Conference 2003: Something for everyone

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2003 conference, Birmingham

These edited articles first appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Copyrightp>

Whitcombe Lecture

The grammatical revolution:

Professor David Crystal, University of Wales, Bangor

Summarized by Stella Pilling

David Crystal's authored works are mainly in the field of language, and include The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. A former president of the Society of Indexers, he is editor of a series of general reference encyclopedias, first for Cambridge University Press and now for Penguin Books.

Those SfEP members not fortunate enough to be present at the 2003 Whitcombe Lecture missed a real treat. Professor David Crystal captivated his audience with an entertaining and informative talk.

He started by saying that we are living in an exciting and challenging time, grammatically and linguistically speaking. There has never been a period in the history of the English language when so much change has been taking place. This is because English is now officially a global language, with around 1,500 million people – a quarter of the world's population – speaking it in some form or other. Some 400 million people speak English as a mother tongue, with between 400 and 800 million speaking it as a second language.

How and why has English reached this position? Professor Crystal's thesis is that a language spreads as a result of the power of the people who speak it, be that power political, industrial, economic or cultural.

Standard English?

Although English is spoken by so many, only 2% speak what we would term 'standard English'. Today, in addition to British English and American English, we have South African English, Australian English, Indian English and Singaporean English ('Singlish') – all developing in non-standard ways that can challenge our preconceived ideas of what is correct and acceptable.

We have to remember, however, that many of the rules we have grown to love have not always been around – the split infinitive rule dates only from the 1840s. Before the mid-18th century, English was much freer in construction and spelling; rule books did not emerge until Dr Johnson's time. With the development of many other forms of English in the world, change is happening all around us.

Languages at risk

Professor Crystal went on to draw attention to the ecological crisis affecting many of the world's 6,000 languages, many of which are endangered and will die out during the next 100 years. Many of these languages at risk are in Papua New Guinea; closer to home, the Celtic languages are seriously threatened. The dominance of English can only be hastening their demise.

English to go

The third theme of Professor Crystal's talk was the major impact of electronic communication via the internet and the mobile phone.

Informality in expression has become the norm in email communication, encouraged by the need for speed. Messages are often written without capital letters, punctuation is forgotten and spellings can be haphazard. Many of us have come to accept this in emails from others, and might even copy this style ourselves.

Most people realize, however, that what is acceptable for email is not acceptable in more formal communication settings. Although some teachers are expressing concern that the language of mobile phone texting could begin to infiltrate the classroom, there is evidence to show that children are able to use the appropriate form of written English in the correct forum. They are learning which form to use when.


Professor Crystal concluded by stating that we are in an era when all varieties of language are acceptable. Different rules apply to different situations – there is not just one right way to express ourselves in English. As editors and proofreaders, we have to be adaptable and more tolerant.

No one 'owns' English any more – there are too many people speaking it for it to belong to any one country. Today's young people all round the world are going to encounter many different varieties of English – and we have to be ready and prepared to help them.

Thinking it over – thoughts of Copyright's editor:

Christina Thomas

What was so good about the Birmingham conference? There was a definite buzz: animated groups in the bar, on the lawn and in the corridors; lingerers after breakfast deep in discussion failing to turn up for morning notices; lively participation in the group sessions; and serious discussions after the workshops.

What could have been responsible? 'David Crystal' might be one answer; his was by far the best Whitcombe Lecture I have heard, and I have heard some very good ones. But David Crystal spoke to us at the end of the conference and the buzz was about before then.

No hitches or glitches

The taxi/bus route from New Street station to the Manor House takes you past some rather uninspiring cityscape, but once you are there, the surroundings are magnificent. The accommodation was not up to much (cave-like rooms complete with dripping tap in one case) and the food was, well, institutional, shall we say? The weather was kind and the sun shone on those lazing on the lawn on Sunday afternoon, and on the huddled group of empty wine bottles on the terrace the following morning.

The conference organizers' USP was that there would be 'something for everyone', and they certainly delivered that. Some of the workshops were run at two levels – for beginners and advanced. An attempt was made to vary the conference format, a move approved by some and lamented by others. The entire two days ran smoothly and to time with no visible hitches or glitches. An ingenious system of discounts ensured that first-timers and early bookers could be offered reductions while keeping the event on an even keel financially.

There was an unusually large number of first-timers. Perhaps having more people who don't know each other helps people to mingle easily. Perhaps it is the keenness of newcomers to get to know more that unlocks the natural shyness of others.

