Conference 2016: Let’s talk about text

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2016 conference at Aston University


Whitcombe Lecture

This year's Whitcombe Lecture was given by Susan Greenberg, senior lecturer at the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, who made the case for editing being a 'hidden art'.

Down to work

After a coffee break and a chance to look round the conference fair, the first sessions began.

Going live

On Sunday afternoon there was no chance for a post-lunch snooze as the live sessions got under way.

Moving on

After another quick coffee break, the last sessions of the day took place for the next hour.

After-dinner speech

The after-dinner speech at the conference is always an eagerly awaited event – delegates, replete with food and wine, are in the mood to be entertained. Peter Howells finds that Lynne Murphy was well able to meet the challenge.


Something for everyone

A hearty breakfast set the delegates up for another day of learning and networking. The first sessions of the day covered a range of topics including graphic design, bookbinding, developmental editing and work–life balance.

The hour before lunch

The work continued with a busy hour of sharing knowledge and experience.

Quick off the mark

In a conference first, the afternoon began with four speed sessions: speed mentoring, speed networking, speed start-up and speed shake-up.

Closing lecture

Delegates came to this year's closing lecture in anticipation of being entertained and challenged. As Jane Simmons relates, the lively lecture that David Crystal, the SfEP's honorary president, gave to a packed room did both in equal measure.

These edited articles first appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of Editing Matters.

The hidden art of editing

Susan Greenberg

Reported by Nancy Campbell

'I am one of you!' Susan Greenberg begins her lecture with a statement of solidarity. The former editor and journalist is now an academic researcher, specialising in publishing and editorial practice. She believes that editors are often 'invisible' – and her own work is contributing to a wider awareness of this 'hidden art'.

One reason for this 'invisibility' is that the job title 'editor' is relatively new, Greenberg says, so editorial practice may not show up in the records. In the distant past, adjustments to text were made in the printing office, often by the compositors as they hand-set type. Greenberg quotes Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683): the compositor must 'get himself into the meaning of the Author . . . the better [to] sympathise with the Authors [sic] Genius, and also with the capacity of the Reader'. Over time, of course, book production has become increasingly specialised, and sympathising with the Author's genius (or whatever we might call it) is now the preserve of the editor.

Greenberg is well informed on contemporary as well as historical editorial practice. She interviewed a number of editors for her book Editors Talk about Editing: Insights for Readers, Writers and Publishers, gathering information about their occult activities. All her interviewees were forthcoming; Greenberg ascribes this to their passion for their work, combined with a lack of interested parties to discuss it with (a feeling shared by many of us, no doubt).

How might we bring our 'invisible' profession into the public eye? Greenberg suggests developing a theory of editing that will pass muster within the academy – 'a conceptual frame on which to hang ideas about editorial intervention in the text'. To this end, she quotes critics from Aristotle to postwar literary theorist Kenneth Burke. Distant memories of my Eng Lit degree stir as Greenberg makes her case for 'a poetics of editing' and considers constructivist and Romantic approaches to the text. I would have needed a second coffee to follow Greenberg's erudite argument closely, but I could relate to many of the individual quotations, such as the words of Mikhail Bakhtin: 'language is not a neutral medium, it is populated with the intentions of others'.

Moving swiftly on from theory to matters more concrete, Greenberg suggests parallels between editorial work and craft, illustrating her lecture with photographs of a pot being thrown on a wheel and a weaver at a loom. She confirms that editing is much more than merely catching and removing errors. It is a creative process, and one that involves dynamic change.

Greenberg's lively address certainly gave me a new perspective on my profession. After this genuinely inspiring introduction to her investigations, I trotted off to buy her book for more insights (and unforgettable quotations) from distinguished editors.

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Macros for editors

Paul Beverley

Session sponsored by PerfectIt
Reported by Karen Cox

A macro is a small computer program designed to do a repetitive task. Over the past eight years, Paul Beverley has written hundreds of macros for writers and editors, and his enthusiasm for what they can do is infectious.

Paul asked us what, as editors, we are trying to achieve, what our job involves. Among the answers were consistency of hyphenation, punctuation, spelling and capitalisation, and people also mentioned references. The next question was, 'Are there any ways to automate these tasks?' – unsurprisingly, a resounding 'Yes!' was the answer. Paul showed us how he starts to edit a new text, giving examples of various macros he might use, and that it is possible to do a decent job if we only read the script once – provided we run lots of macros first!

