So, you’re thinking about going to conference, but you haven’t been before. It seems like a lot of money to justify, especially for a freelance, even more so if you are new to this business. Perhaps you are already established and would need to block out the time in your already full diary. Will you get enough out of it to justify the lost work, the time and the expense?
My answer is absolutely, wholeheartedly, yes.
I went to conference last year for the first time, two whole weeks into a new career as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had no background experience in editing, but have built up a raft of relevant skills in other jobs that I hoped would be enough to start me off. I planned to use the conference as a networking platform, to see how other people got started in the business, to find out what kind of training would be most useful and to make contacts with publishers.
I was rather apprehensive on first arriving: I loathe marketing, especially marketing myself, and am not particularly keen on meeting new people. I have, at times, seriously contemplated being a hermit. But the welcome was warm and relaxed: SfEP staff were there with ready smiles to help answer questions, and plenty of other conference attendees were happy to chat. It was clear that many were conference regulars, enjoying the chance to catch up on a year’s gossip with friends first hand.
Accommodation and food provision was good. We used student accommodation, individual ensuite rooms in small flats with a communal kitchen area. Far better than any accommodation I experienced as a student, the rooms were clean, fresh, very well located (right on site) and good value for money.
The conference programme is packed to the gunnels with things to keep you busy all day, every day, and you don’t need to sit quietly in a corner unless you want to.
The welcome event for conference newbies was a superb icebreaker. The members of the council were there as a first point of contact, and it was good to put faces to names from the website and the forums. I was interested to see many experienced editors who were conference newbies, so if you’ve already been in the business a while, you will find common ground with plenty of other attendees.
I had chosen seminars and workshops that I thought would be most appropriate to a newbie, but there were at least three places I would have liked to have been for each slot. Perhaps my only real niggle would be that I could not attend all the sessions I wanted to, as most ran only in one slot. But the SfEP have thought of everything: reports on all the seminars and workshops are available to all attendees after the event. Speaking to more experienced colleagues, the range and focus of the available seminars seemed to be well balanced, appealing to all stages of professional experience. Not everything is focused on traditional publishing: there were sessions on marketing, working with non-publishing clients, self-publishing and building your own website. Being a practical kind of person, I was pleased that there was at least one thing from each seminar that I could implement immediately, along with ideas for further consideration or development. The lightning talks were full of energy; the lectures well thought out and eloquently presented. And the after-dinner speaker for the gala dinner had the room in stitches. (No pressure this year, then?)
There was a limited number of trade stands to visit between seminars or during coffee breaks. If I am honest, I learned more about the products on display from the other attendees than from the stands, but it was a conversation starter. As for networking or making contact with publishers, there were several representatives from big publishers; I would consider this a matter of quality over quantity. I spoke to representatives from three publishers: they were all happy to talk to newbies and experienced professionals alike. There is always going to be a large element of luck as to whether or not your skills match a publisher’s current needs, but my experience was positive. The contacts I made at conference generated real paying work that more than covered my expenses: it was well worth my investment in time and money.
There are many motivations for coming to conference, but it is a superb place to mingle among friends, old and new, debate hyphen vs en-dash usage in fine detail with the cognoscenti (I exaggerate only slightly) and put the p and the d into your CPD. My advice? Come with a plan, so you know what you want to get out of each session you attend. Be open to new ideas and processes, as everyone has experience and opinions to share. And get stuck in! I’ve already booked my place at this year’s conference, so if you need to start somewhere, come and say hello. I’ll be the loud one on the introverts’ table.
Rachel Hamar started proofreading, editing and writing in 2014, after careers in engineering and teaching. She specialises in maths education, gardening, and patchwork and quilting. When she is not working, she is often found walking her dogs, weeding the garden or sewing: it depends on the weather.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Click here for more information, and to book a place at this year’s conference, from 5–7 September at the University of York.