One person's meat …

So what did give Birmingham its buzz? The people. Those who organized it and contributed all that invisible behind-the-scenes attention to detail, and also, perhaps, those conference committees that had preceded them and contributed to the corpus of knowledge that helps a fresh team of organizers each year get to grips with the task in hand.

The speakers and workshop leaders are obviously hugely important. If participants gain more from one than another, one person's meat is another's poisson and vice versa, and this is how it should be.

And last but not least, the participants, whose willingness to contribute and take part is all-important and long may this continue. Whatever the reason, the members responded to the atmosphere and there was a definite sense of people co-operating and networking in the best sense of the word.

Diary of a conference virgin:

Lesley Butland

'I'm not really going to write this article now, but I will just open a new Word file' is what I said to myself just now, following Mark Forster's advice in his time management workshop (which overran).

I have bored friends and family silly with what went on in Birmingham, but putting this on paper is another matter, and I hope I can convey something of the impact my first conference has had.

Surprisingly nice people

It isn't surprising that people who enjoy editing are nice people, but that they are willing to encourage others who might eventually become competitors is. The desire to share their own passion for the work seems to override any worries about possible potential rivals. The delegates I met were friendly, open, wise and full of good ideas.

In the coffee breaks, over meals, in the bar, I learnt almost as much as in the workshops and seminars. Editors love to talk about their work, and other editors don't mind listening. People eagerly jotted down new tips and shared their own. The information-sharing was not just from the established to those still to get their first paid job, but worked both ways. It was delightful to meet people who understand what I do and why it matters so much to me.

The generosity of spirit was not limited to work-related matters. On my first night (before the conference began), two of us arrived after the porter had gone off duty, and were unable to collect our room keys. The only other delegate around immediately offered us space on her bedroom floor. We did get our keys and slept in our own beds, but that willingness to help was evident throughout the conference.

Serious matters

There was plenty of time for serious learning and debate. The workshops and seminars did provide something for everyone. Time management could change my life (well, I'm still writing this article), and I also have a clearer understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a limited company.

Very interesting were the short talks and plenary sessions, where delegates asked questions and made suggestions. As a conference virgin, I was happy to look and listen, but maybe I'll chip in next time. I saw and heard people I had only ever 'met' on SfEPLine. Most of them did not match my mental image of them, but none disappointed!

Delegates were there not just out of self-interest (though many will have hoped that something would come out of the networking and talking with corporate delegates), but from a real concern to uphold standards of editorial excellence. So, the desire to advise, inform and educate those of us who have not been in editing very long is partly about making sure that we work as professionally as possible and safeguard the reputation (and rates of pay) of all SfEP members.


My most relaxing times were on the canal trip on Sunday afternoon, and at the conference dinner. Slightly alarmed at finding a formal seating plan, I was relieved to find myself with table-mates who were great company. It was a chance to unwind, enjoy the free wine, sing along to songs from the shows and even dance a bit to the jazz band. I do remember, late on, feeling very mellow and thinking to myself: 'I do like these people!'

The Whitcombe Lecture was serious and fun, and nothing I say can do it justice.

Benefits, regrets and an idea

I took full advantage of the conference by attending the courses before and after it. This proved tiring, but I came away with a huge amount of input, for which I am very grateful.

The one regret I have come away with is that of never having worked in-house. Many delegates had, which must give them an advantage over those who have come via a non-publishing route. I found myself saying to someone that I would like to do work experience in a publishing house (much as school pupils do) in order to understand the in-house process and how my work slots into the publishing process. There are courses that cover the theory, but I would like the experience of being there.

Is this a starter? Would publishers do this, perhaps during their quieter periods? Meanwhile, I have mentioned this to a client and found them very receptive. There is a possibility of work experience with them next summer, at my own expense, and I believe it would be valuable. If enough publishers agreed, could the Society develop such a scheme? Once properly set up, and carefully monitored, it could earn training points and might attract a grant towards living or travelling expenses, perhaps from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation?


If you haven't yet been to a conference, then do clear space in your diary now for next year.

Any questions?

discussion panel

Summarized by Christine Graham

In a sunny, packed hall, SfEP hosted a question-and-answer panel between members and editorial specialists. On the panel were:

  • Corinne Orde (CO), freelance editor and typesetter
  • Penny Poole (PP), freelance editor mainly working for non-publishers
  • Julian Ruskin (JR), editor for the publisher Butterworths (now known as LNUK).

Do you think freelance editors or proofreaders are underpaid?

JR: Rates are below the national average, but if members accept these, this is what they will get. SfEP should make a corporate stand.