He mentioned a current job that has 100,000 words of references. This elicited a collective groan, followed shortly by gasps of astonishment when Paul explained just how much of this could be checked automatically.

If you want to learn more, start by visiting Paul's website at

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Copy-editing and proofreading legal texts

Lorraine Slipper

Reported by Natalie Codling

This could have been a dry subject, but Lorraine Slipper brought it to life with topical, high-profile cases and an interesting history of the different legal systems.

Is legal editing confined to heavy-weight statute books? Lorraine listed a wide range of texts that require editors, from journal articles, international legislation and protocols to professional handbooks and social services publications, plus many more besides, showing that legal text takes many forms.

Do you need to be a lawyer to don the wig of legal editing? While legal experience is invaluable, it is certainly not essential. Lorraine explained the various formats for citing cases, statutes, treaties, directives and regulations from the UK, the EU and the USA.

All acte clair so far? Lorraine guided us through the use of italics, brackets, dates, numbers and Latin terms, and gave us extremely useful reference tools: a glossary of terms plus commonly used abbreviations and online resources. Hands-on editing of a recent extract and questions answered throughout made the session interactive as well as informative. With laws changing all the time and the Brexit disentanglement ahead, legal editing surely has a busy future.

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Anatomy of a journal article

Sara Peacock

Reported by Isabel Tucker

In this session, Sara Peacock explored the features of a journal article, defined and analysed them, and discussed how a copy-editor could approach them. There was an interesting discussion about whether the abstract of a scientific article should contain the results. Different journals seem to follow different practices for this, depending partly on whether the subscribers would read the actual article or only the abstract. Also, would readers pay to read the article if the abstract gave them all the information they needed?

After this we went on to headings. Some journals number them and some don't. Sara has set up templates for articles in the journals for which she does regular editing, and she recommended this as a way of working.

We soon came to the thorny issue of tables, for which Hart's Rules and Butcher's Copy-editing are good reference sources. Then we tackled figures and illustrations, and debated what punctuation (if any) should captions that consist of one or more sentences contain.

Sara went through the three main systems of references, clarified various things and left us with a list of useful resources. The session was very well presented, and it was useful to compare notes with other editors working in this field.

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Working with charities, businesses and public sector bodies

Michelle McFadden and Amanda Picken

Reported by Natasha Mottahed

Looking at the charity, business and public sectors, Michelle McFadden and Amanda Picken discussed relevant topics such as the variety of work, confidentiality, client relationships and feedback, turnaround times and finding work. Text can range from annual reports to legal documents. Confidentiality is extremely important because of the sensitive nature of the documents, so clients may ask you to sign a confidentiality clause. Turnaround times are tight – work can be given at short notice and requires a fast response. We shared our experiences, agreeing that it can be stressful, but negotiation with the client on deadlines or rush rates because of the urgency of the job could reduce this. Client relationships are built on trust and are usually long term.

Work can be lucrative in this field, particularly with public sector bodies – which are more open to rate negotiation. When looking for work with these clients, factors to consider include size, business model and culture, the application process, boundaries and expectations (especially charities), and tenders (usually public sector bodies).

Feedback on freelancers was very positive: clients felt able to manage their workflow more effectively, and fresh ideas were brought to projects.

There are many benefits of working with these clients, and it is definitely worth considering if you are not already doing so.

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Where do you go next?

Chris McNab

Reported by Steve Longworth

For me, hoping to get myself out of a comfortable rut after ten years of editing ELT materials, Chris McNab's session was an obvious choice.

Chris was an engaging speaker and refreshingly realistic in his advice. We often tend to set a limit on our horizons and our income, feeling we don't deserve more, or that we're restricted by the 'going rate'. A discussion of the value we bring to clients helped with the idea that we do indeed deserve more!

Increasing client numbers in our usual area doesn't alter this, so alternatives are to do more, and/or to look for clients outside the traditional publishing world (in which our skills – and pay levels – are easily taken for granted).

Doing more could mean gaining new skills, or collaborating with freelancers with complementary skills to offer a package of services to clients. In 'non-traditional' areas, our skills can seem 'almost magical' and fees are often much higher.

Training is an area in which experience could generate higher returns. The focus here was on face-to-face workshops: some discussion of the developing area of online training would have been useful.

