Conference 2010: Succeeding through innovation

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2010 conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Workshops and seminars

These edited articles first appeared in the conference supplement of the November/December 2010 issue of Editing Matters.

Whitcombe Lecture: The culture of publishing

Trevor Dolby, publisher, Preface Publishing

Reported by Shena Deuchars

Lawrence Osborn introduced Trevor Dolby as a 'maverick'. After gaining a degree in science, he went to work for John Murray, editing and publishing illustrated non-fiction books. Trevor won Editor and Imprint of the Year awards in 2003 at the British Book Awards, and appears regularly on TV and in print talking about books and publishing. For his day job, he's head of Preface Publishing, and he talked to us about the culture of publishing.

Driving convictions

He started by stating what we all know: that publishing is going through difficult times, assailed by economic issues while needing to maintain quality and (perhaps) facing competition from e-books. Trevor invited us to consider what qualities make great publishers like Anthony Cheetham, John Murray, Paul Hamlyn, Giles Gordon and Rosie de Courcy, and suggested that it's their ability to drive through their convictions against opposition.

Like them, Trevor is protective of good ideas and good writing – he apologised for starting the genres of misery memoir and celebrity biography, but assured us that Jordan's was well done, even if we don't like it! Despite what's often said, publishers aren't driven by the finance department – in meetings, everyone needs to bring their particular expertise to bear, although no one needs the sales manager to be making radical editorial changes.

Editorial staff = quality

Today, anyone can get published (on the internet), and aspiring authors often ask what right a publisher has to decide that a book isn't fit for a wider audience. Trevor believes that the internet will no more kill traditional media than did radio, film or television. However, the publishing industry has to work out how to make a business in the new landscape: it will have to make less, make it well and chase the audience.

A publishing house is only as good as its editorial staff – it's they who create quality [cheers from the floor]. But they should be invisible: the book belongs to the author. Trevor ended by saying that quality is the most important thing about a book, regardless of the genre or the means of distribution.


Questions from the floor were wide-ranging, covering quality in publishing and the perennial issue of the monetary value of copy-editors and proofreaders. Trevor encouraged us to be confident and promote the value of what we do – and ask for more money. While talking at great speed and mentioning many people from his 25 years in publishing, Trevor was entertaining and thought-provoking.

As usual, the Whitcombe Lecture was one of the highlights of the conference.

After-dinner talk

Nicholas Clee, co-editor, BookBrunch, and former editor, The Bookseller

Reported by Andrea Grimshaw

In his after-dinner speech, Nicholas Clee began with the f-word – specifically, the difference between the f-word 'fewer' and the l-word 'less'. He was in his 20s before he understood the distinction, and had the mortifying experience of having his callow ignorance pointed out by an eminent person.

Nick now gets a certain 'ignoble pleasure' in pointing out people's errors. Many of us can relate to that – I'm sure I'm not the only one who succumbs to a knee-jerk reaction when I hear certain words or phrases. But it might be well, Nick said, for us to resist – we're doing it partly to 'satisfy an itch'. And perhaps he's right. A dentist doesn't peer into others' mouths when down the pub or at the supermarket. Maybe editors, too, should recognise when they're off duty and learn to leave the red pen in the office.

Lamentable ignorance

So, does incorrect usage matter? Nick believed it did. Grammar shouldn't be viewed simply as a matter of social accomplishment, like Nancy Mitford's 'U' or 'non-U' phrases. It preserves meaning. Take 'may' and 'might'. If we lose the distinction between the two words, he said, we lose the ability to convey a particular meaning unambiguously: 'If we use language shoddily, we make life harder for readers.'

Among people like us, ignorance about correct usage was lamentable because it's a symptom of not paying attention to one's linguistic surroundings. Nick suggested that some of the touchiness displayed by authors when their mistakes are pointed out might arise from their own embarrassment and insecurity. (I'm sure many of us would attribute it more to arrogance or sheer cussedness!) Dealing with writers, he said with striking understatement, is a task that requires diplomacy.

Editorial blunders

Nick said he valued the editorial contribution and had had first-hand experience of the difference that an editor can make. While he was writing his first book, his own editor saved him from blunders that amounted, he said, to an 'excruciating, shameful display of ignorance'.

