Tag Archives: CPD

Turn networking into training: how to be a selfish and very wise newbie

By Ally Oakes

You’ve just ventured to your first SfEP local group meeting. Nice, but a bit nerve-racking! You daren’t open up too much yet, because that might make you reveal those GAPS that sometimes make you break out into a cold sweat. Surely you’re the only person who still doesn’t know XYZ? It’s hard enough trying to remember the names of all those nice people.

Now, while it’s still ever so slightly painful, turn this on its head. Instead of ‘What will they think of me next time?’, go for ‘What do I want?’ Think of one particular GAP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Then think of someone in the group you like, or who strikes you as super-knowledgeable. Preferably both. Let’s call this person *star*.

Be direct. Try asking *star* this: ‘Is it ok if I email you with a couple of questions about XYZ in my current training/work project?’ (A couple, huh? Start small.) Or ‘Could I please phone you sometime about XYZ? It would be easier for me if I have it there on the screen in front of me while I talk about it.’ There. You haven’t even had to confess to *star* that you actually have no real idea at all about XYZ – you’ve simply given a good, positive impression that you’d like to improve your skills or knowledge.

That’s level one. You may well understand it all completely now. Read on for the next level.

Take it up a level

If this GAP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE seems pretty big and scary, then ask *star* for a coaching session.

  • Explain that you absolutely intend to pay *star* for one or two hours, at their normal hourly rate.
  • Decide where to meet – it may be at their house, or it may be at a coffee shop or library halfway between you.
  • If you’re driving, use your satnav! Even if you entirely abhor its existence and feel that it is there in your car simply to leech away your own excellent map-reading abilities. The alternative is the ‘Help, I’m lost!’ phone call five minutes before you’re due to arrive. This won’t do much for the impression of assured willingness to learn that you intend to give to *star*, now will it? Believe me.
  • Take a small gift.
  • Ask loads of questions – make the absolute most of your own personalised tuition session. *Star* wants to help you just as much as you want to be helped.
  • Make tons of notes.
  • Ask how they want to be paid, pay promptly and ask for a receipt.
  • Review your new knowledge and practise your new skills over the next couple of days.

If you and *star* do agree to meet in their home, you might be lucky enough also to gain: a peek at someone else’s working environment; a chance to discuss office furniture and reference books with someone who has similar aims in their working life, but a different journey; a view of their beautiful, super-stylish, all-white-flowering garden; a feel of their luxurious underfloor heating; and maybe a scrummy lunch. Oh, and do make sure that you leave promptly: you’re both working people.

Then, a month or two down the line, you’ll realise how often you’re making use of their knowledge – which is now your new knowledge – far more than if you’d simply googled the questions. (You’d done that anyway, but hadn’t understood the answers.) You’ll be further on professionally because of them. You’ll have paid *star* and made them feel what they are – knowledgeable and wise, and a little bit richer. And you may well both have made a new friend.

 

Ally OakesPrecision, 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 Oakes’ proofreading curry.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The SfEP mini-conference goes international: Toronto 2018

Over the past few years, local SfEP groups have arranged mini-conferences – day-long CPD and networking events. In November 2018, the Toronto local group hosted its first mini-conference: in this post, two attendees tell us about their experience.

Toronto City Hall

An editor’s homecoming

By Maya Berger

To be an expat is to always feel like a piece of you is far away. To be an expat who has returned home can feel even more fragmenting.

I left Canada for the UK right after I finished my undergraduate degree, and until I moved back to Toronto a year ago all my editorial training, employment, and professional affiliations were British. My links to SfEP have been an anchor for me in a year of big life changes, and the recent SfEP Toronto mini-conference allowed me to bring my British editorial past into my Canadian future. This conference felt like coming full circle for me since the co-organisers, Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan, and several of the attendees (including my roommate here in Toronto, Rachel Small) were all people I’d met in the UK through SfEP.

The Toronto mini-conference was an absolute delight. Delegates and speakers came from all over Canada and from the United Kingdom and the United States. There was a fascinating range of backgrounds, career paths, and experience levels among the delegates, and the conference programme delivered impressively on its promise of ‘Something for Everyone’.

Unfamiliar as I was with the Canadian editing community, which of course includes a growing number of SfEP members, the conference introduced me to editor rock stars Virginia Durksen, Jennifer Glossop and Adrienne Montgomerie. Their sessions on grammar, editorauthor relations, and marking up PDFs, respectively, reflected their wealth of expertise and were delivered in a friendly and accessible way. The full roster of speakers and panellists also included fellow Canadians Jeanne McKane, Vanessa Wells and conference co-organiser Janet MacMillan, Americans Erin Brenner and Laura Poole, and Brit Louise Harnby, and it was truly inspiring to learn from their collective wisdom.

Since I didn’t train as an editor in Canada, I was unaware of all the opportunities for professional development that exist across the country for editors and proofreaders. I was pleased to learn that three of the conference’s sponsors, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, Queen’s University Professional Studies, and Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, offer courses in editing and publishing-sector skills.
In many ways Toronto is an ideal location for hosting an international conference of editorial professionals. Because Canada’s language and culture have been strongly influenced by both the UK and the US, speakers and delegates from both of those countries, as well as the many Canadians in attendance, found the conference relevant to them. It also didn’t hurt that Toronto itself is a cosmopolitan city with great transport links and lots of attractions.

I have to give huge thanks and kudos to Janelle, Kelly and Janet for organising such a great day. I’m thrilled that Toronto now has its own mini-conference for editors and proofreaders, and there is already talk of making it an annual event. Between this event, the monthly Toronto SfEP group meetings and all my editor friends in the city, Toronto feels like a great place for this editor to call home.

