intuitive, and inputting the new information took less than an hour.

The one unintuitive element of the process was how to indicate that my Professional application needed to be carried forward, as there is no obvious place to include its reference number as requested. An email to the office resolved that quickly, but it would be useful if it could be made clearer within the system itself.

In terms of building up the upgrade requirements, my only concern was the 100 hours of work that need to have been completed with a client for them to be allowed as a referee. As a fiction editor, I work primarily with independent authors, usually on one-off projects; within the last two years, I have only gained 100 hours’ work with one author. Fortunately, I did have enough experience with my few publisher clients to make up for it, but this requirement could be problematic for editors who specialise in working with indies.

Overall, the process was straightforward, and the office staff were very quick to help when needed. I would strongly advise anyone considering upgrading to go for it.

Catherine Hanley

To be honest, I’d always thought of Advanced Professional Membership as some kind of semi-mythical grade that wasn’t for the likes of me. But, I thought, have I reached the stage where I could at least check the requirements?

I’m glad I did: now I knew exactly what I needed to do, and that I wasn’t as far off as I’d feared. And I was reminded that perhaps I hadn’t been quite as assiduous as I could have been in keeping my CPD up to date and in logging all the hours I’d spent on each job. Sure, I’d done some training courses, but how many of them were recent? And yes, of course I’d been sending out invoices, but had I kept a separate record of the hours worked? Ah.

I went back through every filed invoice and every job I’d done professionally, dividing them into ‘work for publishers’ and ‘work for non-publishers’, then started a spreadsheet to log the invoice date, the client and the hours worked. Bingo: I knew I’d done a lot of work over the years, and it turned out I had enough experience. I was then able to email contacts at regular clients with exact figures on the work I’d done for them over the years – would they mind being a referee? They agreed.

Next, training. Not enough in the last three years, but now I knew where the gaps in my work experience were, I could find a relevant course. Living as I do in the middle of nowhere, the variety of online choices was a godsend. I confess I started off with upgrade points in mind, but the course I chose was one I should have done anyway, so I’m glad I had the incentive – and I picked up a number of tips and techniques that have been very helpful in subsequent work.

Finally, after several months, the online SfEP upgrade form. There it was. But it was laid out very logically, and with the correct information to hand, it was easier than I expected to fill in. I was delighted when I was informed that my upgrade had been successful. Tea and new business cards to celebrate!

If I had any tips, they would be: organise your record keeping as you go along, so you don’t have to spend time checking back through everything. Oh, and keep your training up to date, whether you’re applying for an upgrade or not!

Michelle McFadden

I did it. Finally. And it only took me about ten years.

I had been an Entry-Level Member (previously an Associate) of SfEP since the late noughties and my incomplete PTC Basic Proofreading course had been around for almost as long. I would start work on it and then other things would intrude: good things like parenting, holidays and work. I have interspersed freelance work with challenging in-house positions that provided training, structure and collegial feedback. The motivation to finish the course diminished as time went on.

In-house work and freelance editorial project management provided me with all of the hours of experience that I needed to upgrade. The truth is that my in-house training may have been enough for my upgrade application, but I’m too stubborn to have even investigated that possibility.

With the encouragement of my edibuddy accountability group, I finally completed the PTC course to give me those all-important training points. I procrastinated when it came to completing my upgrade application form, but I shouldn’t have; it was easy and straightforward and took a surprisingly short amount of time.

So now I have the assurance that my years of experience are now complemented by SfEP Advanced Professional status (which can only improve my position when pitching to clients). As the organisation moves towards chartership, I believe that will become increasingly important. I haven’t had my directory entry long enough to have experienced an increase in client approaches, but I do have a deep sense of satisfaction that something that has been on my to-do list for a very long time has now been achieved. And that feels good.

Hugh Jackson

Over my two and a half years as a member of the SfEP, I’ve now done the full circuit of the four main membership grades, and thus done the upgrade procedure three times. My latest upgrade was in June 2017 to Advanced Professional Membership, giving me a shiny gold badge on my directory entry and an email address.

Upgrading is so much easier with careful record-keeping. Right from the start I’ve kept a spreadsheet of everything I edit, even the tiniest project. As well as being invaluable for performance reviews and marketing, this record made the process much easier. My records told me to the minute how much relevant experience I had for each membership grade, along with the dates and lengths of each project and whether they were copy-editing or proofreading, all things that are necessary for the experience section of the upgrade form. Because it was all there, I simply deleted unnecessary columns and uploaded the spreadsheet with my upgrade form.

I also had PDF copies of CPD certificates saved on my computer that I could upload for the training requirement, and I asked my favourite clients whether they’d be able to give a reference (as one referee was a non-publisher, I also had to do the Basic Editorial Test).

The process is really straightforward and far quicker than expected: mine took just three days from application to approval. When I had a question (whether a reference from a previous update could be used for this one – it can), the office staff were quick and helpful as always. Remember, if you’ve upgraded in the past, you’ll have been emailed a copy of your last upgrade application, so you can copy bits from that.

