Monthly Archives: September 2019

Our SfEP local group – the first decade: ten years, ten observations

By Helen Stevens

In March 2009, on a whim, I contacted a local proofreader I’d come across when nosing around on Yell.com. We met for coffee and chatted about the possibility of starting a local SfEP group, and a couple of months later the first meeting of the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group took place. Around 20 people came along – an amazing number for an initial gathering!

Having met every three months over the intervening years, in June 2019 we held our 41st local group meeting. Our theme for the meeting was onscreen mark-up (Google Docs, PDFs and Word Track Changes) – not a particularly celebratory topic, perhaps. But a couple of weeks later we got together for an unofficial tenth anniversary social event, enjoying a traditional Yorkshire curry and some more relaxed conversation.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from running the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group for ten years.

1. There’s always something to talk about

I don’t particularly enjoy face-to-face networking, and I’m no fan of small talk, but when you’re among editors and proofreaders that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Whether you’re a complete newbie or an old hand, you can always chat about training, different types of editing and proofreading work, business issues (particularly if you’re a freelancer), previous work experience, etc. And most people are also happy to answer your questions about such topics, which can add another dimension to your own research in books or on websites.

2. I *can* organise an event

Several years ago I helped to organise a couple of major local events for a client, and I vowed never to do it again (too stressful!). Our local group meetings are kept deliberately low-key, but still require me to book a room at a suitable venue (see below), send out invitations, make sure we have a theme, keep a check on the numbers attending, liaise with the venue and ‘chair’ the meeting. There’s also a little bit of background admin: adding people to my email list and removing them as appropriate (in line with GDPR), notifying the SfEP community director of the date/time of our meetings and so on. This is all well within my comfort zone – and it seems to have worked so far.

3. The venue can be the biggest headache

I’m not talking about the helpfulness of the staff, the quality of the coffee or the hardness of the chairs – although they are significant factors. More importantly, the venue needs to be reasonably accessible (in terms of both transport links and individual mobility), cheap or free to use and of a suitable size for the number of people attending. The acoustics of the place can also be an issue if you’re hoping to have any sort of group discussion.

Our first meeting was in the lovely diner at Salts Mill (very noisy). We’ve since met at a nearby local café (we stopped meeting there when they suddenly wanted a booking deposit), upstairs at a couple of other cafés (one closed down, one could no longer accommodate a large group) and now in a smaller café in Salts Mill that’s reserved for our meeting. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a perfect venue – the trick is to find one that ticks as many boxes as possible.

4. There isn’t a time/day that will suit everyone

I have to hold my hand up and say that when I started the group, I chose a time (and, indeed, a location) that suited me, but I recognise that our meeting times won’t suit everyone. We’ve always met during the day, and of course some people who’d like to attend simply aren’t available then. Holding evening meetings would be an option, but that wouldn’t suit everyone either (and would mean finding a new venue – see above!). We do at least vary the days of our meetings, as some members of the group have firm commitments (work or otherwise) that mean they can’t come on particular days. But the search for that elusive ‘perfect time’ continues…

5. Something with a theme works best

For the first couple of years our meetings were simply a chance for general (professional/social) chat, and that seemed to work fine. When we moved our meetings to a room upstairs in a local café, we had the opportunity for more focused discussions, and I think that has worked well. New people have a chance to find out about a specific topic, and it gives more experienced editors and proofreaders more of a reason to come to the meeting and share their experience (and, indeed, learn something new). It can be a challenge to find themes that appeal to such a wide range of people. Several group members have led sessions: we’ve had talks on public speaking training, proofreading annual reports, and editing from a fiction author’s point of view, as well as a very successful session on grammar, spelling and punctuation niggles. And we usually end the year with an ‘editorial highs and lows’ session in December: most people have had a high or low of some kind, whatever their level of experience.

