Thursday, 26 September 2019 15:01

SfEP 2019: Comedy, conversation, celebration

Written by Claire Bacon

Sfep running group

Members of the SfEP Run On Group (photo by Kate Wright)

On 14 September, editors worldwide gathered in Birmingham for the 30th annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Lured by the interesting programme and a desire to finally meet all those SfEP members I know so well on social media, I decided to join in the fun.

Feeling welcome
I immediately felt right at home. Within a few minutes I bumped into long-time member Helen Stevens, who was just as friendly and supportive in real life as she is online, introducing me to fellow academic editors and recommending my blog to others. First-time conference goers were invited for a welcome drink with the SfEP Council before dinner, which gave us the chance to break the ice (with the help of alcohol).

Free comedy

The opening lecture turned out to be a free comedy gig. Chris Brookmyre entertained us all with stories about his relationship with copyeditors, the perils of getting his work translated, and how readers are very good at telling you what’s wrong with your work (we enjoyed hearing a selection of his one-star reviews). Chris had warned us that he may have to resort to ‘infantile filth’ to make us laugh so early in the morning. He did his job well.

There were more laughs at the gala dinner. Rob Drummond talked about the relationship between linguistic knowledge and linguistic pedantry, explaining why language isn’t about right or wrong. So what about those annoying errors that bug you? Rob’s son has the answer: ‘Mate, let it go. It’s just nonstandard.’

SfEP director David Crystal closed the conference with a witty talk about the challenges his team faced getting the third edition of the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language published. The encyclopaedia needed fifty extra pages to incorporate massive linguistic changes and cultural differences – who knew a traffic light is called a robot in South Africa? We also enjoyed David’s hilarious parody of a Donald Trump speech: ‘make the SfEP great again!’

Professional development

Of course, there was also quite a bit of professional development on offer. The sessions tackled a variety of relevant topics and we all had problems choosing which sessions to attend.

To help our writers get their message across to the reader, we editors sometimes need to query things with the author. Knowing when to query can be tricky, so I was grateful to Gerard Hill for offering a workshop on The art of querying. He explained why querying may be necessary (omission, inconsistency and ambiguity) and how to handle notes and queries to the author (get the author on your side, be concise but thorough and keep your notes error-free). Gerard also provided a useful tool to help us decide what to do when we want to restyle something but aren’t sure why: check if it is wrong. If it is, then decide whether to silently correct or amend but flag. If it may be wrong, then decide whether to let it stand, query, or query and suggest an alternative.

Learning new things

I decided to dip my academic toes into the world of fiction editing at Louise Harnby’s seminar on Switching to fiction editing. (To be honest, I was a bit star-struck. I couldn’t resist seeing Louise in action – her resources for editors have helped me immensely.) Louise told us what to look out for when editing fiction. Some of these points were specific to fiction, like keeping an eye on the narrative viewpoint so that the plot and chronology run smoothly. Others also crop up a lot in academic writing: unnecessary adverbs, needless repetition and endless description. Louise also generously gave all attendees free access to her new online course Switching to fiction editing. Thanks, Louise!

Marketing tips: be engaging

Effective marketing is important for every business. I’ve been dabbling in content marketing for a few years and was looking for ways to make my strategies more effective. Cathy Wassells explained how to use social media to market your business. Take-home messages were to post different types of content in your posts and to keep them engaging and personal – videos and selfies are particularly effective (time to leave my comfort zone, it seems). To increase engagement, Cathy also recommended posting content when your clients are online.


Have you ever thought about offering training – maybe to your clients, or to other editors? Hilary Cadman has developed online training courses for editors and shared her experiences in her workshop. She told us about teaching platforms that didn’t work for her (OptimizePress) and those that did (Teachable). She also showed us how easy it is to make a short screencast and explained how to do it right: keep it short, talk slowly and invest in a decent microphone and software. Her helpful workshop made developing an online course seem doable.

Keep on running

Conferences can be pretty overwhelming, so I was happy to escape the conference centre for an early morning run with the SfEP Run On Group – a lovely group of editors who like to run. Some of us run for miles every day, while others are happy with a short jog every now and again. Anyone interested in joining the group can check us out on Facebook where we discuss all things related to running. It was great to finally get together in person for a run – thank you Cathy Tingle and Shannon Humberstone for organizing it.

A toast to the SfEP

There was also stuff to celebrate. Chair Sabine Citron announced at the welcome address that the SfEP is now a chartered institute, thanks to the initiative of Gerard Hill who convinced the SfEP council to make a bid for chartership back in 2016. There were standing ovations for Sabine and Gerard at the gala dinner – and rightly so, as chartered status will raise the professional status of copyeditors and proofreaders all over the world.

Closing time

All good things must come to an end. The conference closed with a raffle (where I won Louise Harnby’s online Blogging for Business Growth course – as if the conference wasn’t brilliant enough already!) and we all said our goodbyes.

I am often struck by how supportive the editing community is. I left academia five years ago and now I have an editing business that I am very proud of. But I would not be here without the support and guidance of my colleagues from SENSE and the SfEP. To all those lovely editors: you are my people.

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