John Espirian

I suspect most people who are asked about upgrading to Advanced Professional Membership will say the same thing:

“I wish I’d done it sooner.”

“The process was much easier than I thought it would be.”

“Don’t delay.”

All of the above are true for me. I delayed my upgrade attempt for well over a year, always putting it off with thoughts about not having enough upgrade points or not having enough time to get through pages and pages of the application process.

Eventually, I decided to sit down one afternoon to draw together all of the sources that would contribute to my upgrade application and then to make a start on the upgrade form. I thought if I could put in a couple of hours, that would at least break the ice and I’d be more likely to get the whole thing done sooner or later.

Needless to say, I was kicking myself when after a couple of hours I’d done all the data gathering AND completed the upgrade form in its entirety. It was all so quick that I had to double-check that I hadn’t missed something major. Why hadn’t I done it earlier?

I was impressed at how efficient the office were in processing my application, and the good news about my APM status was confirmed within three weeks.

I’d encourage anyone on the fence about upgrading to set aside a few hours and get it done. It’s really not as scary as you might think.

A word about anonymity

To ensure complete fairness, all upgrades are completely anonymous. After being processed by the staff in the office to remove all identifying information, they are passed to the Admissions Panel, whose identities are also secret – not known even to Council members. In order to maintain this anonymity,  we ask you not to discuss your upgrade application in places where members of the Panel might see it. In practice this means on the forums, in local groups and on social media. We are of course always delighted to see members taking their professional development seriously, so by all means celebrate your success in those channels once it has been confirmed. We share your excitement and sense of achievement.

Wise owls: freelance business goals for 2018

This month, the SfEP wise owls share their tips for setting realistic goals that match your individual ambitions, and consider how small changes can have a big impact on your career in 2018.

Being motivated to set goals to boost your career in the new year can be difficult. Many feel compelled to set over-ambitious resolutions to make this THE year they achieve a high-flying freelance career, regardless of their personal circumstances or goals. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the expectation of planning for the new year, don’t worry, the SfEP parliament is here to help.

Sue Browning

Sue Browning

Around the turn of any new year there’s always a plethora of advice on reviewing the year just past and setting goals for a brave new you in the year to come. And it’s always good to take stock and review what worked for you and what didn’t, what you enjoyed and would like to do more of, and what you never want to do again. It’s also good to review your fees, check out software and other tools, and look over your processes and see if they can be streamlined.

I’m going to say something heretical now. I’m not much of a one for setting goals and, with a few exceptions (CPD, holidays), I don’t make hard plans. Instead I try to make incremental changes in my behaviour that work towards increasing my overall efficiency and enjoyment of my job and life as a whole. The thing with incremental changes is that they are achievable and sustainable; the ambitious goals one tends to set under the influence of inspirational advice quite often turn out to be neither of these.

So why not resolve to learn some (more) keyboard short cuts – not just for Word, but for Windows/OS, your email client, Acrobat/PDF-XChange. Start with maybe one or two of the commands you use most frequently, learn or make short cuts and use them until they become second nature, then learn another one or two. Do the same with Find & Replace commands and maybe macros. Start simple and work up. If you do this regularly, you will soon accumulate a good arsenal of tools and techniques, you’ll be more efficient and your mouse-clicking finger will thank you.

Many of us will have just paid our tax bill, so it’s also a good time to start planning for the next one. If you can, consider setting a percentage of your earnings aside every month so next January (or July, if you’re in that bracket) isn’t such a worry. Put it in a high-interest account and try to forget about it. If you can afford it, also put some money aside longer term, to help tide you over those times when you are ill, or even as something for your retirement.

Hazel Bird

Hazel Bird

My suggestion for setting New Year business goals is to make this an opportunity to really focus on the one, two or perhaps three things you want to do with your business this year, or maybe improve on from last year. It’s all too tempting to look at all the interesting courses, self-development and business development ideas out there and want to do all of them. However, by spending some time thinking about what you want your business to look like by Christmas 2018, drilling down to find the key actions that are most likely to get you there, and then making sure you actually have time to carry out those actions, you’ll be more likely to see some real results from your efforts.


 Abi Saffrey

Abi Saffrey

Setting goals when you run your own business can be harder than doing it as an employee – there isn’t anyone else looking at the bigger picture for you. You’re the strategist, the business development manager, the marketing master, the holder of the purse strings and the person who has to make the results happen.

Whatever goals you set, consider how you are going to achieve them, by when and, just as importantly, why you want to achieve them. The hardest goals to meet will be the ones that are there just for the sake of having goals.

Break goals down into what you need to do to achieve them: your income won’t rise, your costs won’t fall, your skills won’t stay relevant, you won’t have a new service to market if you sit around waiting for some magical, mystical external force to make it happen.

Whatever goals and actions you decide on, there should be some training or CPD in there – it might be to learn a new skill, refresh or improve an existing one, or deepen relevant knowledge. You don’t know what you don’t know, and even training that revisits what you already know will keep you and your business on track.

