Conference 2013: A new publishing landscape

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2013 conference at Streatham Campus, University of Exeter



These edited articles first appeared in the conference supplement of the November/December 2013 issue of Editing Matters.

Whitcombe Lecture: The Subversive Copy Editor

Carol Fisher Saller

Reported by Ian Howe

Delegates unfamiliar with Carol Fisher Saller, this year's Whitcombe Lecturer, were intrigued by the title of her blog and book, The Subversive Copy Editor. What types of subversion might we learn about on a bright morning in Exeter?

Hope and optimism

As it turned out, Carol's message was one of hope and optimism in a time of seeming chaos in the publishing world. New technology, the growth of self-publishing ... we are all asking, ‘What is going to happen to me?' As digital delivery encroaches on print, are our skills becoming outdated and not valued? Carol's statistical analysis revealed that traditional publishing has in fact not contracted since 2009; publishing is not going away.

New opportunities

Self-publishing and new technology offer opportunities if we are ready to take them. There is a need for editorial professionals in all forms of publishing – conventional, print on demand and digital. Everything is up for grabs; but in a good way! Reading and writing are neither dead nor dying but exploding in all directions. The job of the copy-editor does not really change, even if the tools do, but we need to develop our own roles, broaden our expertise and find the niches where we are comfortable.

A journey in publishing

Carol presented the experience of editorial professionals as a journey in a landscape, a journey that can take unexpected turns: after working as an editor on The Chicago Manual of Style, her next job was to proofread Homer's Iliad. A note on the manuscript read: ‘Homer asks that you respect his punctuation ...'. Travelling across the USA with her young son, Carol was surprised on the third day, as they approached yet another Red Roof Inn, when he shouted ‘I see our new home!', thinking it was the same one every night. Perhaps, on our journey in publishing, we too are already home.

Keynote speech: A journey round English

David Crystal, OBE

Reported by Claire Handy

This year's keynote lecture was given by David Crystal, OBE, the British linguist, academic and author whose passion is the English language. His new book, Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain, is out now.

Inspired by the question ‘If a geography student can visit a mountain and a history student can visit places where great events occurred in past times, what field trip could an English student go on?', David Crystal and his wife Hilary took it upon themselves to visit places in Britain that had a specific bearing on the development of the English language over the last 2000 years or so. Throughout the course of a very enjoyable and informative lecture, we were taken from Anglo- Saxon Kent to Chaucer's Bath and on through Shakespeare's Stratford to the London of the present day.

The ‘blue plaques' of English Literature

Described by David as a travelogue of a journey to find the ‘blue plaques' of English literature – permanent historical markers linking a place to a famous person or event – his new book tells, chronologically, the stories of the places involved in the evolution of the English language. We were treated to tales of the Crystals' adventures, trials and tribulations that occurred whilst collecting the information and photographs needed, as well as descriptions of the pertinence of some particular places.

I had been told by a fellow attendee before the lecture started that David was a master at public speaking, and knew perfectly how to entertain his audience. She was not wrong. It was a very interesting hour, and David's ability to tell humorous and informative stories so captivatingly made it a great addition to the conference.

After-dinner talk: Approaching a golden age for editors

Michael Jecks

Reported by Jenny Bassett

Replete with a fine conference dinner, we settle back to listen to Michael Jecks, a successful and prolific Devon author of medieval murder mysteries.

We are ready to be entertained. Michael, however, eyes this erudition of editors warily. On Twitter, when he mentioned his engagement to speak at a conference of editors and proofreaders, he received the response, ‘Tough gig. They'll be subbing you as you speak.'

Michael, it is soon clear, is an author after every editor's heart. He appreciates us, he is grateful for our skills. He believes that writers need editors, and that the editorial role is crucial. If it wasn't for you lot, he says, he would probably never have been published. He goes on to regale us with entertaining anecdotes of life on the publicity road in the UK and the USA with his agent. He gives us a taste of the research involved in writing medieval murder mysteries – and of the perennial difficulty in finding good titles.

Authors need editors and proofreaders

With the explosion of self-publishing, Michael foresees a golden age approaching for editors. Authors cannot survive without editors and proofreaders, he says, as is sadly revealed by many self-published ebooks. While reading entries for the Crime Writers' Association Awards, he came across such gems as ‘a grizzly secret on the first page', and ‘a body hidden in the trunk of a black Sudan'. Readers in the future, he suggests, will look for books that have been validated, either by a traditional publisher or by a professional editor working with a self-publishing author.