6. People will come and go

The people who come along to our meetings are a constantly changing group. Yes, there are those who’ve been attending regularly for years (and some of these even came to that very first gathering). But we also have people who have been to one or two meetings and then (for whatever reason) didn’t come again, as well as those who’ve attended regularly until they retired, moved away from the area or decided on a different career path. This ever-changing membership helps to keep our meetings fresh, while still allowing participants to get to know a few familiar faces.

7. People will travel great distances for meetings

I chose Saltaire for our meetings because it’s reasonably well served by public transport and road links (as well as being a lovely place that’s right on my doorstep). But I’ve been really surprised over the years at the distances people are willing to travel to come to our group. From the earliest days we had a couple of members who came all the way from the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, and we regularly have participants from Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Hull – and even darkest Lancashire! At the other end of the spectrum, and from a personal point of view, it’s also been great for me to get to know editors and proofreaders who live within a mile or two of me.

8. People are very different

Anyone who’s spent any time at all around editors and proofreaders will realise that there’s no such thing as ‘typical’. Our group welcomes those who are just considering a career in editing or proofreading, those who’ve started their training, those who’ve been working in the profession for a while and those who might be termed ‘veterans’. Some of them work on fiction, some specialise in legal, corporate, scientific or academic fields, and some do a little bit of everything! Although it’s sometimes a challenge to cater for all these disparate interests, I definitely think our meetings benefit from this mix.

9. We all learn from each other

Linked to the previous point, I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, whatever our level of experience or area of interest. Someone who’s new to the profession might have a deep knowledge of the different training options available. In-house staff will have different perspectives from those who work as freelancers. And we can definitely all learn from each other when it comes to the technical side of our work, whether that’s software tools to help with the job, social media platforms for marketing our services, different methods of getting paid or tax requirements for sole traders.

10. Local groups are vital for the SfEP

A thriving local group is a great way in to the SfEP. The discussions we have at our meetings aren’t designed to promote the Society explicitly, but I do think being part of a local group gives people a sense of what the SfEP is about: mutual support, learning, sharing ideas and experience and meeting like-minded others. From the Society’s point of view, getting people involved in local groups can be great for member recruitment and retention. For example, two people who’ve been involved in the West/North Yorkshire group now run other local groups, strengthening their personal engagement with the SfEP. Such engagement can feed through to regional mini-conferences and to the main SfEP conference: it’s so much nicer to attend an event if you know there are going to be at least a few familiar faces.

I’ve learned a lot during the SfEP West/North Yorkshire local group’s first ten years. It was lovely to mark the occasion with a relaxed social event, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years (if only because it’ll be an excuse for another curry).

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 walking, reading, and playing Scrabble and mahjong, though not all at the same time.

 


There are SfEP local groups all over the UK – as well as in Toronto, Canada. There is also an international Cloud Club for those unable to attend meetings in person.


Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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


 

Wise owls: the best thing about the SfEP conference

It’s SfEP conference week, and attendees are starting to get excited and/or nervous! The wise owls are here to let first timers know what they’ve got to look forward to, and to remind old hands why they keep going back.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

What’s the best thing about the SfEP conference? I didn’t need to spend any time at all thinking how to answer that question: it’s the people!

I’ve been to many other work-related conferences, and none are so friendly or welcoming. The first conference I attended was in Edinburgh (in the early 2000s). A meal was arranged for the first evening, and a Council member said hello and introduced me to some other people and I haven’t looked back. I still chat regularly to some of those I met on that first evening and, as I often say in answer to similar questions, I wouldn’t have been able to stay freelance for almost 20 years without the supportive and helpful people in this Society. You’re all bloomin’ marvellous!

Oh, and the opportunity to take part in concentrated, high-quality CPD is, of course, very valuable.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

The absolute best thing about the SfEP conference is getting outside your own work bubble. Quite aside from the risk of isolation for those who work freelance from home, for those of us who have never worked in-house (and we are legion), it’s easy to develop your own ways of doing things, not really knowing how you compare on the standard of your work itself and what is best (or at least better) practice in how you handle your clients and approach your workload. If you’re in-house, but have had only one publisher employer, it’s so easy to believe that their way is the only way, or certainly the best way, of working. The conference gives you the chance to go to sessions that will enhance your appreciation of your position within Editor Land – and even if all you get from a particular workshop is validation of your own routine (comforting and confidence-building as that is), then a comment your neighbour makes during an exercise, or a question someone raises, or answers, may be like a lightning bolt. That’s happened to me several times, to my immediate benefit (and that of my clients).