Review your progress against your goals regularly – put reminders in your diary – and it’s okay to revise them, add to them or get rid of them if you realise they aren’t working for you or your priorities change. Keep records on progress or changes so that you can monitor your actions and decisions – and it’ll help you to keep the things out of your next set of goals that, it turned out, gave you nightmares.

Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford

Starting the year with a blank sheet of paper for your business new-year resolutions can be a bit daunting, but don’t overwhelm yourself with an impossible wishlist, or the feeling that this year you Must Be Perfect. Who needs that stress? Just aim to be better in some areas.

Review your financial records and decide on a training and development budget and an income goal, and think about what training you want to undertake. What do you need to upgrade? What do you need to fill in gaps in your knowledge or to consolidate what you already know and boost your confidence? What do you need to keep abreast of new developments in publishing or to add a new service to your offering? Must it be paid-for training with a certificate at the end, or are there YouTube tutorials you can do? Can you afford it this year, or can you at least save some money towards it, and do the training in 2019?

Think carefully about timing for best results. If you’re looking to expand your client base and one of your selling points is that you’re available throughout the summer, start cold-calling/writing two or three months before the main holiday period when many clients are wondering how they’re going to cope with their freelances taking time off.

Are there any clients you need to fire, who pay too little, or are more trouble than they’re worth? Make time to find and work for new, better clients.

Do you want to engage more fully with the SfEP? Do you have the capacity to volunteer? Or do you want to go to your local group meetings consistently? Perhaps your resolution will be to read all the SfEP emails and see what the Society is hoping its members will help with.

Maybe you have a hitlist of little niggles – procedures you want to nail down, documentation and templates you want to develop, a Word hack you want to find. Log them and tackle them.

Scatter your resolutions through the year – don’t try to start everything at once. And put review points in your diary when you’ll evaluate how much you’ve already achieved and decide the next steps. Resolutions are for life, not just for January.

John Espirian

For those new to the editorial profession, the best place to start is by taking good quality training. Without this, most people will lack the skill and confidence to do a good job for their clients. Thorough training should be a minimum requirement – so put that top of your agenda if you’re just starting out.

My goals for business success in 2018 are based on improving my marketing so that I can be better known in my space. That means continuing to post relevant and helpful content on my blog and looking for opportunities to enhance my profile via other streams.

One method I like is to appear as a guest on podcasts, as this is a quick and easy way to introduce yourself to new audiences. I’m aiming to make it on to 10 podcasts this year.

I’ve also decided to dedicate a little more time to in-person networking, so will be attending three conferences in 2018, including the SfEP’s annual conference at Lancaster University in September.

Liz Jones

I find it helps to have a clear understanding of where I’m at to see where I want to take things in the future. It’s worth spending some time analysing your business to find the answers to questions like ‘where does my income come from?’ (by client and by sector), ‘which clients pay best?’ (and worst) and ‘what do I spend most of my time doing?’. I did this last year, and the answers were illuminating – and in some cases quite surprising. Finding out what was really happening in my business enabled me to make some big decisions about who I wanted to keep working with, who I didn’t, and the type of work I wanted to spend most of my time doing. As a result I’ve streamlined the types of work I take on, but increased my income, and have also found time for creative pursuits on the side. Without taking the time to understand at a very detailed level what was happening in my business, I might not have felt able to make such changes for the better.


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

Wise owls on editing non-fiction

Non-fiction covers a vast array of topics, including music, psychology, architecture, science, and memoirs, and new editors may find learning and following the conventions of non-fiction daunting. Editors will be asked to work with authors who are experts in their chosen field, and you will need to (tactfully!) help them bring structure to their work as they share their extensive knowledge with their audience.

This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls share their experience of editing non-fiction, including tips on references and style guides, and working efficiently to meet clients’ needs for consistency within an often limited budget.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Learn to love references, in all their multifarious glory. I get great satisfaction from making a clean and orderly references list from the dog’s breakfast I was handed. I edit a lot of academic tomes in HSS (humanities and social sciences) and have long realised that there are almost as many variations of Harvard as there are authors.

This is why it’s important to get a clear brief from your client. The publishers I work for vary greatly in how closely they want references to adhere to house style. Indeed, some are becoming more relaxed about it over time, often settling for ‘apply author’s style consistently’. If you are to avoid wasting a lot of time, do talk to your client about how much of your effort they want spent on changing the style of references.

One trick I’ve recently adopted is to make my own sample list of references for each of the variants in the job in hand (such as book, chapter, article, website, grey literature and archive – and some of those will have print and online variants, too). This is particularly helpful if I’m working with the short-title system, where a reference will look a little different in the note and in the bibliography, so my own note of the same reference in both presentations is an efficient way of checking I’m applying the correct version of the style in the right place – far easier than flipping through the pages of a style guide.

