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Reflecting on attending a conference for proofreaders and editors

Posted on 22nd September 2017

This year, I was asked to present at the annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I've been a member of SfEP for many years now, and am at their highest membership grade as an Advanced Professional Member, but for many years, despite being in the country more than I am now, I never quite made it to the conference. This year, lured in by the request to present, I thought I'd go the whole hog and attend the full conference, from 16th to 18th September.

I had been to an editing conference the year before, in Spain, and found that very informative, but I didn't know many people due to be there and it somehow felt different. Knowing so many people in advance of the SfEP conference put me at ease, even if I'd never met some of them face to face. The fun part then came in putting real-life people to those small thumbnail photos – some people turned out to be much taller or shorter and others had very different real-life personas compared to their online ones, but it was great to mingle with colleagues and friends for a weekend, sometimes to talk about the finer points of our own editing and proofreading services and sometimes to talk about anything but.

I know that lots of attendees and presenters are doing their own write-ups about the conference so I thought I would give my own perspective, and try not to just repeat what is already out there on the web.

Lift-sharing service and blind lunch dates

The weekend started for me with being picked up for a lift-share by a colleague I've known since I was first starting on my freelance proofreading path, Claire Handy. She and her partner were driving to the venue and more or less going past my house, so they kindly offered me a lift, meaning I wasn't going to have to arrive alone looking like a rabbit in headlights. When I arrived, Claire had to rush off to look at birds (honestly, she did: there was a trip to a local RSPB nature reserve but I'd not booked onto it) so I asked the receptionist about lunch options. I feared I'd turn into Kate-no-mates but as I asked, along came Erin Brenner (not that I knew who she was at that point) and said she'd wondered the same, so off we went for lunch. The conference hadn't even started and I'd already met two lovely editors and discussed a bit of work and a bit of play.

After lunch, I went speed dating, sorry, networking, and that was a great experience, albeit tiring and slightly overwhelming with so many people speaking in quite a small room. But based on the LinkedIn connections I've made since then, it seems we did all just about hear enough and could make notes on who we all were, and it was nice to be meeting lots of people I might not otherwise have met.

The conference starts proper

Then came the official registration and the AGM. Well, I'd been promised contentious issues and people getting worked up over minute details but this year we had the smoothest, quickest, most complaint-free AGM ever and it was over almost before it had begun. I don't know whether that was a good thing or not from an observer's perspective but I'm sure the SfEP council were pleased.

I then tried to attend a selection of varied sessions, both to keep me more alert throughout an action-packed weekend and also in the hope that I would learn lots of different things.

Louise Harnby, being the prolific blogger that she is, has already summed up her session in a better way than I ever could, so I won't even bother trying to compete. What I will say is that Kia's and my trick was that once we were told there would only be 60 seconds to present, and seeing we had quite a lot of examples, we stopped coming up with more and just chatted about our lives. I reckon that was the secret to our success in winning the prizes, along with our witty business plan, obviously.

Another marketing-related session was about advertising in directories, which was useful and at some point, I hope to put it to good use for my directory listing.

I attended two fiction editing sessions during the weekend, one presented by Kat Trail and the other by Emma Darwin. Both were really useful and enlightening and have given me much food for thought with the services I offer authors. Since the conference, I've also read a book for pleasure and been able to look at some of the issues raised – I don't want to edit when I read for pleasure but sometimes it's hard to stop!

The final session I attended (because I presented in the graveyard slot after lunch on the Monday) was on plain English, and it was really very interesting. In fact, a lot of the weekend had seemingly been spent seeing either side of the debate about whether the passive is OK, when it's OK and how much of it is OK. I do like to help my clients achieve plain English in their documents but it was good to hear from people who have worked for the more official plain English organisations and think about how to put this approach to editing into practice.

And since I've acknowledged my lift-share there, I should add that the lovely Toby Selwyn rescued me from my booked three-train journey home, instead driving me back to Coventry. I got back at 4:40pm, though had I been left to the train route, I'd not even have set off until 6:15pm. Hurrah for colleagues and lovely people.

Reflections after the proofreading and editing conference

It's now a few days since the conference ended and I've had a bit more time to digest what I heard and learned and I'm feeling refreshed and ready to get stuck in. But I'm off on holiday instead! I'll have to hope my notes and memory are both in order and will put all this newfound knowledge into proofreading and editing practice when I get back into the office (and watch out for a mini blog series based on my presentation about being a nomadic proofreader and copy-editor). For now, I'd like to thank the SfEP for inviting me to present and for organising a fabulous event and also to thank all the attendees for making it a great weekend.

And for any shy or doubting proofreaders or editors out there wondering if it's worth their time/money, I'd say go for it. It's easy to get isolated when running a freelance editing or proofreading service but these conferences are a chance to catch up with people, meet new colleagues/friends and of course keep up to date with industry developments. Even freelancers need to consider their continuing professional development.

Written by Kate Haigh.