How nice it is, in these uncertain times, to hear a rosy future being painted for us! Meanwhile, I hasten back to my Kindle, where I am engrossed in Michael's spy novel Act of Vengeance, his first departure from the medieval world of Sir Baldwin de Furnshill.


Social media for editors

Julia Sandford-Cooke

Reported by Julie Weller

Julia Sandford-Cooke's session began with an emphasis on marketing. When posting photos and comments on social media, you are in fact marketing your lifestyle, and to formalise this into a business skill is not that different.

Julia showed how the more conventional routes of getting work, word of mouth, prior contacts, the SfEP Directory, etc, can all feed into social media. We looked at ways to promote yourself and how to engage with clients.

Although there are many forms of social media out there, the overall focus of the seminar was on the big three – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Some general tips were offered, ie don't blast out identical posts on all forms of social media; use social media wisely and with discipline. Specific tips were also given as follows:

  • LinkedIn – connect with everyone you meet professionally; research different companies to find out if you're a good fit; start and join groups and conversations (ie build your reputation); consider premium membership if you use it a lot.
  • Twitter – build strategic connections to influential people; offer free help and advice; be accessible and natural (people engage with people they like); put the time in but don't be obsessive; always remember to respond to @ mentions; never forget that anyone can see your tweets.
  • Facebook – post regularly; keep on top of comments; turn friends into clients by encouraging them to promote you.

It was a very informative seminar, and I came away inspired – and with a very long to-do list!


Alison Baverstock

Reported by Gareth Heard

While self-publishing was once considered a dirty word, and authors who self-published were discredited for having done so, it is increasingly becoming an accepted alternative to traditional means of publication; a change which, while creating headaches for publishing houses, offers, argued Alison Baverstock, an opportunity for freelance providers of editorial services. She described a strong and growing market of self-publishing authors who, although able to promote their own material, are aware of the need for professionals to carry out editing and proofreading. In her research she has found that many are willing to make an investment in editorial services: 59 per cent of those who responded to her survey had already done so, compared with 26 per cent who sought professional marketing advice and 21 per cent who sought legal advice.

Taking pride in your work

Some attendees questioned the sense of working on material that, without a publisher to vet it, may well be of inferior quality. The response was that publishers are not necessarily the only people capable of knowing what there is and isn't a market for. In some instances – the most famous being Fifty Shades of Grey – a publisher only becomes aware of the potential of a book after it has proved popular as a self-published work. As well as this, self-publishing is not always about producing a marketable product but simply about producing a book (either physical or digital) that the author can take pride in having published, for many different reasons.

Advanced features of PerfectIt

Daniel Heuman

Reported by Sara Bryant

I was a complete novice but came away from this rapidly paced and very informative seminar by Daniel Heuman confident I could put PerfectIt to good use and even, after seeing the demonstration, build my own style sheets and work out how to use other features. I would have fallen at the first fence without the demonstration. Free downloads of British/US/Canadian English and WHO, UN and EU style sheets are available from the PerfectIt website, but the advanced setting enables you to build your own. Thirty new items can be added at one time without undue tedium, but if the number exceeds 100, Daniel recommended downloading a pre-existing spreadsheet and adapting it to requirements. The quid pro quo is that you share your results on the website.

Working with PDFs

PerfectIt can't search on grammatical elements, but accented words are catered for. The PerfectIt team is looking at developing it for PDFs, but in the meantime (unless you have Acrobat Pro) there are packages available for converting PDF files to Word documents (eg, although the conversion quality varies.

An hour wasn't quite long enough for me, but for those with existing knowledge of PerfectIt perhaps it was, and the material was covered rapidly, making shorthand a distinct advantage. There are other features that couldn't be covered in the time available, but with this start I'll be able to work out the rest.

From doing to advising

Anna Sharman and Nancy Duin

Reported by John Firth

Patrick McKenzie met a friend; after chatting, the friend thought he'd gained $15,000 of value from the conversation. The moral? You can price a service by its worth to the recipient, not how long it takes to provide.

The workshop conveners, Anna Sharman and Nancy Duin, told us about their careers. A client asked Anna to work in-house as a desk editor, then to peer-review submitted articles. She realised that scientists need help and advice to get published, and the result is at After going freelance, Nancy ran websites for Channel 4, designed courses for the Publishing Training Centre and others, and worked for the Department of International Development. Her moment of insight came when delivering a course in Belgium; she advises us not to wait for our own ‘Belgian moment'. Oh, and to have a look at

What might trigger our moment? Perhaps you advise on house style, get involved in developmental editing, or give training. Who might hire you as an adviser? Publishers, of course, but also non-publishers (professional publishing, quality assurance, content strategy), authors (insight from insiders) and editors or proofreaders (offering ‘Nelly's knee' now Nelly's been ‘let go').