Liz Jones

It can seem that editing non-fiction is more bound by conventions, formats and rules than fiction. Whether you think that makes the task easier or harder is all down to personal preference! Often a non-fiction client will supply a style sheet, and even if they don’t they might indicate an established style guide that they’d like you to follow. In this way it can be quite different from editing a piece of fiction, which is much more likely to follow its own internal logic. Remember that the author’s voice can be just as distinctive and important to a piece of non-fiction – they’re still telling a story, even if it’s rooted in fact – so there’s a need to be sensitive and to think hard about what to retain as well as what to change. You might require a certain amount of tact to negotiate changes with the author to help their work conform to the required style, without applying rules slavishly and arbitrarily. Finally, non-fiction is often quite clearly structured, and this can be really helpful to the editor. Tweaking text to better fit the structural patterns that run through it can be immensely satisfying, and might make all the difference to a piece of writing – transforming it into a polished and coherent document that’s ready to be sent out into the world.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

Whenever I tell someone what I do, pretty much the first question they go on to ask is ‘What do you edit? Fiction?’ When I say that I work in non-fiction – generally economics and social policy – there is slight dismay in their faces. Fiction is the glamorous face of publishing, and non-fiction is seen as its frumpy but reliable best friend.

It’s fulfilling when my knowledge overlaps with the content I’m editing, and I can ask informed questions and add substantial value. When it’s a subject area I haven’t worked in before, I’m exhilarated by learning new things and I’m often prompted to go and read something related for pleasure.

Just as with fiction, it is critical to keep the author’s voice (or brand voice) intact and use a delicate touch to enhance the content rather than interfere with a heavy hand. Non-fiction brings with it tables, charts, diagrams and the mighty references list – they may appear intimidating at first sight but all they need is to be handled gently but authoritatively.

Non-fiction has been my bread and butter for over 17 years and I still get excited when a new project pops into my inbox – who knows what joys (and possibly terrors) those documents hold?

Sue BrowningSue Browning

In my experience, non-fiction publishers rarely have generous budgets, so one of the arts of making a decent living out of it is to master the various tools that can make you more efficient. These include the features available in Word, in particular keyboard shortcuts, wildcard Find & Replace and macros. Many of mine are home-grown, but I also plunder Paul Beverley’s magnificent and generous Macros for Editors. It’s also worth exploring the various add-ins you can get. I regard PerfectIt as an essential, and I also have Reference Checker (sadly no longer supported), both of which save a lot of time and help you produce a more consistent result – something that non-fiction publishers tend to be especially concerned about.

So once the mechanical style aspects have been tidied up and the references thrashed into submission, I can get down to the fun part – engaging with the content and the author. Here I particularly love the challenge of phrasing queries collaboratively (‘Perhaps we could…’, ‘Do you think x would be clearer?’) and sometimes catching the odd boo-boo, usually to the author’s heartfelt gratitude. But oh, the angst of querying a missing ‘not’ – have I completely misunderstood? will the author think I’m dumb?

Editing non-fiction can sometimes be challenging and frustrating, but it also brings the pleasure of working with subject experts and contributing to the spread of knowledge in a small but, I would argue, essential way.


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

SfEP conference 2017 – members’ blog posts

This year’s conference at Wyboston Lakes was enjoyed by all those who attended and inspired many of our members to write their own blog posts. So pour yourself a beverage of your choice and relive (or experience vicariously) the highlights.

Wyboston conference centre

A rare moment of peace as a delegate at Wyboston strolls in the courtyard gardens. Photo credit: Sue Browning

Newbies’ fears were unfounded

Many people were attending an SfEP conference for the first time. Although many were anxious at the prospect of putting on proper clothes and shoes and talking to lots of new people, it seems those nerves were quickly dispelled in the face of the friendly welcome and inclusive atmosphere.

Kia Thomas was so inspired she wrote a series of four posts. The first one, Conference ramblings, tells of her general impressions, while Part 1 reflects on Language rules, Part 2 was on Doing stuff better, and Part 3 looks at what she had learned about Selling yourself as an editor.

Another conference newbie was Selena Class, who wrote: ‘Everyone was so welcoming, friendly and non-judgemental, and it was great just to be able to talk about both editing and freelancing issues with other people in similar situations to your own’, which sums up conference perfectly. Read her Losing my conference cherry.

In Linnets, laughter, learning: #SfEP2017 conference highlights, Howard Walwyn wrote warmly about the people, the entertainment and the content, and about how much fun can be had while still learning useful things.

Bev Sykes wrote about Why it’s good to escape from the office and reflected on why spending time networking and learning with other proofreaders and editors sent her back to her home office with renewed enthusiasm.

Poor Sarah Dronfield was not feeling very well at all, but managed to enjoy it in spite of that. Her How to survive a conference when you’re ill gives us some tips on getting the most out of it even when you aren’t feeling your best.

Frances Cooper, another newbie, wrote a piece for our own blog on Impressions of a 2017 conference ‘spotty’.  In her words: ‘l left the conference more informed and with an increased sense of being part of a society of people I respect and like.’ That’s what we like to hear!

Kate Haigh was not only attending her first conference but actually presented a session talking about her nomadic lifestyle. In Reflecting on attending a conference for proofreaders and editors she looks forward to putting her newfound knowledge into proofreading and editing practice, and urges shy or doubting proofreaders or editors to give conference a try.