He ended with an endorsement of the SfEP. Editorial standards, he said, need preserving, and it was heartening to see a body dedicated to their preservation.


Good practice: Q&A panel session

Chaired by Christina Thomas

Participants: Viv Redman, Little, Brown Book Group; Michele Staple, TSO; Jo Stead, Thieme Publishing; and Kathy Westwood, Sage Publications

Reported by Elaine Pollard

What a cracking session – one of the best of the whole conference, I thought!

Questions were submitted in advance, to give panel members a chance to consider their answers, so the session was well structured with a good balance of topics. Each subject was thrown open to the floor for a short follow-up discussion. This format generated a tremendous amount of practical information, so rather than simply giving a general flavour, I'll list each question and summarise the responses.

What can freelancers do when an in-house editor suddenly departs, ending a productive relationship?

  • Try to find out where they've gone. Don't be afraid to get in touch at their new place of work.
  • Introduce yourself to the replacement. Explain what you've worked on and why you're so good. The new arrival might be very grateful that you're available.
  • Employees discuss their freelancers in-house and between companies. There's often a shared database of editorial contacts.
  • If you suspect that a client intends to farm out work overseas, don't be afraid to ask. If work suddenly dries up, try to re-establish the link.
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Should the SfEP encourage companies to feed back on poor freelance work – not necessarily to cast blame but to inform the Society of typical problems?

  • The problem could be a one-off – don't condemn too quickly. One-to-one feedback is a helpful first step.
  • Be wary – this could become time-consuming and unpleasant for all concerned. In reality, the client wouldn't use that freelancer again rather than make a complaint.

If a freelancer spends less time than expected on a job, is it dishonest or good business practice to invoice for the full amount?

  • 'We don't pay them enough anyway, so if they've done a good job quickly, that's fine.' [Hooray!]
  • It's important to build a trusting relationship on both sides – don't let this sour it.
  • But if you're going to go over budget, let the client know – explain and negotiate. The client might pay more, but it's essential to have that dialogue.

What encourages you to try a new freelancer?

  • Many publishers nowadays use freelancers for all their editorial work, so it's worth persevering.
  • Do your homework – contact appropriate clients.
  • Good CVs are passed around, but publishers receive hundreds and have little time to read them. So get your CV right:
    • It should be concise, detailing relevant experience and a list of clients. (CVs containing spelling mistakes go straight in the bin!)
    • Specialist subject knowledge and languages are an advantage, as is adaptability to technology.
    • Some publishers only use experienced, competent freelancers. Others regularly consider new, less-experienced freelancers for short jobs.
    • Show that you're reliable – include a personal recommendation.
    • Mention membership of the SfEP – a link to your directory entry is useful.
    • Some training courses – e.g. SfEP's and PTC's – are regarded more favourably than others.
    • A short accompanying email should give an indication of your availability – e.g. are you studying or tied up in the school holidays? – and specify your rates.
  • Give the client time to digest your CV, then follow up with a quick phone call (remember to ask if they're busy when you ring).
  • Often there's not a lot of work available, so don't take a rejection personally.

Will the move towards e-books affect copy-editing services?

  • Ordinary books are safe – e-books will take their place alongside print publications, and a single XML file can be used to produce a range of formats.
  • More books with shorter runs could actually mean more work for us.
  • It's a myth that e-books cost nothing to produce. We must speak up for ourselves and explain how we can add value.

Should a premium be asked for high-quality specialist knowledge?

  • Content editors can demand a higher premium, but specialist knowledge is less important for copy-editors.
  • Some trusted regular freelancers command a higher rate.
  • A higher fee is often available for a last-minute job.

Best practice in a nutshell

  • Build good, trusting relationships.
  • Discuss problems.
  • Keep to deadlines.
  • Speak up for yourself and keep in touch.
  • It's always worth negotiating. If we all said 'No' to offered rates and asked for more, clients would need to pay more!
  • If at first you don't succeed ...