Toronto skyline at nightBeyond editing: finding my people

By Rachel Small

I love working from home. And my idea of a great night involves a good book, a mug of tea and my couch. That said, I’m not completely anti-social, and as a freelance editor I know the importance of community in battling the isolation that tends to come with the job.

In the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, I’ve found ‘my people’.

I was first introduced to the SfEP by my friend and colleague (and often guru) Janet MacMillan, while I was living in the UK. Introvert that I am, I was a bit shy about meeting Janet in the first place, but she immediately welcomed me into her home and reassured me that I would find a supportive network and fantastic professional resources in the SfEP. And she was right.

I started attending the London meetings regularly, and at one such meeting I was pleasantly surprised to hear another Canadian accent. I introduced myself to Maya Berger that evening, and now she’s not only a fellow Toronto-based SfEP enthusiast but also my roommate! Talk about finding my people.

On 7 November 2018, the Toronto group held its first mini-conference, co-organised by Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan. While the day’s sessions were top-notch (I feel as though I need a year to integrate all of the tips gleaned from the presenters into my business), what really stood out to me was the camaraderie. Friends, colleagues and strangers alike shared stories and battle scars. We laughed, we groaned, we commiserated.

As I looked around the beautiful venue, I couldn’t quite believe it. I was in the same room as so many of my editing heroes, and treated as a peer. It was humbling and inspiring. I found it equally wonderful meeting so many other people who called themselves introverts. We acknowledged how the intense socialising was outside of our norm but incredibly valuable. The conversations lit a fire under me, and I resolved to get out a little more.

After the full-day conference and subsequent night at the pub, where more lively discussions ensued, I was exhausted – but in the best possible way. Within that exhaustion, I felt rejuvenated. I’d created a memory I could tap into when I needed a boost of energy and motivation. And now, on those days when working from home is just too isolating, I know I have an incredible network of people here in Toronto and also across Canada, the UK, and the US to reach out to. My editing people.

I’m already eagerly anticipating the next conference in Toronto, and I also hope to attend the main SfEP annual conference in Birmingham in 2019.

Tonight, though? I’m curling up with a book.

Cup of tea next to an open book

 

Maya BergerMaya Berger is a copy-editor and proofreader specialising in academic texts, sci fi and fantasy, YA fiction, and romantic and erotic fiction. She is currently a Professional Member of the SfEP. She has degrees in English Literature, Philosophy and Children’s Literature, and she worked as an editorial manager for a higher education specialist publisher in London before going freelance in 2016. Having spent 13 years in the UK, Maya returned to her native Canada in October 2017 and is now a member of the Toronto local SfEP group.

Rachel SmallRachel Small is an editor based in Toronto, Canada, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She works with independent authors, small publishers, and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Her specialties are women’s fiction, memoirs, and material meant to move and inspire audiences. She always loves a good travel story, both on and off the page.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: 2019


Multi-coloured metal owl sculpture
It’s 2019! The SfEP’s wise owls are hatching plans for the year ahead.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I aim to grow and develop my business every year, to be able to look back a year on and identify what’s different – and better – than it was 12 months previously. I don’t always know what direction that change will take me at the outset, as it may be based on chance encounters. But I am open-minded about change, and make it work for me and my business when opportunities arise.

This year my focus is on developmental editing. It’s a challenging task, and every job is different. The recent SfEP Education Publishing Update in London sparked this notion. Of note was a talk on the changing nature of relationships in publishing, including packager clients. And Astrid deRidder’s closing session was empowering in the way it told us to make all our skills known to clients, because they’re often crying out for them (who’d have thought syllabus mapping was such a sought-after skill?).

On a personal note my eldest is going to university this year, so there will be big changes at home, and in June I shall be seeing Metallica live for the fifth time (and the first in 20 years), no doubt reminiscing about when I first saw them as a spotty teenager in a field in Derbyshire in 1990…

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’m hoping 2019 will mean finishing off all those things I started in 2018 – primarily training, but also uncovering my desk. The PTC Adobe tools for editors course, Hilary Cadman’s PerfectIt duo and a MOOC on humanism all languish either just started or not-started-but-still-paid-for. The latter part of 2018 kinda got away from me, so my resolution this year is to catch up! If I can get into the routine of scheduling (and sticking to) time to spend on training courses that require self-starting rather than leaving the house and showing up (which is much easier to prioritise – at home, there’s always paid work that gets preferential treatment, or lazing around doing nothing, dressed up as R&R), I’m hoping to continue with some of the newest PTC online courses – Copyright Essentials, Editing Illustrations and the Copy-Editor’s Guide to Working with Typesetters all look juicy. (I really feel I should point out that I’ve already done all the SfEP courses that are relevant to me!) Looks like I’ll need to get the garbage off my desk soon. Of course, there are other things I want to achieve in 2019. I’m toying with the idea of rebranding, for one (something else carried over from last year). And I want to get a proper disaster recovery plan implemented and maintained. Too much head-in-the-sandiness and mindless optimism could bite back, there, so that really needs to be tackled.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

2018 was challenging, so for the first time in years I made some New Year’s resolutions aimed at finding a more sensible work–life balance:

  1. Introduce some predictability into regular work, ha ha. Much of my bread and butter work is copyediting and proofing law books, which I enjoy – but these projects come randomly and often with tight deadlines, so I’m asking clients to book further ahead. Also exploring the idea of a retainer for one or two publisher clients, which I know works for some colleagues. It would be lovely to put some structure into 2019!
  2. Put Pomodoro to work. I have been trying to take five minutes away from the desk every forty-five minutes, and it really does help with productivity, but when the pressure is on I ignore my little pop-up reminder. This must stop – the regime is even more important when the pressure is on!
  3. Exercise every day, twenty minutes minimum.
  4. Make time to write. My last (non-fiction) book was published in December 2013 and I resolved then to write a novel; five years on, NY’s resolution #4 is to … write a novel.
  5. Try to carry New Year’s resolutions into February and beyond. So far so good, at least with nos 1–3.