Renewing friendships and forging new ones

Others had been to conference before, some many times, others only once or twice. It seems they were not disappointed either, with many commenting on the superb organisation and varied programme, as well as the excellent company and friendly atmosphere.

In the first of her two-part series, A-conferencing I will go…Part 1, Katherine Trail notes that just because you’re the one giving a session, it doesn’t mean you don’t learn from it too. Questions and observations from the audience give you a new perspective and open up new possibilities.

In Part 2 Kat looks in more detail at one of the sessions she particularly enjoyed, John Espirian and Louise Harnby’s content marketing workshop. This was much enjoyed by all the participants, and not just because it had sweets!

In fact, John and Louise’s Whacky-Business Workshop showed us How to be silly while learning content marketing – lessons from #SfEP2017, as described by Louise Harnby on her own blog.

Laura Ripper was inspired by the sessions and conversations with brilliant colleagues, and was keen to put the Ten things I learned from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference 2017 into practice when she got home.

Sara Donaldson wasn’t intending to write a blog on this year’s conference, but ended up doing so anyway, because ‘an SfEP conference shows just how a conference should be’. In her Musings on the SfEP 2017 conference she talks about the sessions she enjoyed most, and reveals that it doesn’t matter what you wear to the gala dinner (a source of anxiety for many first-timers).

Erin Brenner came all the way from the USA to attend and present two sessions. In her SfEP’s conference provides language lessons, networking time she talks about the fact that there were more sessions on language-related topics than she is used to in US-based conferences, and also the longer between-session breaks meant more time to network and not feeling quite as wiped out at the end of the day.

Some of the Editing Globally team wended their way from distant shores to attend and present sessions. Editing Globally: A-conferencing we go is the first of their blog posts – look out for more!

Might it be you next year?

We shall leave the last word to conference first-timer Eleanor Abraham in Conferencing for the self-conscious. After her very entertaining tour of her conference experience, she asks: ‘Should you be scared of going to a conference?’ And answers: ‘No, especially not this one. Go for it.’

If we’ve missed your SfEP2017 conference blog post, do let us know, and we’ll add it to the above.



Impressions of a 2017 conference ‘spotty’

Conference first-timer Frances Cooper reflects on her experience.

I know from the forums that some people were a little nervous as well as excited prior to the 2017 SfEP Conference, even if it wasn’t their first. I was looking forward to it, though, as an opportunity to meet in person a lot of people I had ‘met’ on the forums. And to meeting again a few friends already made at the London Book Fair in March, or in my local group. And to gleaning from everyone as much wisdom as I could that will help me to provide a good service and make a living.

The winning team in the 2017 conference pub-style quiz

The winning team in the 2017 conference pub-style quiz. Photo credit: Hazel Reid.

I arrived on Saturday evening just in time to acquire my name badge and a welcome glass of first-timers’ wine, but not in time to meet the directors, before we were called in to dinner. In the queue, I was immediately greeted by a fellow Shropshire-based member (hello Jill) I had not met before, and that was really the tone for the conference. I met a lot of positive, interested and friendly people. Time and again, I struck up conversations with the person next to me and made new friends.

No doubt all those who attended had several professional objectives for being there related to career development, running their business, learning new skills, making a (better) living. But what stood out for me was that many – most? – were taking the opportunity to catch up with friends. All around me on Saturday evening were people spotting each other, waving, hugging, catching up. For all the communications apps and social media available, there is nothing quite like catching up in person with people who understand your world but live in another part of it. So many genuine friendships are formed amongst people encountered as part of the job, but often living far enough apart that the friendship is for the most part conducted remotely. The conference was perhaps the only opportunity in the year or for several years to reconnect with colleague-friends.

Conference first-timers are made to feel welcome

With so many several/many-timers catching up with each other it would have been easy for us first-timers to find ourselves in a corner not liking to interrupt. But no; this was a SfEP conference and skulking in corners was not allowed. Everything was well organised, not least for us first-timers. From the pre-dinner opportunity to meet the directors (even though I missed it), to having a spot on our name badges, effort had been put into ensuring that we would feel included in the SfEP community. Several/many-timers could ‘spot’ us, engage us in conversation or incorporate us into their group; and so they did. Or we could spot each other and share our first-timer ‘spotty’ experiences to break the ice.

The formal parts of the conference: the opening and closing talks, and the workshops and sessions, were all thought-provoking and often entertaining, and I learned a lot. I have been able to put things I learned in the Word Styles session into practice immediately. I learned about charging what I’m worth, and different perspectives on approaches, tools that help and what to consider. I learned that PerfectIt will remain elusive, for me, for a little longer yet. Every session contained some pearls to help me progress.

So much to do, so little time…

There was a lot to pack in to make the most of the time available. But there was still time to look out for and chat with friends, meet new people, discuss experience and plans, hear different ideas and perspectives. I left the conference more informed and with an increased sense of being part of a society of people I respect and like.