Workshops and seminars

How, when and what to query on proofs

Gerard M-F Hill

Reported by Matthew Salisbury

Gerard Hill gave a practical, thought-provoking and inspiring workshop on a subject that touches on the work of many of us – but from a slightly sideways-on perspective. Not just how to do it, but when to trust your own judgement, when to explain what you've done or why you've done it, and when simply to ask questions of the author, editor or whoever your 'handler' happens to be.


And it was inclusive – for those who deal with publishers and non-publishers alike. We non-publishing types can get a bit chippy when it's assumed that we (SfEP members) all work in publishing – visiting speakers please note!

For non-publishers, Gerard stressed the importance of getting a clear brief and explaining politely to clients what's needed. The latter often think the stages after writing are design and proofing, when the document needs editing first. For publishers, Gerard's emphasis was on resolving problems and taking decisions with the minimum of fuss – and cost.


Necessary questions generally revolved around house style, sense, fact, omissions and consistency. These often flag up issues that should have been dealt with at the editing stage, but might save the client from sending a flawed document to print. And there are ways not to raise queries or explain changes – diplomacy is required: you will not win friends by being cleverer than the author or editor.

Much of the workshop was spent on a series of well-prepared sample extracts that raised the issues we were talking about, including a graph that looked fine at first sight, but raised more questions the closer you looked at it. Gerard's conclusions were along these lines:

  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • If it is broke and you can fix it – in the time for which you're being paid – do so.
  • Whenever possible, leave the text ready to set – i.e. clean, or you might find inserted queries appearing in print!
  • Finally, be ready to justify your changes in case you need to – rare in the case of non-publishers, but a sound principle (sorry, that last is me, not Gerard!).

Web content audit

Alison Turnbull

Reported by Gerry Welsh

Ali started by showing us a picture of a brand-new Audi, in pristine condition, and then reminded us how quickly it can become really messy, especially if there are lots of people in and out of it all the time.

So it is with a website: the more people who have update access, the messier it can get, particularly if there's no style guide and no staff training. Out-of-date forms, bad links, etc. are common, and tidying is necessary. The website owner needs an editor. In the complex structure of people who support websites, the web editor is the one who upholds the integrity of sites.

Council websites

As a good starting point for budding website auditors, Ali advised a visit to their local council's website. She'd done this and discovered that she was no wiser about parking in Carlisle, her local town, as a result. To be fair to councils, I checked parking information on my own local council's website, and it couldn't have been clearer. However, we've all been driven to distraction by circular or broken links or hundreds of words that don't actually tell us anything.

I won't go into the details of how to carry out an audit, there's already an excellent guide on Ali's website.

Double your rate

At the end of her presentation, Ali answered questions, including how to get work (pursue local web designers, check out LinkedIn groups), what to charge (think of your normal rate and double it) and whether the current financial climate would make it more difficult to get work (not if you can prove that an improved website can help cut costs in other areas).

Ali's workshop was interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Web content audit is a new area for many people, but one that could bring new sources of work for those willing to take on the challenge.

Dodgy data and perfidious plagiarism: What can editors and proofreaders do about publication misconduct?

Liz Wager

Reported by Penny Williams

I'm sure many of us have felt uneasy about texts we've been asked to edit or proofread, particularly in academic journals and student dissertations. Danger signs include:

  • uneven quality of writing
  • mixture of US and UK spelling
  • inconsistent terminology
  • repetitiveness or excessive detail
  • lack of cohesion between sentences or paragraphs.

There are three levels of plagiarism:

  1. the unattributed use of large portions of text and/or data presented as if they were by the plagiarist
  2. minor copying of short phrases with no misattribution of data
  3. redundancy – i.e. copying from your own work, or self-plagiarism.

Authors found guilty of plagiarism may be blacklisted and banned from publishing in a particular journal for a period of time.


How common is plagiarism? Liz Wager and her colleagues found that 16% of MEDLINE retractions – 529 retractions from 10 million items between 1988 and 2008 – were a result of plagiarism. (A retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain flawed or incorrect data.)

Retractions have increased dramatically in recent years. A study that just looked at abstracts calculated that there are around 3,500 plagiarised articles on MEDLINE (of a total of more than 19 million) and around 117,500 duplicate or redundant publications (i.e. self-plagiarism).