And once you’ve been to enough conferences that you’ve covered all the core skills from several angles, there’s always more. Go to a session that you normally wouldn’t think of (to my regret, I keep missing the bookbinding events. One day … !) or one of the panel discussions and step into the wider editorial world.

Liz Jones

Yes, there’s the CPD aspect, the cooked breakfast, the lockable door on a room of one’s own, the challenging campus map, the possibilities for fruitful networking. But the best thing of all about the SfEP conference – and I say this as a confirmed introvert who is easily exhausted by too much time in the company of others – is the people. Forty-eight whole hours among kindred spirits: collectively some of the most welcoming, humble, skilled, interesting, humorous and supportive people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been attending the conference since 2013, with one year off, and it’s one of the highlights of my year. I talk (and listen) enough during those two days to last me for the remaining 12 months, and it makes me very happy.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

Is there anything that is not a best thing about the conference? That’s not a rhetorical question – there is so much that is good, nay brilliant, about our annual gathering that it’s hard to decide what deserves the title of ‘best’. The workshops and seminars are invariably informative, useful and enlightening. Sometimes even career-changing. Last year, my big takeaway was the decision to do the SfEP course on medical editing after attending Julia Slone-Murphy’s introductory workshop. I’d been toying with a move into this kind of editing for a while, and the workshop confirmed I should do so. A year later, I’ve yet to sign up for training – I’ve been too busy with work and a family crisis – but I’ve earmarked time for this autumn to get started. I also found the workshop on growing your business packed with simple and free ideas that I’d never even thought of before, let alone considered. It is these kinds of sessions that are a major attraction for me – the chance to learn something new and apply it to how I earn my living.

Then there’s the lectures – as entertaining as they are educational. The opportunity to hear experts on the future of our industry, or expounding on some language issue or other, is something all delegates should get out of bed for in time! Last year’s lecture on US v UK English by Lynne Murphy was a classic – buttock-clenchingly hilarious, but also with serious points to make on the nuances of editing. (Ditto the mini lecture on dealing with the sweary stuff – which was educative, informative and a full-on side splitter.)

In the end, it’s the people who make it what it is. The chance to put names to forum avatars, catch up and have a good gossip with long-standing colleagues, meet the directors, and basically just hang out. The conference is work, but it’s also a break from work and hanging out with other editors really is one of the best bits. Just don’t do what I did and rush up to someone you’ve been dying to meet for a decade just as they’re entering a toilet cubicle …

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

For me, the best thing about the SfEP conference is its ability to shake me out of my tree. Don’t get me wrong, I peer out from between the branches regularly by attending local groups, following editorial discussions online, and generally expanding my awareness of editorial techniques and perspectives. However, at the SfEP conference, the sheer volume of information that you get – and the unexpected, serendipitous, surprising nature of it all – is unbeatable.

I’ve been to five conferences in the past and have returned from each one re-energised and refocused. Sometimes the snippets I’ve picked up are more directly editorially relevant and sometimes the link is more tangential. For example, at the 2017 conference I was finally persuaded to try TextExpander, which has sped up the repetitive aspects of my communications with authors considerably. However, at the same conference, Julia Sandford-Cooke mentioned the podcast How I Built This, which is a series of interviews with world-famous entrepreneurs. The scale and nature of their ventures are a million miles away from mine, but the show has become one of my staples for its ability to make me think about how I run my business and relate to my clients. Other times at conferences, sessions have simply boosted my confidence in a skill I already had or given me a shot of enthusiasm to try something new.