Perhaps we should engineer our moment: make known our skills (website, networking, blogging, Twitter, answering questions) or simply ‘give it a go'. Just because you don't call yourself a consultant doesn't mean that you're not one.

Open science and future trends in digital journals

Martin Delahunty, associate director of the Nature Publishing Group

Reported by Kate Moses

Political intrigue, revolt among world-leading scientists, accusations of billion-dollar racketeering ... No, this wasn't a session on thriller writing but a fascinating introduction to scientific publishing and the rise of the open-access model. Martin Delahunty, associate director of the Nature Publishing Group, led us through the debate and shared insights into the changing landscape of scientific publishing.

'Exorbitant' rates

Citing headlines such as ‘Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist' and ‘Academic spring: how an angry maths blog sparked a scientific revolution' (The Guardian, 29 August 2011 and 9 April 2012), Martin explained why the traditional publishing model has come under fire. ‘Exorbitant' access rates are the main reason, with some subscriptions exceeding 20,000 euros, causing concern that, as gatekeepers of knowledge, publishers may be slowing down scientific progress.

Open-access model

The alternative, critics argue, is an open-access model, making research publications and data available with unrestricted access and reuse. Open- access initiatives are already up and running, such as, the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science (PLoS) and the Nature Publishing Group's Scientific Reports, while governments worldwide are requiring state-funded research to be placed in open-access archives.

Change will not happen overnight, however, especially while researchers are assessed on the ‘impact factor' of the journals in which their work is published: papers in Nature or Science, for example, will continue to carry more weight.

Looking ahead, the SfEP membership is likely to see a stronger push for both quality and quantity, with significantly more scientific papers authored by non-native speakers in multinational research teams.


How to succeed as a freelancer

Charlie Wilson

Reported by Martin Walker

Charlie Wilson's useful workshop focused on her 12 years as an editor, eight of these working freelance. Since January 2012, she has run The Book Specialist agency (, which offers ghostwriting, development editing, ‘intelligent copy-editing', copy-editing and proofreading, and more.

'It's not all about the money'

Charlie was clear that ‘It's not all about the money', and suggested some definitions for a successful freelancer. These can include the quality of clients, effort put in for return, personal work satisfaction and work–life balance. You also need to be self-motivated, hard- working, happy in your own company, independent and prepared to be financially insecure.

The pros of a freelancer's life included being able to work in your pyjamas, a concept that resonated with the audience! Cons included isolation, the ebb and flow of work, workload management and difficult clients.

The frequent debate about sole trader versus limited company was well summarised by Charlie, who set out the characteristics of each.

The issue of money is crucial to a freelancer – how much to charge, whether to negotiate, how much do you want/need/deserve? In addition, good recording systems and credit control are essential.

Building a solid client base

Building a solid client base is fundamental to creating job and income security, and Charlie summarised the characteristics of a good client (gives clear briefs; respects your knowledge, experience and skill; pays on time) and of a bad client (has little money and wants you to work for peanuts, gives unclear briefings and moves goalposts, is a late or non-payer and is unprofessional).

A key to stability is to get repeat business, and freelancers need to be friendly and professional, and do the job well by the deadline.

Managing your workload is a key skill: knowing how much you want to work, planning, avoiding burn-out, and juggling clients and projects.

Project management

Anne Waddingham

Reported by Natalie Cutting

This workshop, run by Anne Waddingham, was mainly for editors who are considering expanding their copy-editing career into project management, which offers more responsibility, more excitement and, most importantly, more money.

Juggling resources to reach a goal

So what is project management exactly? Basically, it's about juggling resources (time, money and people) in order to reach an agreed goal (usually the production of a book within a certain time frame).

A project manager can break down what may seem to be an overwhelming job by listing all the individual tasks involved, estimating how long each of them will take and how much they will cost, and deciding who needs to do them. Many skills are needed to be a good project manager, not least of which are troubleshooting and nerves of steel!

Clear briefs

Another essential skill is the ability to give a good, clear brief to copy-editors, illustrators and other subcontractors. It is crucial never to assume that people will guess what you want them to do (Anne has learned this from bitter experience!), so providing them with a checklist of instructions is an effective way of ensuring that there is no risk of misunderstanding.