CO: Think before accepting these rates. Even though our peers earn £20–25 per hour, you cannot just say, 'I'm not going to work for £8 an hour,' you have to negotiate.

PP: Have confidence and turn work away, maintain accurate records and learn from experience. Share information and use the rates-of-pay surveys.

Can publishers be persuaded to increase the amount offered in a trade-off between quality and cost?

JR: Decisions on pay are not made by publishing people, but accountants. Books rubbished because of poor proofreading or editing only hit the publisher if it affects sales.

PP: Rates for working on sale and corporate literature are higher because reputation and image matters to these clients.

Are the BS proofreading marks redundant?

CO: No, there has to be a standard way of marking up errors and it is useful in disputes with typesetters. Marking on screen in Adobe Acrobat® is under development, but cumbersome.

JR: There will be a rethink when everybody proofreads on screen, not on paper.

What are the copyeditor's responsibilities for the contents of a book, in law?

PP: I have professional indemnity insurance and terms-of-business words to cover tricky situations. Make it crystal clear where the responsibility lies.

JR: Practically, damages go to the publisher, distributor or printer, as they can pay. Legally, the publisher is liable for the copyeditor except, for example, when the latter deliberately adds libel.

Is the profile of the typical editor or proofreader changing and, if so, how should SfEP be responding?

CO: Everybody will have to edit on screen as typesetting is now outsourced overseas by email.

PP: For client continuity, the editorial role will benefit from face-to-face contact at the beginning of a chunky project. Be prepared to meet the client to secure work or repeat business. This is particularly relevant when working for non-publishers.

JR: No, except for on-screen work. SfEP should be increasing skill levels and broadening the range of clients to include non-publishers and corporate bodies.

How can I estimate a fee for project management?

JR: Project managers are the lynchpins of projects, and rates of pay should reflect this responsibility.

CO: The more people in the equation, the greater the likelihood of problems arising. This should be allowed for in the cost.

PP: Tips are: keep meticulous records; have a 'wash-up' session; and keep a diary.

Michèle Clarke pointed out that a course on project management is run by the Publishing Training Centre.

When work dries up, what is the best way to pursue new clients?

PP: Ring up and annoy people, indulge in buddying, spend half a day in the reference library targeting clients by geography and think expansively.

CO: Butter up clients, put yourself in as many specialist directories as possible, make sure your website is up to date and get an entry in the SfEP Directory.

Which book would you most like to have edited and why?

JR: Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory.

CO: A really long dictionary or yearbook, so I know I would get it every year.

PP: As I love food but am a lousy cook – Mediterranean Cooking by Elizabeth David.


Jane Ward

Summarized by Ken Woodruffe

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a mentor as 'an experienced and trusted counsellor'. Jane Ward, the speaker, has a scientific background and became an editor by chance. She began by editing copious amounts of A4 sheets of text that later turned into a book selling for £300 per copy! This was without any formal or informal editing instruction.

The mentoring help offered through a different publisher gave her a start to becoming a professional, with guidance on points of which she should be aware – for example, 'that' or 'which', 'due to', 'who to' or 'from whom'. Jane then benefited from SfEP 'start up' courses.

Mentors, mentees and macros

All but one of Jane's six 'mentees' have gained work from publishers, and she gave two examples of how this success was achieved. The mentoring scheme she described worked by matching experienced and inexperienced freelancers on a local basis.

Mentees benefit from their mentors by being helped with basic skills, with guidance on appropriate courses and by learning on the job. Mentors also gain by receiving help with projects and by the skills that new mentees often bring with them. For example, Jane first learnt how to write macros from a mentee.

Skills recognition

At first, Jane takes the job and pays her mentees a basic amount for their input; she also monitors their work. As mentees gain proficiency, so they can take on more and more of the components of a job, and their rate of pay increases accordingly. Mentees move towards earning the full fee for the job, less the time spent by Jane checking their work. Eventually, a joint project is taken with one of Jane's clients where both mentor and mentee invoice separately.

In this way, says Jane, there is an opportunity for mentees to have their work skills recognized by publishers, and to get into the client's invoicing system – with the possibility of more work from publishers. The time spent in the mentoring process averages six to eight months and is normally no longer than a year.


Rod Cuff

Here's a handy 'Cook's tour' of this useful facility for members.

SfEPLine is …

  • a free online forum for m
  • open to corporate associates, but few post items to it
  • summarized every two months by Piscator in Copyright.

SfEPLine is not …

  • SfEPAnnounce
  • the way to contact members of the council
  • a place for contentious issues unrelated to our profession.