I thoroughly recommend the SfEP conference for its ability to support us all in being informed, educated and enthusiastic editorial professionals.


This year’s SfEP conference runs from 14 to 16 September, at Aston University, Birmingham. Follow what’s happening on Twitter (and other social media platforms): the hashtag is #sfep2019


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Five things to take to the SfEP conference

By Abi Saffrey

It’s just over a week until the 2019 SfEP conference. This year, I’m leading a workshop on editorial project management but, while writing my slides, I got a bit distracted by thinking about what I need to take with me. And then I started to wonder what other delegates would be taking with them, so I went onto the SfEP’s conference forum and asked. Here are my (and my respected colleagues’) recommendations of what to put in that wheelie case before heading to Aston University in Birmingham on 14 September.

1. Home comforts

Conference accommodation can be unpredictable – the pillows too firm, the duvets too thick, the shower room too tiny – but it’s possible to mitigate those issues by taking something from home. Okay, you can’t take your bathroom, but you could take a pillow or pillowcase, a sheet, even a small fan. At some venues, if you bring a hairdryer, you’ll gain brownie points from other delegates. They may even stand you a drink at the bar. But this year we can all travel light, because Aston’s rooms are truly luxurious with hairdryers, irons (and accompanying boards), fans, bedside lights and adequately sized bathrooms.

2. Food and drink

I will be taking my refillable water bottle, because I love a bit of hydration – especially important in air-conditioned seminar rooms and when spending the best part of three days talking (and laughing). Emergency and preferred teabags are worth shoving in your case, as you never know what will be on offer in bedrooms or at break times. Ditto snack items – whether you prefer sweets or bananas, you’re going to need energy to keep the brain whirring.

Good news: there is a small supermarket a short stroll from the Aston conference centre, so Minstrels are always within reach (other chocolate products are available).

3. Something for the quiet moments

Conferences are tiring, especially if you normally work at home with only a furry companion to talk to for hours on end. How strange that editors often take books with them for their downtime. Other portable hobbies that can provide an essential mental and physical breather include music, colouring, sketching, sewing, running and wine.

Aston does have a delightful little swimming pool that is open to delegates at certain times, so remember to pack appropriate attire if you fancy a dip. This year, there will also be a Quiet Room in the conference centre, so that delegates can easily take time out during the busy days.

4. Something for the actual conference

It turns out that the SfEP conference isn’t all about chatting with edibuddies; there’s also some of that there learning going on. Take an open mind and some confidence – listen to others’ ideas and speak your own. If you’re prone to a grumpy resting face, see if you can dig out a smile or two (for use when appropriate).

You’ll need something to take notes with/on, whether that’s a laptop, mobile device or a notebook and pens (preferably lots, and in different colours). And don’t forget the charger (and additional power pack) for those electronic devices, especially if you’re live tweeting (this year, the conference’s hashtag is #sfep2019).

Consider your clothing selections – a conference is not the right time to try out new shoes. Go comfy (and clean).

Remember business cards in case of networking successes or prize draws.

5. Medication

Nearly everyone who responded to my call for suggestions mentioned medication – either for an existing condition or painkillers for the headaches that come from thinking, talking and those lightbulb moments. (I refer the honourable reader to the earlier point about hydration.)

And don’t forget!

It’s the UK! The weather does what it wants. It turns out that coats quite often get left at home, and are later missed.


With thanks to SfEP conference goers and forum regulars, veterans and devotees: Hugh Jackson, Helen Stevens, Anya Hastwell, Sue Browning, Julia Sandford-Cooke, Luke Finley, Jane Hammett, Denise Cowle, Margaret Hunter, Jane Moody, Beth Hamer, Cathy Tingle, Sabine Citron and Melanie Thompson (and those who have contributed to the discussion after this was written).

 

Abi Saffrey will be taking decaf teabags, a water bottle, her swimmers, well-worn trainers, bananas, her laptop, her resting grumpy face and hopefully a completed set of PowerPoint slides to this year’s conference.

 

 

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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