With time for personal reflection on goals, how to put the ideas raised into practice and some practical tips for building confidence in chasing new work and opportunities, this was a useful session with plenty of food for thought. Now I just need to put some of those ideas into practice!

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Live editing – STM

Ayesha Chari

Reported by Nick Hamar

Ayesha Chari ran a session to show us what was involved in editing scientific, technical and medical (STM) texts. The STM editor is provided with a brief, a style guide and the text. The more technical the text, the more important are the brief and the style guide; by having a good brief and style guide, one can overcome the technical complexities of the subject matter and get on with the editing.

Under Ayesha's supervision, we successfully battled with ten fiendishly complicated case studies, dealing with many levels of errant parentheses, torrents of abbreviations, unpronounceable chemicals and parts of the human genome that encoded things we did not know that we possessed. We learned that STM editors often have direct contact with the author, who could well be a non-native English speaker, so editors need to be especially careful with linguistic subtleties.

Traditional editing skills can only take you so far with STM texts: the aspiring editor would be wise to brush up on their plain-text editing and macro skills.

Ayesha showed us that an STM text is still just text, and with a little grit and determination it is possible to develop your skills and work in this sector. You just need to be brave and resourceful.

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Live critique

Richard Beard

Reported by Jill Brace

This was not a live session as such, but a demonstration of how the live critique or public edit works. Richard Beard, a novelist, and director of the National Academy of Writing (NAW), explained how its public edit was modelled on the masterclass of the Conservatoire: just as musicians need to learn how to be professional, so do writers. An edit for one would-be author at the NAW masterclass becomes an edit for all in the ticketed audience.

Richard used two anonymous texts, and proceeded to critique them, going through all his highlighted words and phrases in the texts, projected for us onto a screen. Any 'snags' that prevented immersion in the story were flagged up. Repetition, overloading of information, questions, dislocations, generalisations and anything else that detracted from the immediacy of the narrative were highlighted. Normally, the writer would be given the right of reply following the public edit, but this element was, of course, missing in our session. If you get the chance to attend a public edit, go for it, especially if you're a budding writer. Richard's live critique was insightful, instructive and fun.

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Live forum – feedback

Lucy Metzger

Reported by Petra Roberts

To my perfectionist mind, 'redirectional feedback' always feels like harsh criticism. My inner critic finds plenty to beat me up with, as it is . . . so I knew I would find this session, moderated by Lucy Metzger, useful.

Lucy asked us to think about our experiences with clients, authors and suppliers, and about how to make giving and receiving feedback both useful and comfortable. Within our small groups, we found plenty to share. Overall, most desired more frequent feedback from clients.

We learned from Lucy that negative feedback can be made more comfortable by allowing time for reflection and for emotions to settle. Was there a miscommunication regarding the brief, or a mismatch between the brief and the outcome? Was the feedback fair, but delivered poorly? Positive feedback can be indirect (repeat business or recommendations), but a direct response can also be extracted by following up when projects are completed.

My take-home points from the discussion were to think of the process as an educational exchange of information, and to be braver about asking the question, 'How did you find my work?'

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Tools of change

John Pettigrew

Reported by Toby Selwyn

Happy in my comfort zones of Track Changes and Find/Replace, yet fearful of being left behind as technologies advance, I hoped to gather intel on what's coming next and how to keep up. One of John Pettigrew's early remarks provided comfort: every innovation invokes fear of the end of the industry, but it always survives – and thrives.

John described changes since the early 1990s: increasingly complicated workflows, the internet, online resources, content management systems, file sharing and more. Non-tech changes include self-publishing and open access.

What's better now is the focus on core skills and the automation of repetitive tasks, but what's worse is publishers hiring bright young 'digital people' rather than editors and that more content formats mean more checking. The ultimate question is: where are we going next? Reader expectations are key to content, as innovations change the way that material is presented and how we interact with it. Inevitably, the industry is changing too: outsourcing ever on the rise, and companies such as Reedsy and Bibliocrunch springing up to meet the self-publishing market.

Does it all mean the end of publishing as we know it . . . again? No – but it certainly is survival of the fittest.

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Style sheets

Ian Howe

Reported by Maya Berger

A style sheet is an essential editorial tool, but as its contents and structure vary so greatly from one person or project to the next, where do you begin when creating one? We knew in advance that Janet MacMillan, who was going to lead this session, was unable to make it to the conference, and Ian Howe had kindly agreed to fill in for her. Full credit to Ian for putting together a session at short notice combining interactive discussion, expert tips on best practice and anecdotes.