Wishing everyone a productive and enjoyable 2019!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

2018 was quite a challenging year for me personally, so work had to take something of a back seat. I’ve learned a lot about working through a crisis, and people have been incredibly understanding. I needed to continue to support myself and my family, so carried on working throughout at more or less my usual rate, but I had to withdraw somewhat from ‘extra-curricular activities’ such as online networking, and I also scaled back my regular marketing activities and took more time off than usual. Work ticked over, with regular clients keeping me supplied with things to do, which was a huge relief. Now, however, I’m planning to get proactive again, and return to the editorial fray with a vengeance in 2019 – getting stuck in online, seeking out new work opportunities, investigating ways I can push my business forward and also exploring collaborative work with a group of editor friends. I’m also continuing the work I began last year on the SfEP’s outward-facing newsletter, Editorial Excellence. I’m excited to see what this year brings!

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

It’s a cliché but I never like the feeling of standing still in my business. In some cases I’ve been working with the same clients on the same kind of work for many years, but I always like to feel I’m moving forward – whether I’m finding better ways to work in sync with my clients’ needs, seeking new efficiencies to improve my hourly rate or simply finding more things to enjoy about what I do.

I’ve always kept a lot of data about my projects and how long individual tasks take, but one of my goals for this year is to put that data to better use. It’s all very well knowing approximately how long a project will take based on my experience of similar work in the past. However, it can be difficult to accurately assess whether I’ll have time for all the myriad individual stages of that project when it’s spread over a year or more and interwoven with many other jobs. By making my time planning much more granular, I hope to minimise the workload lumps and bumps that can disrupt work–life balance.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

SfEP conference 2018: what they said

Places at this year’s conference at Lancaster University sold out quickly and the conference’s success has been blogged about by attendees since the event in September – here are the highlights.

SfEP directors and audience at the AGM

There was swearing

Kia Thomas’s session on editing sweary stuff was clearly a highlight for many members; it inspired Howard Walwyn to title his comprehensive conference review ‘#SfEP 2018 – Let’s Get F***in’ Serious‘.

Hannah McCall also enjoyed the session, and the Coco Pops option at breakfast; this was her first SfEP conference experience, and she talks about the warmth of strangers and support of her conference buddy in her summary.

Editors travelled from far and wide

Every year, more and more editors based outside the UK attend, and present at, the conference. Claire Wilkshire discusses British politeness in her post ‘Editors, sheep, conferencing‘.

Presenters push the boundaries of their comfort zones

The conference director approached Kia Thomas during her ‘Saying Yes’ kick, and Kia elegantly discusses the process of preparing and presenting at a conference in ‘Conferences, confidence and comfort zones‘.

There were indexers there too

The Society for Indexers’ conference was at the same venue at the same time this year, enabling sharing of some sessions and the gala dinner. Tanya Izzard is an indexer looking to develop her editing skills, and made the most of the opportunity to attend two conferences at once.

Attendees learnt stuff

Pamela Smith lists her main learning points from the two days in her conference report – AND she won a fabulous raffle prize so the learning can carry on.

The learning wasn’t just limited to the sessions – the quiz on the opening evening of the conference warmed up brain cells and revealed the vast amounts of random knowledge that editors carry around in their heads. Oh, and Kia Thomas was on the winning team.

But it’s all about…

As Stephen Cashmore reminds us, the conference is all about the people: those who plan, prepare and attend it.

Attendees at the 2018 SfEP Conference

There’s more coverage of this year’s sessions in the November/December edition of Editing Matters, the Society’s digital magazine for members.

Compiled by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coming up

Project fear: fiction editing

By Gale Winskill

With apologies to Jane Austen, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that most editors enjoy reading’. I say ‘most’, as there will undoubtedly be an exception somewhere – and when you find them, please let me know! Of those who read for pleasure, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority probably opt for some sort of fiction, although again, a small percentage will not.

Drawing of a book with a visualisation of a story coming from its pagesBut those who don’t will quite possibly enjoy memoirs or biographies that share many narrative traits with fiction, as ultimately they encompass a good ‘story’, and require pace and drama.
Fast-forward then to the surprising number of editors who recoil in horror at the thought of actually editing fiction, preferring the relative order of non-fiction subject specialities, academic guidelines and referencing systems over the perceived unwieldiness of fiction.

Spot the difference

And yet, is non-fiction/academic editing really so different from fiction editing?

We all pass an unconscious critical eye over our reading material, of whatever ilk – newspaper articles, web text, books… And how often have we come to the end of a novel only to wonder what happened to a particular character who inexplicably disappeared from view at some point, or to query why an author suddenly switched to American idiom for a protagonist previously noted for their ‘West Country vernacular’?

Is this really so different from spotting in a work of non-fiction that the Russian Revolution occurred momentarily in 1817 rather than 1917, or that Reggio Calabria had transformed into Reggio Emilia, which is at the opposite end of Italy? Leaving incorrect or inconsistent facts in any type of text can lead to unnecessary reader confusion.

But what about all that dialogue and jargon? How is an editor supposed to ensure conformity in a text written in teenage slang, for example? Well, for those of you with teenagers in the house, a quick question in this regard will not only engender a snort of derision, but will also provide the necessary clarification if required. Even if you don’t have direct access to this subspecies of the human race, there are wonderful online resources to keep you up to date, just as there are helpful organisations to keep you abreast of changing terminology and ethical considerations in other areas of your editing life.