Statistics (as at 15 September 2003):

  • 489 subscribers from the approximate 1,150 people in the SfEP
  • average of 21 posts per day over the previous year
  • minimum monthly average of 16 postings per day, maximum 27 per day
  • recently, of 240 postings, one in eight were explicitly trivial and three in four serious
  • on a typical day (10 September 2003), of 23 different contributors, 20 were female
  • subjects ranged from proofing websites, conference dress code and rude words to US versus UK terminology and problems with scanned documents.

Dislikes …

  • excessive copying from previous postings
  • insensitivity
  • abuse
  • slander
  • 'me too's
  • messages about virus hoaxes
  • (some) trivia.

Likes …

  • humour
  • wisdom
  • hints and tips
  • fast responses to queries
  • pointers to websites
  • (some) trivia.

General …

  • You can choose between being automatically sent all items individually, a digest or nothing.
  • It is easy to switch between these choices.
  • Rules and guidance on behaviour or etiquette and self-policing will be reformulated soon.
  • If your subscription to the Society lapses, so will your subscription to SfEPLine.

Technical …

  • HTML items are removed, and attachments stripped off (to avoid spreading viruses).
  • If you want to take advantage of certain extras, you will need a Yahoo! id.

Accreditation – beware too many Post-its!

Eric Smith

Summarized by Margaret Hunter

Eric Smith gave a helpful summary of the proofreading Accreditation scheme, a qualification awarded by SfEP on passing a 'rigorous proofreading test'. He warned that the scheme is not aimed at beginners, and urged members to be well prepared before applying. The number of people who have gambled and subsequently failed the test has been disappointing.

Eric highlighted the value of Accreditation by telling us of two successful applicants who subsequently gained new work. Accreditation also automatically qualifies associates for ordinary member status.

Reasonable time

The Accreditation test must be completed in reasonable time (comparable with the time that would be spent on a similar job for a client). It comprises three parts:

  • page proofs
  • a blind proofread
  • a set of short questions on proofreading problems.

Applicants must also use the BS 5261C proofreading symbols card correctly (£3 from the SfEP office), and must have studied the two course books: Copy-editing by Judith Butcher (3rd edition) and Basic Editing by Nicola Harris.

12 points

An information pack (available free without obligation from the SfEP Office) gives details of the 12 points on which applicants are tested. These include correct use of symbols, identifying an acceptable proportion of errors, minimizing the effect of added or deleted material and drawing attention to matters needing consideration by others.

Applicants must pass on all 12 points to gain Accreditation. Eric cited an example of someone who performed so badly on the correct use of symbols that he failed the whole test. Another applicant was penalized heavily for being over-fussy with queries – Post-it notes appeared all over the page proofs.

It is hoped that Accreditation in copyediting will be available soon, as well as a self-test to assess your readiness for Accreditation.

Copyediting – We'll sort it out at proof …: Kathleen Lyle

Summarized by Margaret Hunter

'It was a busy day in the production department of Ace Publishing …' Kathleen Lyle (ably assisted by Michèle Clarke) set the scene for her examination of the problems caused by poor copyediting, in her mini-drama We'll sort it out at proof … (Michèle obviously has an alternative career ahead of her, going by her entertaining improvisation during a slight glitch in the PowerPoint technology!)


Kathleen focused on common problems to look out for, such as wrong page numbers in contents lists and inconsistencies in authors' names (e.g. 'J F Smith' and 'Fred Smith'). She urged us never to assume, even with a simple book, that the preliminary pages are consistent with the text. Lists of contributors can be problematic as authors often supply these piecemeal or leave them until the last minute.

Beware specific mark-up

It is the copyeditor's job to ensure that headings are coded correctly according to the conventional hierarchy (CH for chapter head, then A, B, C, etc.). Do not mark headings specifically (e.g. '18pt Times Roman') as the design specification may change.

Similarly, code lists – do not use whatever system the author chooses – and beware of specific mark-up. Kathleen gave an example where the copyeditor had meticulously marked all indents, em spaces, etc. – useless if the list design specification changes later on.

Figures, tables and boxes

Authors often use the term 'figure' for any displayed matter. The copyeditor should code figures, tables and text boxes separately (this is especially important in academic works). Look out for the mixed use of numbers and bullets and inconsistent punctuation. Kathleen once found the same item displayed in three chapters by different authors, twice as a figure and once as a table. The copyeditor should have picked this up.