We discussed how style sheets reinforce our professionalism and value to our clients; how they serve as memory aids; and ensure consistency in our work. We looked at different style sheet elements for different types of texts, such as character lists, timelines and world-building rules for fiction, and references for academic texts. Ian stressed that there is no correct format for a style sheet and no exhaustive list of elements that it must include. While I'd hoped there would be a clearer set of guidelines, Ian did provide sample style sheets that highlighted the 'must include' elements and different formatting options. I left feeling more confident in my ability to create effective style sheets in the future.

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From freelancer to publishing entrepreneur

Sue Richardson

Reported by Tom Foskett

For Sue Richardson, the difference between a freelancer and a business owner is all about our ability to grow. As freelancers, we're limited by how much we can do alone: if we don't do it, it won't get done. As business owners, however, we can let others take on tedious or annoying tasks while we focus our efforts where they're needed most. We don't have to take on employees: in Sue's business, most of her work is done by 'associates' – other freelance professionals with whom she's built up a mutually beneficial relationship. Some freelancers already use virtual assistants to handle their admin, often needed for just a few hours' work per week.

Sue stressed the importance of building a strong support network. In small businesses it's easy for things to go wrong. When they do, it's your network that'll get you back on your feet. Local networking groups and business start-up associations can be a great place to find support, although not everyone in the audience had had good experiences.

Finally, Sue urged us not to forget our end game. As freelancers, we must eventually hang up our boots, and when we do, that will be that. As business owners, however, we'll have built up an asset that we could potentially sell on for a little extra comfort in retirement.

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Editing business text

Sarah Hunter

Reported by Karola Woods

I was slightly regretting having booked Sarah Hunter's business text editing session; I was tired, and the thought of a seminar on making business text 'compelling' wasn't that attractive. I needn't have worried, as it turned out to be a very enjoyable and insightful hour. Sarah, who is an in-house editor or the Financial Conduct Authority, was entertaining, informative and gave the impression she not only needed but valued good copy-editors and proofreaders to make the FCA's literature lucid and interesting.

She provided a hilarious example of some convoluted text taken from one of their fridges. It was about three paragraphs asking staff to label their lunches and avoid leaving them in the fridge beyond their sell-by date. There was also an exaggerated command to call security if anything from the fridge went missing. Working in twos, we had to whittle it down to something more succinct.

Sarah requested we leave business cards and emails at the end, and it felt like this could turn into work at some point – experience and checks pending, of course. This made me feel as if what I did was valued, and it also helped that she was a copy-editor herself. A lively and fun way to end the day!

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After-dinner speech

Lynne Murphy

Reported by Peter Howells

I'm really glad I didn't wear my Bullingdon outfit, I'm thinking, as I scan the other diners and settle down to listen to Lynne Murphy, an American redhead, who tells us she's now lived in Britain long enough to start saying 'sorry' instead of 'thank you' when a door is held open for her. (Reading her very entertaining blog later on, I discover that 'redhead' is the correct description; she's no 'ginger- nut' [British English] and is nowhere near being a 'red-headed step-child' [American English].)

She launches into her defence of American English, pointing out how much more likely it is for a Google search for 'Americanism' to be preceded by the words 'ugly', 'horrible' or 'vile' than by the words 'lovely', 'nice' or 'useful'. She displays a BBC web page, headed British children turn to American English, showing us how the phrase 'turn to' (often followed by 'drugs' or 'prostitution') can subtly reinforce a negative view of Americanisms.

Reading an American book, purchased in the UK, to her eight-year-old, she noticed that most Americanisms like 'mom' and 'apartment' had been retained, but the publishers had balked at having no 's' on the end of 'math'. Lynne is aghast: 'God! The thought that young children might learn that other people don't say "maths" was too much for those editors!'

Next, Lynne has a go at one of our national treasures. In his podcast, David Mitchell – our own precious little comedian – has been saying that Americans use 'tidbit' because they think 'titbit' is 'intrinsically rude'. But Lynne disagrees: 'It's not about prudery in America, it's about rudery in Britain'. She tells us that the original word was 'tidbit'– meaning precious little thing – and it's us Brits who have changed it.

Apparently, we Brits are always 'getting our tits out' – changing 'tidbit' to 'titbit', and 'arse over tip' to 'arse over tit'. 'The way I summarise British English', she continues drolly, 'is that it's all about tits and class.'