Tools for checking

A powerful tool is CrossCheck, an initiative started by CrossRef to 'help its members actively engage in efforts to prevent scholarly and professional plagiarism'. It covers about 25 million items from 45,000 journals, but is available to members only and human judgement is required.

Google searches can be useful – for up to 32 words. One of the delegates told us how she had discovered substantial plagiarism in a book she had been editing when searching for a highly unusual two-word term.

Other tools that can be used include Grammarly and Turnitin and the website

Making your typesetter love you

David MacDonald

Reported by Penny Howes

David MacDonald, of Prepress Projects, an experienced typesetter, talked us through some of the attributes of a copy-edited manuscript that are guaranteed to make him extremely happy. This was then followed by a demonstration of how copy-edited files can be imported into InDesign and the pitfalls that may be encountered when the edited files are poorly styled.

The 'three Cs'

Both the copy-editor and typesetter want text that's consistent, clear and correct. If you can, talk to the typesetter before starting a copy-editing project. Sadly, this rarely happens.

Typesetters love editors who ...

  • use paragraph and character styles consistently
  • pay attention to improving the author's use of styles as well as to language and grammar
  • remember that the typesetter may not know the subject matter of the title being set
  • communicate well and ask questions about what the typesetter can do on their behalf – for example, the use of nested styles, where applying, say, the 'Table legend' style means the typesetter will automatically apply both bold and spacing as required, without the copy-editor needing to do so.

Typesetters don't love editors who ...

  • leave the author's styles alone – some documents can have dozens of inconsistently applied styles
  • use paragraph and character styles inconsistently
  • focus on language and grammar at the expense of styling and formatting.

Errors or omissions at the copy-editing stage can subsequently prove very expensive because of the number of changes needed at the first and second proof stages.

Consistent styling

It's essential that unique styles are used for all headings, basic text (indented or full out), bulleted and numbered lists, boxed text (and different types of boxes if several are used), quotations, dialogue, footnotes, endnotes, references, etc.

Supply the typesetter with a file with a list of the styles used, and remove all other styles from the document before handover. The file should also detail any codes used for special symbols and how instructions – e.g. for figure or table call-outs – have been communicated.

The 'icing on the cake' for the typesetter is a chapter-by-chapter list of the numbers of tables and figures, etc., and any other special requirements.

A copy-editor no longer needs to code for most character formatting (bold, italic, superscript, subscript, small capitals) – there's no excuse these days for losing this when importing files.

Typesetters hate ...

  • blank paragraphs (extra hard returns) in edited documents
  • indents using tabs (use paragraph formatting instead)
  • symbols that aren't correct – the favourites quoted were a superscript letter 'o' in place of the degree symbol, or a letter 'x' in place of the multiplication sign
  • contradictory instructions.

Proofreading online: Is accuracy compromised?

Anne Waddingham

Reported by Ali Turnbull

This workshop was about much more than just doing the normal proofreading things on screen. It was packed with interesting material.

Anne started off by covering:

  • research on the accuracy of proofreading on screen versus hard copy (conclusion: not much research, mostly out of date; most predicted on-screen performance would come to match that on paper)
  • advantages and disadvantages of working on screen on 'soft proofs' (conclusion: the PC improves speed and accuracy of checking links, spell-checking and compiling comments, but word and character spacing may display poorly, colour isn't rendered exactly and screen size can affect effectiveness)
  • improving accuracy (conclusion: many traditional methods work well on screen, plus type size, fonts, line widths, etc., can be altered to improve readability and, therefore, accuracy)
  • a proofreading checklist for web pages (very comprehensive: Anne pointed out more than once that it was probably not the job of the proofreader to do all the things on the list, but it might be their job to make sure that somebody else takes them on).

Web to HTML to text – and back again

Anne led us through saving a web page as an HTML file, turning it into a text file and then uploading it into Word. Once in Word, textual changes could be made. We learned how to 'grey out' the coding brought in from the text file, which makes the document hard to read. Once changes had been made, Anne showed us how to travel back through the text and HTML formats, ending up with a new, corrected web page on screen.

We finished with learning how to mark up Adobe PDF files, provided they'd been 'enabled' by the originator. We opened up a PDF file, found the toolbar that enabled comments and track changes, and played about inserting comments.