‘But there are no rules to fiction,’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s not entirely true, is it? The basic conventions of grammar, punctuation, tense agreement, spelling and so on still apply … just not always with the same regularity as in other texts. The key is to find the pattern and then impose consistency. Think of it as a challenge, a puzzle to unravel. Patrick Ness’s phonetic transcription of language in his Chaos Walking trilogy isn’t unintelligible; it’s innovative, consistent and apt. It’s completely sensible to expect that a teenage protagonist with no formal education might write ‘station’ as ‘stayshun’. In non-fiction or academia, the word ‘anxiolytic’ might have more resonance for its target audience than the term ‘anxiety-reducing’. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context … and uniformity.

Genres, interest and expertise

But that still doesn’t address the elephant in the room – the huge array of genres: thrillers, young adult, erotica, crime, romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, and so on. How can an editor possibly deal with all of that?

Well, most fiction editors don’t. Generally, our editing specialities reflect our reading preferences, in the same way that many non-fiction editors focus on their own areas of general interest or academic expertise. We all have our comfort zones. After all, if you read a lot of crime fiction, you are more likely to spot a glaring narrative discrepancy in a similar work – especially if the ‘error’ concerns the plausibility of that one vital piece of information on which the entire plot hinges – than if you usually read magic realism.

And if erotica or science fiction are not your bag – as self-help, politics or Celtic religion might not be someone else’s – then why would you even consider working on them? It’s not compulsory. The beauty of fiction is that there is such a range to choose from that there really is something for everyone. And nowhere does it state that you have to edit fiction to the exclusion of other types of work.

Bookshelves with clouds and birds aboveNovel impact

At the recent 2018 SfEP conference, I attended two excellent sessions on very different aspects of fiction editing. Although some might think that I had little to learn, given that I have been editing fiction in one form or another for a very long time, I would beg to differ, as I always discover fresh ways of looking at old topics. The sessions brought together newbies and veterans, and each had as much to offer to the discussion as the other. One thing that emerged was that everyone could cite novels that had had an impact on them at some point, and were able to verbalise the reasons why. The same applied to their responses to the various exercise texts.

And if you can articulate your reaction to a piece of narrative prose, you can edit fiction!
Fiction is uniquely subjective and everyone has a different – and equally valid – opinion of what works and what doesn’t, and it is this existence of ‘no right answer’ that scares those who avoid it.

It is true that no two fiction editors will ever highlight exactly the same things in the same narrative, although there will be commonalities. Things that bother me may not bother you, and at the end of the day who’s to say that I’m right and you’re wrong, or vice versa? We can posit an opinion, but what the author does with that information is up to them – as with non-fiction editing.

Fiction editors provide authors with an invaluable service. Not only do they tidy up a text, and ensure that plot details tally, the text is reasonably clean, pace is maintained and the chosen spelling conventions are consistent, but they also stand in for the final reader – the book buyer! They let the author know what works and what doesn’t, and so help them to avoid those often minor, yet erroneous details mentioned above, which can ultimately detract from an otherwise great story.

And next…

So, if you are now thinking that fiction editing may not be quite as scary – or as alien – as you first thought and might like to give it a go, or if you have members of staff who would benefit from an overview of how to get started and what to consider, perhaps you should contemplate the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

Written by a variety of experienced fiction editors, it offers a broad overview of the basic things to look out for when copy-editing a work of fiction. There are no fixed ‘rules’ as such, but you will hopefully discover that fiction editing is not quite as lawless or ‘unquantifiable’ as you envisage.

Above all, the course provides ample reassurance that, as long as you can justify your opinion in the context of the novel, your very own ‘no right answer’ might actually be correct. But there’s only one way to know if I’m telling the truth, so why not confront your demons and learn how to kill those darlings?

Gale WinksillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She co-wrote the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

 

 

The SfEP also publishes a guide to Getting started in fiction editing, written by Kat Trail.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Inclusive language – and inclusive editing

By Sarah Grey

At the SfEP’s wonderful 2018 conference in Lancaster, I had the privilege of speaking with attendees about inclusive language. It’s strange, leaving the United States to talk about this topic at a time when inclusion and kindness seem to be very low on my country’s agenda – yet I am convinced that the stakes for inclusive and ethical editing are higher than ever.

Three people sat on bench in front of a wall of photo portraitsEditors have a long tradition of defending accuracy and fairness. We want to do right by our clients and by readers. We value inclusivity. We want to be on the right side of history. Almost all social justice movements, whatever their focus, take up questions of language as part of the struggle for equality and freedom. When that happens, language change, which is usually a very gradual process, becomes conscious, deliberate, and much, much faster. Language and politics are forever catching up to one another, pushing and pulling against one another. Our job as editors is to help language catch up.

There’s no one authority on inclusive language. We all have our own biases and knowledge gaps, and we can’t know what other people’s lives are like. People identify ways where language leaves them out or gets them wrong, and they speak up about it and start getting creative about alternatives and trying new things to see what catches on. It’s important for me to add here that there are debates about many of these things (such as people-first language in discussions of disability), so it’s important to stay up to speed on the debates that affect topics you edit.

Language changes because old words haven’t kept up with new realities, or realities that are newly being confronted. When you have the power of naming, you can frame how other people see you. You are literally setting the terms of the discussion. And that, in turn, allows you to put forward what you need in very material and tangible ways.

Etiquette

My grandmother always taught me that the goal of etiquette is to make sure every guest feels welcome and included. As editors it’s our job to see things from the reader’s point of view, not just our own or the author’s – and to welcome readers into the text and keep them reading. So editing for inclusive language is about understanding where language leaves some readers out and finding ways to invite them in.