Now she's onto the difference between cookies and cakes, and my attention wanders momentarily because I've heard some of this debate before somewhere, but then I hear the word 'wanker'. Wait, have I missed something? Is 'wanker' a type of cookie? No. The pitch of her voice descends to a Bea Arthur-like growl – as it does when she says something funny, rude or Brit-provoking – and I learn that the word 'wanker' has become big in the USA. (My research on the web later – over which I spent far too long – told me that the meaning of 'wanker' in the USA is milder than in the UK: more 'jerk' than 'jerk-off'.)

There's applause, then Lynne is back at the mike plugging her book, due out next year, telling us, with a final tongue-in-cheek dig at us Brits, that the proposed title was How America Saved the English Language. 'I thought at the very least people would buy it to burn it and I'd still get the rights', she says over loud applause.

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Sense and sensitivity: polishing grammar while preserving the author's voice

Sarah Price

Reported by Sarah Freshwater

My (frequent) dilemmas of whether to change something or not invariably involve an agonising tussle in my head. I'm getting pretty good at saying, 'It's not wrong, so leave well alone.' So, why is it that I still lack confidence about whether I have made the right decision? At the end of this session, I was heartened to find that it isn't just me!

As well as punctuation pitfalls, Sarah Price guided us through dangling participles, gerunds, collective nouns and the active/passive voice. Each slide of Sarah's prompted energetic discussion and debate. It was interesting to discover the issues that fellow participants had encountered, and how they had dealt with them – and with recalcitrant authors or academics! The group included delegates from the USA and Australia, and it was interesting to hear their contributions, dispelling myths regarding usage and style in those countries.

The dominant theme was the importance of consistency across a text – regardless of whether the style sheet provided by the client had actually been followed (clearly, I'm not the only one this happens to . . . ) or we cringe at the author's style and itch to change things we shouldn't. I left the session feeling relieved that I haven't been overzealous, and confident that those tussles inside my head will become fewer.

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Basic graphic design and typesetting

Rich Cutler

Reported by Sam Hartburn

Rich Cutler's session was an informative introduction to the process of designing a publication. The key message was that graphic design is not primarily about making something look pretty; rather, it is about effective communication and problem-solving.

There's a set of constraints (budget, number of colours, size, audience, etc) and, Rich said, four principles of design: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity (can you think of an acronym?!). After showing us examples of vintage and modern graphic design, including differences between European and US design, he gave us some text and pictures in a variety of colours and typefaces, handed out scissors and glue, and had us design a double-page spread – an interesting and illuminating exercise.

After discussing DTP and typesetting, we moved on to probably the most important aspect for many SfEP members: how can proofreaders and editors work effectively within the design and with typesetters? Some top tips: think about how changes will affect the design – sometimes cutting content is a necessary compromise; list all unusual characters – anything outside ANSI is likely to be imported as a question mark or a blank box; and don't pass problems on – if you don't know how to handle that huge set of nested tables, why should the typesetter be able to work it out?

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Taking charge of your freelance life

Laura Poole

Session sponsored by Cult Pens
Reported by Chris Bryce

Someone described the SfEP conference as 'a collection of friends, interested in the same things and happy to help each other'. That being the case, Laura Poole is that rare friend, generous with her knowledge and riotously funny with it. If you're at risk of doubting yourself, she'll be the first to squeal that you have exactly what it takes to be successful, and she'll show you how. Laura's topics included achieving work–life balance, dealing with the 'feast or famine' syndrome, working from home when you have kids, working while caring for elderly relatives, and how to cope if your partner also works from home.

My lasting impressions are: keep yourself well and sane, look after yourself physically, get all the monitors you need (enough to make you feel you could launch a rocket ship), always be planning ahead, make people aware that you're available and give yourself a pay rise. The nub of Laura's session was to make freelancing work for us; in the midst of prioritising tasks, make sure you prioritise yourself.

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Developmental editing

Ali Turnbull

Reported by John Ingamells

The definition of 'developmental' is fluid, Ali Turnbull told us, with often only blurred lines separating it from project management, design, structural editing, even author coaching. Developmental work should be done at an initial stage in any project, and a good editor will be able to assess the overall requirements of a job, bridge the gap between author and reader, and get large problems sorted out early on – all this illustrated by a large project that Ali had taken on recently.