I can only think of two regrets: firstly, that I couldn’t have gone to more of the sessions. I think Lightning Talks will be top of the list next time. Secondly, there were several people I didn’t speak to for as long as I would have liked, or at all! Where did the time go?

Attending the conference was a big investment for me, in terms of money and time. But for all I have gained initially, I have a feeling that the investment will be paying off for years to come. And it was fun.

Frances CooperFrances Cooper grew up in Buckinghamshire and attained a BSc in Biological Sciences from Sussex University. A varied career has included retail management, a year of TEFL in Greece and temping before she moved to Scotland to begin a 24-year career in nature conservation, working initially for Scottish Wildlife Trust, then Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and finally 13 years as Biodiversity Officer with Dartmoor National Park Authority. When a lengthy project ended it was time for a change. Frances joined the SfEP in late 2015 and embarked on SfEP and PTC training to get a sound foundation. Frances is less than a year into her career as a proofreader and still working towards establishing herself. She attends SfEP Three Counties local group meetings and is active on the SfEP forums in order to maximise the benefits of SfEP membership.



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

Don’t fear the forums

Hello, my name is Amy and I am a forum lurker [wave].

I’ve been a member of the SfEP for four years and, while I read the forums almost every day, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that my first forum post was to ask people if they wanted to be interviewed for this article. But in doing so I did break my non-posting streak (yay!).


My lack of contribution is not because I think there’s nothing for me to learn or that I never have any questions. Au contraire: I’ve learned (and continue to learn) some brilliant stuff from the forums. They are an excellent source of support and information in what can often be a solitary profession. I also have questions on a daily basis and quite frankly, my office orchid is a horrible conversationalist.

What has, in the past, stopped me from posting is (a) a basic fear of sounding like a dunderhead or (b) there being a typo or grammatical inaccuracy in my question. I’ve lost count of how many posts I have started and deleted as a direct result of these fears.

Forum fears

From the responses I got to my forum post, I believe there is a robust community of lurkers out there. I also believe there is one overwhelming barrier to contributing to the forums: fear.
There appear to be two types of forum-related fear: (a) of making a fool of yourself with a silly question or a mistake and (b) fear of others’ reactions and tactless replies. While the forums are a rich source of support and insight, it appears they are also a source of much angst for us lurkers.

Ally Oakes, for example, told me that she ‘didn’t dare’ ask anything on the forums for months after joining the Society, partly due to fear and partly due to a feeling of not having anything to say.

Claire Langford has posted in the forums a few times in the last eight months, but still feels hesitant. She says that the limiting factor for her is experience: ‘I very rarely post a response to a question, largely because I don’t yet feel I am enough of an authority to give advice to other proofreaders and copy-editors.’ When she does post, she will ‘check, re-check and check again’ any posts due to an ‘agonising fear’ of there being a spelling mistake or grammatical error.

I recognise and empathise with both Ally’s and Claire’s feelings, but wise words from John Espirian, who was fundamental in setting up the forums, help put the fear of forums into perspective:

Even the best editors make mistakes. The forums are a private space away from prying eyes, and the community is supportive enough to overlook these things. So I wouldn’t worry about the odd typo slipping into your text – it happens. Don’t let this fear hold you back from posting questions, as you’ll be missing out on the collective wisdom of hundreds of experienced editorial pros.

This is a sentiment echoed by Claire and Ally, who variously describe the forums as ‘a godsend’ and a source of really useful snippets of information. According to Ally, ‘The fear is natural and isn’t a bad thing; it’s a part of starting something new.’ I too can attest that I have only had very helpful and thoughtful responses to my literal cry for help.

Many members have told me that they feel access to the forums is one of the main perks of SfEP membership. Statistics kindly provided by John show that there are 1,804 forum users, 32% of whom are active, which means they have logged into the forums at least once in the last 30 days. You can then figure out how many fellow lurkers there are when you see that only 231 active users have at least 50 posts. This shows something that we all probably know already, that some users feel more confident posting than others.

Which leads nicely into the second fear – that of replies that may make you feel foolish or upset. Thankfully, these seem to be few and far between, but there are members who have been put off contributing to the forums as a result of an ill-considered response that was perceived to be unhelpful or unkind.

It is worth remembering when replying to a forum post that the contributor may have spent ages writing and rewriting their question or comment, trying to make it perfect. John sums it up nicely: ‘Be kind and clear. Remember that you didn’t always know it all (and you probably don’t even now).’

If you look at the forums you will see questions from people of all membership levels. There are few who believe they have all the answers, and the forums are a space in which to seek advice and information from virtual colleagues. It is an opportunity we should all make the most of.

How can you beat the forum fears?

So how can you beat the forum fear and confidently make your first post? My first piece of advice is not to overthink it. One Advanced Professional Member suggested I ask about the best kind of printer – it doesn’t have to be a complex or high-brow question to get you started.

Secondly, don’t hover over ‘Submit’ for too long. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to press ‘Delete’ instead.