Project management is an opportunity for editors and proofreaders to expand their skills and confidence and offer more to their clients in exchange for higher rates of pay. If you have ambitions in this direction, then I can personally recommend Anne's excellent one-day SfEP project management course, which can help to inspire you to start stepping up the freelance career ladder.

Editing non-native English

Joy Burrough-Boenisch

Reported by Martin Rickerd

Joy Burrough-Boenisch has lived and worked in the Netherlands for nearly 40 years, and has helped students from numerous countries and cultures to improve their written English.

Joy told us that problems with non-native writers run deeper than just a poor or limited grasp of English vocabulary and grammar (they make the same mistakes as native writers, such as typos, inaccuracies and redundancies): add in assumptions (we all know what an airing cupboard is, without further explanation, but would a German?), linguistic transfers (conventions in the writer's language), cultural differences, ‘false friends' (eg actual and eventual – which in the majority of European languages mean present and possible, respectively) and phonetic influences (like ‘b' for ‘p', ‘d' for ‘t'), and you have a recipe for confusion.

Put yourself in their shoes

The key to resolving conundrums created by non-native writers while respecting their ‘voice' is to try to put yourself in their shoes – what were they trying to say? Take ‘In order to fasten the process of ecological rehabilitation, there are several ongoing nature projects.' Lateral thinking is a useful skill – the context tells you it's not about tying up but about speed, so the writer seems to have made a verb of fast; one possible correct term is, coincidentally, quite similar (hasten) but accelerate would be better.

Joy's combination of light, entertaining delivery, interactive exercises using amusing, genuine examples, and helpful tips/pointers (the website was a new one to me) made this an enjoyable and very informative session.

Finance for freelancers

John Bowdler

Reported by Dawn Ingram

John Bowdler led a lively and informative session on finance for freelancers, ably assisted by some of the more experienced freelancers in the group!

He began by highlighting the need for a contingency fund. Stash some money in a tax-free ISA to use during those inevitable periods when the work dries up. The current allowance for annual ISA investment is £11,520, up to £5,760 of which can be saved in a cash ISA.

Insurance options

We then discussed insurance options, such as permanent health insurance to cover loss of income incurred through illness, and life assurance (note the spelling!) to provide loved ones with a lump sum on your death. This sort of security is often part of the package for an employed person, so freelancers need to consider how they and their families would cope should the worst happen.


Likewise pensions – at the very least we should maintain our state pension by paying National Insurance contributions, but it is also worth researching self-employed options such as stakeholder pensions. We finished by drafting a spreadsheet of our income and expenditure: this information is needed for your tax return – bear in mind the fine for non-payment of tax is £100 (repayable at a very high interest rate)!

I went away with some ideas to follow up: first to review my pension situation by getting a pension projection, and then to contact HMRC about the free courses they offer to help newly self-employed people complete their tax returns. I may also consider employing an accountant and/or consulting a financial adviser!

Rewriting and substantive editing

Andrew Steeds

Reported by Lorraine Slipper

‘Be more Genghis Khan than Mother Theresa!' Not my usual approach to Sunday morning, but I gave it a go under the helpful and stimulating guidance of Andrew Steeds.

Andrew first showed us that every rewriting decision we make is a judgement call, with examples of how changing even a single word can alter the tone or register of a text.

And don't tell your client that the text you're working on is ‘a complete mess'. Rather, identify the main problem and a strategy for solving it. Clients are more likely to find money for extra work if you're offering to rescue their profit margin and/or reputation.

Solving the key problems

Andrew's ‘golden rule' was to channel your energy towards one of the key problem areas: structure, relevance or style. If possible, concentrate on structure, as improvements here can eliminate at least some problems with the other key areas. Revision of your rewriting is also essential – never think the first rewrite is the finished article.

Andrew then explained approaches for improving clarity and coherence. As for cutting text to fit a page layout, that's when you need to find your inner Genghis. Get rid of irrelevant or repetitive chapters, pages and paragraphs first – fiddle with sentences and words as a last resort.

Editing music and music books

Peter Nickol

Reported by Christine Lewry

Peter Nickol's workshop, ‘Editing music and music books', was distilled from his one-day course.

We started by considering where printed music is found, the difference between music publishers and book publishers, and where work is most likely to be available. Music publishers tend to look to professional musicians for editing and proofreading, but printed music in one form or another crops up in several places in addition to the expected academic and educational books.