But there’s a basic principle that underlies the idea of etiquette, of making people feel welcome, and it works very well when editing: treat people like they’re people. Don’t treat them like they’re lesser, like they’re unintelligent, like they don’t exist or don’t matter.

One way of doing this is othering: calling attention to someone’s differences from the unstated idea of ‘normal’: for example, referring to the Asian doctor or the trans librarian when ethnicity and gender aren’t relevant to the story, or dividing a catalogue page into ‘laptop bags’ and ‘women’s laptop bags’. This treats people from the othered group like a special exception whose identity has to revolve around their difference, or like they simply don’t exist, except perhaps in relation to someone more important.

For example, the Guardian recently tweeted the shortlist for the New Academy literary prize with the headline ‘Neil Gaiman and Haruki Muramaki up for alternative Nobel literature prize’. Only seven paragraphs in did the article mention that ‘the shortlist is completed with two female writers’, Maryse Condé and Kim Thúy.

Silhouttes of people standing, their reflections on the floorSo this is something we can watch for as we edit – is everyone identified equally? Do the women have names? Does the interview ask everyone about their child-care arrangements, or only the women? It’s also common to see men’s names given with a full title and women’s titles omitted, as well as surnames for men and first names for women.

Do these slights in themselves hurt anyone? Yes and no. Small instances that might seem innocuous enough pile up. If you’re labelled as other, these microaggressions, as they’re called, happen over and over, and in patterns and in partnership with more violent incidents. Experience that enough and you begin to see how one feeds into the other.

Ethics

That brings us to ethics – because the way we as editors use language has serious consequences in the real world.

Our decisions can influence what the boundaries of normal, legitimate discourse are. Granted, when someone like Donald Trump is in power, those boundaries are pushed further and further out into the realm of the bizarre, but here we are. The boundaries of legitimate discourse can, depending on where we as a society place them, contribute to or even provide justification for physical violence. And while our decisions can’t shape the course of language change, we do have some influence over how language changes. And in that respect, the decisions we make truly do matter.

In the news media it’s especially noticeable when different words are used to describe the same things done by different people. Words carry assumptions and judgements: Are you a protestor or a rioter? Are you assertive or abrasive? Is your government an administration or a regime? The specifics of these terms vary from place to place depending on who has power. They also function as ‘dog whistles’, political code. When these saturate the media and find their way into people’s worldviews, that can have real consequences, including violence.

There are always competing narratives about any conflict, so when you’re editing material that deals with one, whether it’s intended to be neutral or takes a specific stance, you need to do your research and understand which terms are used by whom and whether terms imply a specific stance or are relatively neutral.

The term illegal alien, for example, sounds like it should refer to Klingons or Time Lords, but it’s been used since the 1990s to describe people arriving at the US–Mexico border from Central and South America. It has largely fallen out of mainstream use over the last decade or two, as human rights activists have pointed out that it is blatantly dehumanising. The AP Stylebook, the New York Times, and the American Library Association dropped the term, with the latter noting that it is ‘increasingly associated with nativist and racist sentiments’. Avoiding such inflammatory terms isn’t euphemism; it’s accuracy.

But this July, the federal Department of Justice sent an email to all US attorneys’ offices instructing them never to use the term ‘undocumented immigrants’ and instead refer only to ‘illegal aliens’. In the context of thousands of immigrant children under the age of five being separated from their parents and detained literally in cages, the federal government is taking steps to ensure that only the most dehumanising possible term is used. That’s not a coincidence.Barbed wireWe see similar dehumanisation of migrants across Europe. Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Institute describes this as ‘a conscious policy to reintroduce language that was previously not acceptable in debate’. Obviously we can’t control what the politicians do, but we can push back when we see that sort of language being treated as normal discourse in the texts we edit.

Customer service

As editors, it’s our job to help our clients convey a message to an audience and to remove anything that gets in the way of that message, like unintended sexual connotations or grammatical mistakes. That includes protecting them from making gaffes or inadvertently causing offence. Often these mistakes come from ignorance or thoughtlessness.

There are also times where the author might not actually be flat-out wrong, but still manages to distract the reader. (This is why I advise writers to stay away from the word niggardly, even though its etymological origins have nothing to do with the racial slur.)

This doesn’t mean that you have to make your clients’ writing bland or inoffensive. Nor does it mean that you should shrug off or ignore or cover up writing that’s problematic. What it means is that if your author is going to offend anyone, you want that to be intentional. As an editor I’m a proxy for the reader, and if something causes a strong reaction in me, I want to be absolutely sure that it’s the reaction the author was going for.

We also have a responsibility to keep our authors up to date. Just as we would correct them if they used outdated tech terms, we can do the same when it comes to social issues. We’re not here to shame our authors or tell them they’re doing it all wrong. We’re here to make the finished product better, so a little tact can go a long way.

I try to assume the best of intentions on the author’s part and start from there. Most of the time it will end with the client thanking you.

Tools

If you’re writing about a specific community, check for style guides published by advocacy groups. If you find yourself working a lot on a specific issue, consider compiling your own stylesheet to help you keep things straight.

If you’re still not clear on certain terms or ideas, though, don’t just ignore them: make the effort to learn. Read books, articles and blogs by prominent members of the community you want to learn more about, consume their art, follow them on social media, or talk to them in person. If you do more listening than talking, you’ll pick up on a lot, not just about what terms people are using but also how people in that community are affected as human beings by language. And if you really need in-depth information you can’t find on your own, consider hiring one of the many people who offer consulting on these issues.

What if you screw up? Try not to get defensive or make it about yourself; listen and try to understand it from the reader’s perspective. Speaking up about oppressive language can be stressful, so the person taking the risk of pointing out your error is doing you a favour. Respect that, learn from it and try to do better. It gets easier with practice.