John Espirian also has some tips to help assuage potential first posters’ nerves:

  1. Check out the link at the top of the Newbies page, which gives you a list of hints and tips to get you started.
  2. Make use of the search function before posting. Your topic, or even specific question, may have already been discussed. Even if it’s not exactly the answer you need, it might help you to tailor your question.

Given the calibre of the members of the SfEP, it can be daunting to contribute to a conversation, but my advice is, don’t underestimate the value of what you can add. Even if you are a relative newcomer to the industry, your life experience or unique insight could be really valuable and much appreciated by the community. And a new voice is always welcome. So, when it comes to the forums, in the inimitable words of Dr Susan Jeffers, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Amy ReayAmy Armitage-Reay is an ex-forum lurker and Professional Member of the SfEP. She started her professional life as a reporter and has run Ethos Editing (, which specialises in creating academic content, since 2009.


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

Home-working, coworking and me

Gemma Greenhalgh looks at the benefits for the self-employed home-worker of occasionally getting out of the house and using your local coworking space.

Cat asleep on desk

Up until 2008, I had only ever been out to work. By that I mean out of the house and situated elsewhere, mainly in an office. Nine to five. Idle chat around the water cooler. Nipping out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Actual shoes on my feet (instead of slippers). You catch my drift.

That year, 2008, introduced me to my first ‘home-based’ job. I was an Independent Living Adviser for a charity based in Nuneaton – visiting disabled people in their own homes to give advice about employing their own support staff. And I was working from my own home.

‘Get up and get dressed as though you’re going into the office’ one colleague advised. ‘I hate it; I get lonely and depressed’ someone else bemoaned. I was getting mixed messages from my new colleagues but was determined to keep an open mind.

Luckily my partner and I have a spare room so I set up my desk on one side of it. I liked it. Friends and family made constant reference to lie-ins, working in pyjamas and watching daytime TV. I laughed all this off – what a notion!

Fast forward nearly a decade and I am indeed writing this at 8.15 a.m. in my PJs. I do occasionally watch Three in a Bed at lunchtime. I might sleep in if the day before was particularly long or fraught. I have been known to work with a cat or chicken on my knee. I still get the job done. My working day doesn’t suffer.

A constant balancing act

The frontiers between ‘home life at home’ and ‘work life at home’ are a constant blur and balancing act. Family members ask me to run an errand for them because, ‘such and such can’t do it as they’re at work.’ Is this because they’ve heard about the daytime TV and assume my day is ‘informal’ and ‘unstructured’ so a small errand won’t hurt?

My retired neighbour recently knocked on my office window and wanted my opinion about her hand-knitted socks. I was frantically trying to meet a tight deadline and had to shoo her away. I texted her later to apologise. ‘I forget you work from home’ was the response.

How can I avoid or adapt to such things? Should I be more strict with my ‘relaxed’ approach so my nearest and dearest take my vocation more seriously? Can I not just benefit from the advantages of being home based without others taking advantage? Shall I just throw a strop, form a barricade around my office and insist I’m left in peace and quiet (until I want to watch the TV at lunchtime that is)?

Do not disturb sign

My stint as an employed and home-based Independent Living Adviser lasted for three years. So far, I have been a self-employed, home-based proofreader and copywriter for over four years. To help with the questions posed above I have been thinking about alternatives to the ‘office-in-the-spare-room’ scenario.

A break from the norm

I thought about the potential of local cafes and libraries. I then discovered a couple of Nottingham-based coworking spaces and decided to give them a try. What did I have to lose except my dressing gown? A friend who is also self-employed (and gets easily distracted by the washing-up) decided to join me. I’ve since discovered that she gets easily distracted by many things. Whoever thought of putting shops and eateries in the city centre? Anyway, that’s another story…

It turns out that coworking spaces are pretty good! You can do that thing where you actually talk to people. You can escape the cat. Dressing gowns are a thing of the past! Who knew?!

I tried not to think about my slippers getting cold and lonely in the hallway and got on with: chatting to real-life human beings; looking at different walls; gazing out of different windows; having a slightly longer than average lunch break; and not worrying about domestic irritants like a speck of dust on the sideboard. Oh, and I did get some work done too.

There are coworking spaces around the country and they charge around £15–£20 per day/£8–£10 per half day outside London (some charge by the day and others by the month), which generally includes Wi-Fi, drinks and snacks, a work/desk area, toilet facilities and plug points. Some also provide bookable meeting rooms, monitors, quiet zones, printing, business advice and more besides.

I live a good 30 minutes away from Nottingham (longer in rush hour) so it’s not something I want to take advantage of too often. There are libraries and cafes (but no coworking spaces!) much closer that offer a similar break from the norm.

It’s an alien feeling to get stuck in a traffic jam when you’d usually be making your jam on toast in the morning. However, coworking can offer many advantages to the home-worker and it’s worth considering if you’re hankering for a change of scene, human-that-isn’t-family interaction or a feeling of belonging to a self-employed community.