Using examples, we learnt what to look out for when working with instrumental and vocal music, what information the setter needs and how to specify it, and how to indicate changes. When it comes to music extracts in books, the extracts may be created especially for the publication, or they may be taken from elsewhere. As well as clarity and accuracy, copyright issues (which can be complicated) must be considered.

We even got to hear some music, as there was time to touch on school music books and the thorny area of ‘listening questions'. Presented with a question and a choice of two answers, we listened to a music extract and came up with three possible answers, concluding that the answer the author wanted was perhaps not the most accurate!

We left armed with helpful illustrations of suggested mark-up, useful guidance, a list of resources and much food for thought from this thoroughly satisfying workshop.

Medical writing – an introduction

Alison McIntosh

Reported by Amy Filby

Having recently taken on an in-house editor role at a ‘med comms' agency, I perhaps knew more than most attendees about medical writing but, looking to broaden my skills, thought this workshop seemed ideal for me.

Alison McIntosh proposed that SfEP editors look at adding medical writing to their expertise as a ‘value-added skill'. She explained the two main types of medical writing – med comms and regulatory, the former (mainly peer-reviewed manuscripts, abstracts and posters) being a more likely way in, given that many of us are already editing this type of work. There was surprise that medics themselves do not write manuscripts, and discussion about ghostwriting and the recent changes in publication guidelines. Alison said that the skills required for medical writing are essentially the same as for copy-editing but with the addition of enjoying writing and being able to do it well (not necessarily true of those who are proficient in rewriting/substantive editing who don't start with a blank page), and knowing what information needs presenting.

So why consider medical writing? This was when ears pricked up ... The 2012 European Medical Writers Association survey of freelancers showed average hourly rates of 77 euros, and only slightly lower rates for the allied tasks of medical editing, proofreading and quality control work – much higher than general editorial rates.

And finally …

Worth the money? Yes!

Susan Littleford

I'd been an associate of the SfEP for several years but never made it as far as a conference. I so nearly went last year, but chickened out. I was starting to get to know some SfEP folks on Facebook, though, and this time it seemed far less like braving the lions' den, full of scarily proficient people with backgrounds in ‘real' publishing, whereas copy-editing is my second career and I've never worked in-house. And so I took the plunge – I'm so glad I did.

Those considering attending their first conference probably have many of the same questions I asked myself – will I know anyone, will anyone speak to me, is it worth the money, what will I get out of it?

Well, from first arriving at Exeter I kept bumping into people I knew from Facebook. It really is a great icebreaker. ‘Newbies' get a mark on their name badges so that people can see they are new and be extra nice to them, and you get a chance at the first evening's pre-dinner drinks to meet each other and members of the council.

A social time

The gala dinner is another great social opportunity – breakfast was noticeably noisier on Monday morning than Sunday morning, so it clearly works! There are chances to network with each other and meet exhibitors in the breaks between workshops and seminars. Even if social media isn't your thing (there was a session on that, too) and you don't have a bunch of people you know that way, people will talk to you. Putting faces and voices to the names you've seen on SfEPLine is a grand thing to do.

Is it worth the money? To me, yes. To get insights into three chunks of software I'd never quite made time for and doubtless would struggle to master working by myself from manuals (PDF stamps, InDesign and the custom style sheets in PerfectIt) it was worth it, alone. To get validation of what you're doing at work plus new ideas to think about was worth it. To be entertained and informed by the likes of David Crystal, Carol Fisher Saller and Mike Jecks (not to mention the Linnets) was worth it.

New skills already

Did I get anything out of it? Most certainly. The day after I got home, I'd installed some PDF stamps (thanks, Claire Ruben) and was using them to mark up artwork as one of my clients had just started experimenting with them instead of hard copy. I'm already doing my own custom style sheets in PerfectIt (thanks, Daniel Heuman) to reflect my most common clients' own style guides, which will speed up my clean-up and post-edit routines as well as making them more reliable. Armed with new insights into InDesign and InCopy (thanks, Jon Bessant), I can now talk more usefully to certain clients.

A lot of my work is with non-native speakers, and I have already, in the few days since arriving home, noticed changes in the things I observe in their writing thanks to Joy Burrough- Boenisch's workshop. I've already attended a Publishing Training Centre course for editing digital products, prodded by what I heard in Exeter (and where, purely coincidentally, I found myself sitting next to another conference goer!). To do any of those things without the conference would have been harder, and would probably remain on my to-do-sometime-never list. One more thing I got out of it: a couple of weeks or so after the conference, someone I'd made contact with there became a new, and (I hope) repeat, client.

There's nothing like a convert for evangelising!