The bottom line is that if you’re editing only the words on the page, you’re not being thorough. We also have to read – and edit – what’s between the lines. That’s what inclusive editing is all about.

Sarah GreySarah Grey is a freelance editor and writer at Grey Editing LLC in Philadelphia, USA, and the 2016 recipient of the American Copy Editors Society’s Robinson Prize for Excellence in Copyediting. Before becoming a full-time freelancer, Sarah spent several years in the translation industry, where she learned the importance of cultural sensitivity and of understanding a text’s audience. She specialises in academic nonfiction, social justice, and food writing.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Is medical editing for you?

By Catherine Booth

Who can be a medical editor?

Medical editors need all of the usual editorial skills of proofreading and copyediting, combined with some knowledge of medicine, research or biology and an ability to work to tight deadlines. While medical editors come from all walks of life, a scientific degree or practical experience in medicine – perhaps as a nurse, pharmacist or research scientist – is a must.

Although some scientific or medical knowledge is important for a medical editor, it isn’t necessary to be a subject-matter expert. While it is often useful to have a background in the specific area at hand (eg cardiology), this isn’t always practical; as a medical editor, you might be asked to work on a journal article about diabetes one day and another on spinal surgery the next. But you are not writing the material – that is the job of the author, who should be a true subject-matter expert. You are the editor.

Pile of medical booksSo what is medical editing?

Medical editing involves applying standard editorial skills to medical subject matter, but also has some characteristics of its own. Medical editing projects often involve multiple authors, complex sign-off procedures, tight deadlines, exacting house style guides, many (often complex) figures and tables, and heavy referencing.

It is common to work with authors who have English as a second language. Medical editors should feel confident in asking authors for clarification, while acknowledging their expertise. You work as a team with the author: He or she is the expert in the medical subject matter, while you are the expert at getting across a particular message with clarity and accuracy.

Where could I find work?

Various people and businesses employ medical editors. Individual authors will often approach a medical editor to ‘polish’ their manuscript before submitting it to a journal, while bigger employers can include universities, publishers, medical or scientific societies, research institutions, government departments, medical communication agencies, pharmaceutical companies and patient-support or research-based charities.

All of these organisations have different characteristics, and the materials you will be asked to work on will vary according to the client. Journal publishers will ask you to proof PDFs or edit manuscripts in Word, for example, while medical communication agencies will often ask you to proof conference posters or to edit slide decks in PowerPoint.

With this in mind, you need to have a variety of skills in your toolbox and to be happy with working with a range of programs. In each case, one thing that it is important to understand as a medical editor is the audience for the materials you are working on; the acceptable level of complexity and medical terminology will vary depending on whether the material is aimed at researchers and clinicians or the general public.

What next?

Perhaps you’re already a competent editor with some kind of background in health and/or science and becoming a medical editor sounds like a great idea. Or you’re working within medical publishing and feel that you could do with a bit of training to formalise what you’re doing every day.

The SfEP’s online Medical Editing course aims to give you a general overview of the specialism of medical editing, and the chance to practise some of the key skills that you will need. It includes exercises to hone your skills, plus model answers to check you’re on the right track. You will also have support from an online tutor, so there’s someone available to answer your questions and give advice on next steps.

Could you be a medical editor? The SfEP’s Medical Editing course gives you one way to find out.

Shelf of medical books

Catherine Booth has been a freelance medical editor for more than 15 years, and works with a range of publishers and medcomms agencies. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP and the writer of the organisation’s Medical Editing course.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Talking Tech with BookMachine

By Anya Hastwell

“Find the thing that annoys you the most – and then try and fix it,”

says Sara O’Connor, Bibliocloud’s full stack developer at BookMachine’s recent Talking Tech event in London.

You’d be easily forgiven if your initial impression of an event encouraging publishing folk to learn tech is that that it will lure them away to pursue a more profitable career in another industry … but you’d be wrong. Sort of. (Touch wood.) What the event’s speakers want to encourage is for publishing folk to be inspired to learn more tech skills that can make their own working lives easier, as the publishing industry is – and has been for some years now – becoming more digital. A perfect example is that of educational publishing, where tech is making waves not only in making learning texts digital, but also with apps, online platforms and programs for homework tracking, online marking, assessment tracking, learning games, and others. But how can we make our tech and products more user-friendly?

Computer code

To answer this question and others, let’s go to the speakers on our all-women panel. Our host Emma Barnes, founder and CEO of Bibliocloud and MD of Snowbooks, starts things off. After being made redundant from a consultancy firm, Emma founded her own independent publisher, Snowbooks, before teaching herself to code and build systems within Excel to speed up the admin side of her business. (Yes, Excel really can be programming … ). She went on a coding boot camp via Code Bar, a charity that aims to make coding more accessible (she also recommends railstutorials.org). From having with no previous coding experience, Emma became a software engineer and went on to build Bibliocloud (now called Consonance), a publishing management software.

”Learn as much programming as you have the appetite for. It means you won’t be taken in by some flashy web developer, it gives you the agency to make good decisions. Tech is the new literacy … There is always a way to automate yourself out of misery.”

Next up is Lola Odelola, software engineer and founder of blackgirl.tech, an organisation that aims to help diversify the tech industry. Lola studied English literature and creative writing at university. While job hunting after graduation, she decided she wanted to build a website for herself to showcase her writing.

“After realising poets only make money when they’re dead, I set up a website for myself to try moving into journalism. I was jobless so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved it, so then I did a bootcamp for 6 months.”