Kathleen emphasized that sorting out problems at proof stage is a bad idea as it can introduce new errors, it is difficult and expensive, and it is only ever second best. A proofreader faced with poorly edited work should alert the client, and should charge editing, not proofreading, rates for an especially bad job. Publishers usually recognize when a job needs rescuing, but Kathleen has had the occasional defensive response, including one from a copyeditor who said: 'Oh, I only edited it. I didn't know you wanted me to copyedit it.'

Kathleen believes there is still a role for a separate typesetter, copyeditor and proofreader, as attempts to short-cut this process can create problems. Not that it will stop clients trying – one commercial client of Kathleen's was very pleased to have come up with a definition of the task required – 'proof-editing'!

Paul Hamlyn Foundation grants:

Orna O'Brien, Publishing Training Centre

Summarized by Margaret Hunter

Orna O'Brien summarized the history of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and explained the criteria for its publishing grants scheme, set up in 1990 and now administered by the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). Approximately £75,000 is available annually to support training for freelancers, small publishers and not-for-profit organizations.

Applying for grants

Freelancers who have worked in book or journal publishing for at least two years can apply for grants up to a total of £500 each year towards the fees (not travel, accommodation, etc.) of one or more recognized training courses, including distance learning. If the course costs more than £500, you must fund the balance yourself.

Small publishers must have been trading for at least two years and need to submit audited accounts. Grants can support in-house training, provided the programme has been properly thought through.

Getting the money

All potential grant recipients submit reports on completion of their training – the PHF usually pays out the grants within a month of this. For distance-learning courses, half of the grant is available up front. If you are not VAT registered, state this on your application form. If you are registered for VAT, the grant cannot cover the VAT aspect of the course fee.

Application forms can be requested from Orna via email – .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) – or by telephone: 020 8874 2718. Potential applicants should first propose the course they wish to attend and Orna will confirm whether it is suitable for the scheme. You should apply at least 30 days before your course starts, but let Orna know if the start date is sooner. If you are applying for a course that will only run if enough people book (such as SfEP courses), send in your course application to the trainer (or relevant SfEP course organizer) and say that you are awaiting PHF funding.

Money in the pot

Around £45,000 had been awarded by mid-September 2003 – 83 grants to freelancers (average £195) and 104 to small publishers (average £271). There was therefore money left in the pot and members were encouraged to apply!

Training grants are non-taxable but you should include the amount of the grant as income and show the cost of the course as expenditure. If you have a surplus – that is, you received a grant of £500 and you paid £400 for the course – you have to pay tax on the difference, but if the grant is £500 and you pay £600 for the course, you can claim the difference.

The last word:

Margaret Carswell

At the end of a stimulating conference weekend, we gathered for the final session – some of us armed with questions, others just to listen. The session chair explained that the objective of this final discussion was to ask the questions that had not yet been raised.

The very first question: 'What can SfEP do to bring members' services to the notice of non-traditional publishers?' provoked the most interest. There were many different ideas, but the underlying theme was that this issue would best be tackled at a local level.

The degree of involvement of non-traditional publishers seems to vary from area to area. In the most active areas, basic information packs are given to members of the local chambers of commerce. SfEP members speak at meetings of the chambers of commerce to make sure that businesses in their area are aware that they need our services and, equally importantly, that we are available for work.

Some commercial organizations apparently realize that the literature that they produce is often not up to the standards expected, but do not appreciate that there are people out there who can help them. Some organizations, such as government departments, are starting to show interest and some have even asked for courses for their staff. This is a promising development and should lead to a greater awareness of the help we can give to non-traditional publishers.

In addition to targeting the chambers of commerce, it was also suggested that local branches of the Federation of Small Businesses should be informed of ways in which we can help. Other suggestions included publicity at local conferences and in the local papers at the time of these conferences. One local group has produced a leaflet Why you need a copyeditor, which contained an email contact address and was sent to business conferences and to local chambers of commerce.

Several speakers noted that many people were ignorant of the differing roles of copyeditors and proofreaders, and the importance of clarifying these was emphasized. This led to a suggestion that, because there was confusion in the public mind about these differences, it might be better to call both processes 'text management'. There was some support for this idea.

A final suggestion was that observers from national business magazines should be invited to attend some SfEP meetings.

The second question of the session concerned IT support for freelancers, and it was suggested that certain basic information, such as virus and software updates, should be posted on SfEPAnnounce. Generally, however, the feeling was that this should be done on SfEPLine. On a more practical note, it was pointed out that any individual could archive information of interest for retrieval when needed.

The final question: 'Can we have David Crystal back next year?' was greeted with applause and some cheers.