Coworking is flexible and gets you out of the house and meeting people

Dee Miller, owner of Minor Oak Nottingham Coworking, sums it up perfectly: ‘Coworking gets you out of the house, working at an office you choose, in a supportive and diverse community of real-world colleagues.’ Dee has written about the benefits of coworking on the Minor Oak website, and from reading her words you get a real sense of coworking as a saver of sanity, an incentive to get out of the house and a place to meet people and share ideas and experiences.

There are many coworking spaces across the UK, albeit predominantly in urban areas, and it is easy to research the good mix of local coworking opportunities online. It is handy to know about such spaces and make use of them as and when it suits you, your day and your workload.

Like many aspects of self-employment, coworking is flexible. It offers a modern solution to the isolation felt by many self-employed people and seems to bring the home office and the traditional office together in a new way.

Concluding aside:

The issue of the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the word ‘coworking’ is contentious. Google ‘coworking and the hyphen’ and you’ll see what I mean!

Gemma GreenhalgGemma Greenhalgh has run GG Editorial Services since 2013 and is a professional member of the SfEP. She loves volunteering for numerous charities, including the British Hen Welfare Trust on their ex-commercial hen rescue days. Her favourite part is waving off the ‘spent’ hens, which were destined for slaughter, to their new free-range life. She is a massive fan of the Brontë siblings, particularly Emily. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book and Haworth is her spiritual home.

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

Restorative niches and the SfEP conference

In a follow-up to her popular blog post last year, Abi Saffrey has some ideas for how introverts can find spaces to breathe to help them avoid being overwhelmed at the SfEP conference.

Coffee cup with pause symbol

Last year, I (with substantial assistance from two fellow introverts) put together A survival guide for introverts, in preparation for the 2016 SfEP conference.

I am, ahem, embarrassed to say that I ignored most of that advice and I came away from the conference exhausted and not wishing to speak to anyone at all about anything at all for a week or so. During the conference, I did take a bit of time out for myself – a walk around the Aston campus and a bag of Minstrels in front of rubbish TV – but not as much as I’d planned. I was having a ball! I learnt stuff, I met so many smart and funny people, I saw a mouse in the dining room, I danced till after midnight, and I attended some inspiring sessions. I was getting energy from those around me; perhaps, very slowly, I am becoming an ambivert (calling myself an extrovert would be extreme).

I recently watched a fascinating TEDx talk by Brian R. Little, an extremely introverted university professor specialising in the study of personality and well-being. He talks about how the sensitivity of our neo-cortex is key to whether we display introvert or extrovert tendencies – some of us (introverts) have an optimum level of stimulation way below that of others (extroverts). And often when an introvert and an extrovert meet, they find themselves in a painful impasse where the extrovert tries to raise the level of stimulation and the introvert tries to lower it. As the introvert withdraws, the extrovert talks more, moves more, both of them trying to keep their neo-cortex happy.

One of Professor Little’s key concepts is that of restorative niches, the time out I mentioned above. Everyone needs a restorative niche to bring their neo-cortex back to its optimum level of stimulation: introverts need down time; extroverts may need more interaction and more action. Extroverts may well go from one highly stimulating situation into another – and create one if needs be by turning their music up loud. (I like loud music in my down time, but I’m still not an extrovert.) Introverts are more likely to indulge in meditation, a walk or staring into the middle distance.

Green trees

So, with the 2017 Conference fast approaching, I’m starting to think about the restorative niches I will be able to seek out over those two and a half days. I’m starting the weekend with a visit to the spa at Wyboston Lakes, making the most of the facilities that the conference venue has to offer. This should give me the break I need to transition from day-to-day life to conference mode, and help me cope with the physical tension that does arise when I’m out of my comfort zone.

This will mean that I can’t go to the speed networking session. Extreme introvert part of me is relieved: I’m pretty sure every introvert twitches at those two words. Speed. Networking. Social part of me is sad to miss out on the opportunity to be introduced to peers in a very directed, structured environment. On the SfEP forums, several conference attendees have talked about this session and the personal conflict they have about it – but all have acknowledged that the benefits far outweigh the anxieties. Some have expressed relief that it’s early on in the conference rather than at the end – when their neo-cortex could well be buzzing like ten wasps in a tiny jam jar and they may not be able to do more than nod and perhaps blink.

I’ll also be making the most of the free time in the evenings, and I won’t be rushing down to the bar well ahead of dinner. The accommodation and grounds look lovely, so I’ll probably go for a walk before or after breakfast, and sit in my room and stare at the wall for a while (note to self: pack Minstrels), or put on my headphones and turn up the volume. Or I might just hide in a toilet cubicle for most of a tea break.

All that said, I’m going to take things as they come. Maybe I’ll want to be first at the bar, maybe I’ll even manage a coherent conversation over breakfast. It’s okay to be a pseudo-extrovert for a while, socialising and learning with the tribe. When I get home, I’ll have a couple of days with limited stimulation to help my over-worked neo-cortex to recover, never wanting to talk to anyone ever again. And then I’ll be ready and raring to book my space at next year’s conference.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an advanced professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.


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