While seeing that there was some (gender) diversity in the tech industry – much like publishing – she saw there was still a long way to go before this stretched towards diversity in ethnicity: “Before I started coding I knew nothing about screen readers or accessibility, but I had friends who were getting tagged in photos by AI as apes. Tech should be making life easier for people on the margins.”

The importance of diversity within the tech teams creating our products is therefore vital for making publishing tech and other products more user-friendly and accessible, as such problems would be identified earlier and certainly caught before release to the wider public.
The coding language Ruby gets some extremely good press here tonight, which our next speaker Sara O’Connor recommends heartily. Sara started her career in children’s book publishing as an editorial assistant, and turned to tech to find better ways of doing boring and repetitive admin tasks, before working up the ranks to editorial director. She started off with no coding experience before doing a couple of week-long coding courses and then a three-month bootcamp, before returning to publishing with an array of new skills as Bibliocloud’s full stack developer.

“I’m a full stack developer building the software I wish I had when I was an editor. I advocate Ruby for publishing folks because it’s like a book. It’s an object-oriented language, and we’re already used to reading.”

The issue of diversity comes to the fore again as our last speaker, Janneke Niessen (entrepreneur, investor, board member, Improve Digital, Inspiring Fifty, Project Prep), reminds us that without diversity in tech, the future is not inclusive. “Algorithms are not neutral.” It seems that artificial intelligence stealing our jobs or killer robots are not the real danger, but our own bias, conscious or unconscious, is. Janneke proceeded to tell us a story of when she asked her son what he thought she did for a living. “A princess who dances!” was his reply. So she set about videoing herself while working, explaining what she was doing and why she was doing it to show him what she actually did at work. Janneke showed us some slides while giving us plenty to think about: some 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not yet exist; people’s ability to think differently, be different and challenge previous concepts of how things ‘should’ be done are valuable – people who can be flexible and mutable, and who do not necessarily fit in, are those who companies need to hire in order to change and keep up with the times.

Presentation slide about diversity and investment

This was quite possibly my favourite BookMachine event of those I’ve been to, and it did make me think about what we define as ‘coding’… Many among the SfEP’s ranks are either familiar with or swear by the use of Word macros (quite literally, sometimes). Very often, macros are the only way of being make certain projects achievable within a budget and timescale given by a publisher.

Whether you want to find some neat tricks in Excel to speed up your admin, start using some really clever Word macros that will do a lot of your editing dirty work for you, or update your CV with the kind of skills that could open doors to some really covetable workplaces and clients, there’s no doubt that the publishing industry needs people with a talent for tech, who can use it for an audience’s benefit.

How you want to apply these skills, and how far, is completely down to you. You’re still the one pressing the button.

Anya HastwellAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The 2018 SfEP conference: a day in a delegate’s life

By Louise Bolotin

I’m a bit of an old hand at SfEP conferences, but this year’s was my first since 2014 – I was enticed by the programme of events – on both days, there were sessions I was keen to attend that would either help me move me into future subject areas I was already toying with, or would help me run my business better.

After Saturday’s AGM, it was time to hit the bar before dinner and meet colleagues I’d previously only known as avatars. Plenty of gin, dinner and a raucous pub quiz meant I went to bed looking forward to getting stuck in next day. (Gin, by the way, is an essential food group conference lubricant.) And no matter how late you stay up drinking in the bar, I recommend getting up in good time for breakfast. I didn’t and by the time I got there, the coffee was all gone. And so I arrived at Sunday’s plenary uncaffeinated, but it didn’t matter.

Mug with text 'I'm sorry for what I said before I had my coffee'

The same but different

Lynne Murphy’s Whitcombe Lecture on editing American English versus British English was witty, entertaining and informative. Slides can often be dull, merely parroting what the speaker is saying, or a distraction because you’re trying to read the slide rather than listening. Lynne’s were neither –entertaining cartoons depicted how Brits and Americans are only different on the surface, something that also applies to how they write.

Her slides about a survey she had conducted of US and UK editors and how they approached their work were enlightening. Some of the differences were quite stark – British editors are more intuitive, it seems, often making changes because ‘it feels right’. Conversely, American editors are more concerned with the mechanics of editing and fact-checking. No doubt something that really resonated for many of us if the queue to buy signed copies of Lynne’s book, The Prodigal Tongue, after the lecture were any measure.

A change of mindset when it comes to expanding our client base is something we should probably all consider, that old cliché about thinking outside the box. So I was intrigued by the title of Alison Hughes’ workshop – The budget and beyond: growing your business organically. Lots of sole traders find spare cash for marketing can fluctuate, so I was pleased she had lots of really creative ideas on offer that cost little or nothing. But first, she outlined what were for her, and no doubt most of us, non-negotiable expenses – membership of a professional body (hello SfEP!), business cards, website and domain name, at least one conference a year and, importantly, health. She also recommended considering have business postcards printed too, as you can get so much more information on them.

But what of the cheapies and freebies? She suggested attending conferences and events in your specialist areas, even if you have limited budget. Alison said she’d benefited from scouring the Eventbrite platform, where you can find many events aimed at the business community that are free to attend, or cost a nominal amount. She noted that universities also put on free events. For me, this was the most useful takeaway and I’ve already committed myself to a weekly search on Eventbrite to find events that fit with my specialist subjects and will hopefully bring in more work.

After lunch, it was time for Nigel Harwood’s thought-provoking session on the ethics of proofreading for students. Using just one sentence extracted from a foreign student’s Master’s dissertation, he demonstrated how three different proofreaders – A, B and C – had approached the text. A, a professional, had corrected the English, while B, a tutor who helped students for free, had merely underlined the entire sentence to indicate the author needed to rework it. C (a PhD student who proofread for other students for a small fee), however, had also suggested ideas to expand the content of the dissertation. It was a textbook example, pardon the pun, of how boundaries can become blurred – a professional’s job should only ever be to clean up the English and not “tutor” the actual work.