Maximise your web search

Sonia Cutler

Reported by Paul Beverley

I approached this workshop by Sonia Cutler with a degree of ambivalence. After all, hadn't I published various articles on how to use Google over the past eight years? But then, it had been two or three years since the last article, so maybe things had moved on a little since then.

More than an iceberg

Moved on a little!? Even the old iceberg analogy just doesn't come close. Sonia opened a whole new world for me. There's not just the so-called 'visible web' (the bit you can access through Google, Alta Vista, etc.), but apparently there's also 500 times as much information in the 'deep web'. Sonia described the range of software available for accessing the remaining 99.8% of the information that I had missed out on so far. (Yes, that's right. I'm saying that Google gives you access to only 0.2% of available information!)

Helpfully, Sonia provided us with a 23-page handout including all the hints and tips, useful links, things to avoid, issues to consider, etc. There was so much new vocabulary that I'm going to have to set aside time to read through the handout thoroughly in order to digest the banquet we were given.

Diary of a conference 'newbie'

Hazel Reid

My feet woke me up on the Sunday morning. They told me how silly I'd been to ignore the sensible advice about wearing stout footwear for the Glasgow Walk. Note for next year: bring sensible shoes.

This was my first conference, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Wearing my 'first-timer' badge, I felt conspicuous and innocent beside all the hardened conference-goers, who were all greeting each other like the old friends they were. I spent a lot of time peering at people's chests to see what their name badges said and more time saying: 'Oh, it's you! I know your name from SfEPLine/Editing Matters/emails. Hello!' It's funny how you form an image of someone from the content of their emails, but when you finally meet them, you often find they're quite different.

Free drink

The first session was the AGM, which was well controlled but not over-formal. Sarah Price, the SfEP's chair, kept proceedings going smoothly. We voted, waving red cards in the air like manic referees, and didn't ask too many difficult questions. Two honorary members were appointed – Christina Thomas, former editor of Editing Matters, and Barbara Horn of Copy-editing fame.

After a short rest for my beleaguered feet, I presented myself, as a first-timer, for a free drink in the bar and to meet the council. More peering at chests, introductions and greetings before it was time to go in to dinner. We were fed in the Lord Todd Restaurant, which turned out to be the student refectory. Pick up a tray, get all three courses at once and find a seat. The evening ended back in the bar (basically the hub of the whole proceedings), until my feet shouted 'Bed!' and had to be obeyed.

Laptops and mice

So followed two packed days of learning and listening, laptops at the ready and mouses (mice?) poised. I was straight into 'ohmygod' with my first session – Paul Beverley's famous macros, during which I hung on to comprehension with my teeth, terrified it would leave through a window. It all made sense (sort of): Paul had done all the work, and all I had to do was use the macros. Hmm, it's going to take some time back home to absorb all this.

Everyone set off for the long march to lunch, back at the Lord Todd. Strathclyde University was built on the side of a hill, and students are obviously kept fully fit by tramping up and down steps.

An editor's lot ...

After lunch was the Whitcombe Lecture with Trevor Dolby of Random House's Preface Publishing imprint. Seminars followed: my choice was Alison Turnbull telling us how to evaluate a website, with a lot of good advice.

Sunday evening was the conference banquet. Beforehand, back in the bar (with more free wine, kindly sponsored by the honorary members), we listened to the delightful SfEP Linnets, guided by maestro Sarah Patey, who gave us an editor's version of 'A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One'. Dinner followed. The refectory had magically transformed itself with round tables and glamorous guests. We listened to Nick Clee, co-editor of BookBrunch, who was our after-dinner speaker. Unfortunately, while very good, he had a habit of gradually lowering the hand-held mike away from his mouth until he was inaudible. Some gentle shouting, however, sorted it out.

A friendly bunch

And so on to the last day – an exhilarating, if exhausting, romp through workshops, seminars and an open panel session. I met more people, peered at more chests, bought SfEP Guides, mouse mats and sticky note pads from Helen, Bridget and Lillian, and books from the OUP stand.

All too soon it was time for goodbyes. I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was very well organised, and I was with an extremely friendly bunch of people. I'll certainly be back!