Nigel and a small number of other academics have done research into proofreading for students, the output so far being mainly qualitative and anecdotal, but the results showed that standards vary wildly and, essay mills aside, ethical boundaries are crossed too often. His conclusion is that universities need to start working with professional bodies such as the SfEP to develop common standards and build pools of accredited freelance proofreaders who will be the only approved professionals that students will be permitted to work with. He noted that a tiny number of universities are already starting to do this.

Warning! Profanities approaching

I really wanted to go to the lightning talks in the Something for Everyone sessions – they are always entertaining and useful. But I couldn’t resist the lure of How the F**k do I style this? presented by editor Kia Thomas, who works with independent authors and has done a lot of research into how to style swearwords. To gales of laughter, she showed why you need to decide to hyphenate a compound swearword or insult or not – cockwomble good, cock-womble just plain wrong. And, a shit-ton is the correct way to style a large amount because, as she eloquently observed, Shitton looks like a hamlet in Somerset.

In this vein, there was much more to chortle at, but also a serious underlying note – that you will come across sweary stuff in novels, in either dialogue or first-person narrative, and consistency matters here as much as for any other words. Kia closed the session with a game. We split into pairs and Kia offered us two bags from which to take one word out of each. We then had to invent a sweary compound, decide if it was a noun or verb, whether to hyphenate or not and, lastly, to make a sentence with it. The next 10 minutes had us weeping with laughter as we shared our results.

After that, the session on how to get involved with the SfEP was never going to compete for sheer entertainment value, but this is one of the most important 45 minutes you could spend at conference any year. I was stunned at the sheer number of roles in the society that volunteers can take on. I have committed to helping draft a policy on disability and will certainly consider giving more time to the SfEP when I am not too busy.

And so to the gala dinner, kicked off in style, as always, by The Linnets, who this year performed a fabulous number titled The Editor’s Psalm. There was also an enjoyable after-dinner speech by Sam Leith, literary editor of The Spectator. And wine. Plenty of wine. Despite that, I managed to get up in time on Monday for coffee, before heading for that day’s sessions…

Having taken so much useful stuff on board over two packed days, I came home brimming with ideas and have already decided that I will be at year’s next conference, no matter what.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin is a journalist and sub-editor, who works chiefly for the press. Away from the media, she specialises in copy-editing all kinds of finance and business topics, with a sideline in editing memoirs and erotica for self-publishers. When not at her desk, she can usually be found dancing in a moshpit somewhere. She is an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP. Follow her on Twitter.

 

This year’s SfEP conference was held at the University of Lancaster, 8-10 September. The 2019 conference will start on Saturday 14 September at Aston University, Birmingham.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

English Grammar Day 2018

By Abi Saffrey

Since 2014, the British Library and UCL (in association with PhilSoc and the University of Oxford) have hosted English Grammar Day. Although the event is primarily aimed at those teaching or studying grammar, the variety of sessions makes it a fascinating day for anyone with an interest on what we do with our words.Dictionary entry for grammarI first found out about English Grammar Day 2018 earlier this year (thanks Twitter) and was very keen to go – despite not having studied linguistics for 20 years, it’s still a subject that fascinates me and grammar is part of my day-to-day editing life. And it’s not often that you can get a day of CPD for the bargain price of £10 (and in the wonderful surroundings of the British Library too).

Jonnie Robinson started the day with a look at the British Library’s Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – excerpts of people talking about their word choices and grammar demonstrate how grammar forms part of our identity. The next session, presented by Lynne Murphy (an SfEP conference favourite), showed us the differences between American and British English grammar. Nope, not as different as we might like to think.

After a cuppa and a leg stretch, Rebecca Woods discussed how children acquire the grammar needed to ask questions – how they build up the components necessary to create a grammatically correct question (and how short a time it takes them), and of course what funny things they come out with in the process. How chickens?Small chick with other chicks behindTeaching and understanding grammar is on many teachers’ minds following curriculum revamps over the past few years. Suzannah Ferguson, a primary teacher now moving into postgraduate study, explained how there is a generation of teachers in schools who are without grammar knowledge and without second language knowledge. They face a steep learning curve just like their pupils. Suzannah was passionate about reassuring children (and teachers) that grammar is not the scary beast that it can easily be perceived as.

After lunch, SfEP President David Crystal brought humour and warmth to his session about grammar teaching.

‘Poppy knew what adjectives and nouns are.
She’d been drawing circles around them for ages.’

Giving children (and writers) the ability to play with words, to ask why changing the ‘standard’ word order changes the effect, develops their love of language. (Anyone for a game of adjective tennis?) Most children know many grammar rules through their acquisition of language – David believes we quibble and debate about around only 5% of grammar as a whole. We’re all grammar experts by the time we start to learn to write and read.

The final session was a panel discussion with all of the presenters, chaired by John Mullan from UCL. In summary:

  • Breaking (grammar) rules is fun.
  • Observe, explore and investigate language to make it – and grammar – interesting.
  • Usage creates norms.
  • Grammar arguments quickly evolve into identity.
  • Linguistic prejudice is real, and wrong.

Although the day was not directly aimed at editors, it did feed my appetite for language awareness and grammar knowledge. It reminded me to question my own preferences for certain structures or word choices; an author’s voice must be respected when it does not sound like my own.

I will certainly be booking my ticket for English Grammar Day 2019 as soon as the email arrives next spring – join me, editors and language lovers!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an editorial project manager and copy-editor, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She really should get around to finding a suitable postgraduate linguistics course.

 

 

 

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