In group discussions, we looked at the sort of problems that can face a developmental editor (from 'the author is not comfortable using a computer' to 'the review deadline is tomorrow but the review team is at a conference'), and discussed potential solutions that could be listed under two broad headings: communication and organisation.

Once we had a good feel for the topic, Ali encouraged us to ponder the question: 'Is it right for me?' We considered the qualities needed to make a go of it – and to make it pay. Ali finished off with some thoughts, again from her own experience, on how to go about getting this type of editorial work. And that was often not a case of finding a developmental job advertised as such but using other work – perhaps a smaller job – as an opportunity to persuade the client of other things that they needed.

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Managing and developing the skills of editors

Jackie Mace

Reported by Chitralekha Manohar

Jackie Mace's session helped participants form a basic code of best practice for managing a team. It all revolves around a four-pronged strategy: build friendly and professional relationships with editors for effective communication; provide clear instructions; offer detailed feedback; and support the editor.

Cultivating relationships with editors, though time consuming in the short term, can be beneficial in the long run. Editors who've worked with a project manager (PM) in the past are more likely to intuitively understand what is required, especially if feedback was provided on previous projects. Jackie recommended face-to-face meetings and Skype or phone calls to build rapport, and said that the earlier the editor is brought in, the better. The editor can shape the content in meaningful ways, instead of battling with it at the proofreading stage.

The PM needs to provide the editor with adequate support before and after the project. The brief should contain only the relevant information, and the PM needs to be clear about the level of intervention required. PMs must also remember that they are responsible for their freelancers: they need to champion their cause and make sure that they are paid on time.

The format – part Q&A and part brainstorming session – allowed people to suggest different solutions to problems, leaving everyone with plenty to think about.

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Making the most of your website

Sophie Playle

Reported by Lynne Round

Sophie Playle's main advice was to keep your website simple, not to use too many distracting images and to make sure that your pages contain plenty of white space, making it easier to read. She also discussed ways of attracting people to your website, through advertising, social media, business cards, etc.

We discussed basic design principles, but what I found most helpful was the section on what and what not to include on your website. Sophie advised putting your testimonials on the services page rather than having a dedicated page for them, something that I will now look at with my own website. Also useful was that you shouldn't feel pressured into having a blog, particularly if you are unlikely to have the time or inclination to update it regularly!

We concluded with some advice on improving the copy, with the main focus on both informing and persuading potential clients. We ran out of time – an hour was not long enough for this session. However, I got a lot out of it, and can't wait to get started on implementing the advice now that I'm back in the office!

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Working with authors and literary agencies

Lorena Goldsmith

Reported by Tracey Millyard

Lorena Goldsmith provided an interesting talk about helping authors find the right agent from her experience as a managing editor and literary consultant. She talked about the importance of understanding the market and being aware of trends in order to assess a client's work, and the likelihood of attracting the interest of an agent.

An agent then needs to be identified who has experience in the right genre and contacts in the relevant area of the market for the client's work. If the client is happy with the agent's terms and rates, a submission can be prepared. This should be strictly in accordance with the agent's guidelines and include a covering recommendation letter, synopsis/outline and the manuscript.

Managing author expectations is key, and a vital skill as a high percentage of manuscripts are rejected. There was some discussion about self-publishing: if it isn't good enough to be published, then that includes self-publishing; the exception, perhaps, is publishing for family and friends.

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LaTeX editing

Richard Hutchinson

Reported by Elaine Seery

LaTeX (note the capitalisation) is a high-quality document preparation system most often used for technical or scientific documents. It rhymes with 'playtech' (or any other made-up word ending in 'tech'!).

Starting with some simple examples of \textbf{boldface} and \textit{italic} formatting, Richard Hutchinson showed that (nearly) anything you can do in Word, you can do in LaTeX. \section*{Section Headings} may look very different to their Wordy counterparts, but serve the same purpose. And, unlike Word, it just takes a single command to switch your text from a \documentclass{book} to a \documentclass{report}.

However, LaTeX really comes into its own for maths (its initial raison d'être). Typesetting mathematical equations is a doddle, from the simple


to the more complex

\begin{equation} x=\frac{-b\pm
\label{eq:quadratic} \end{equation}

Why would you want to use LaTeX? Despite appearances, it's not just for researchers and mathematicians. In fact, it has a multitude of applications, and can be particularly useful for typesetting books and reports with complex formatting.

Overall, I felt that Richard perhaps focused more on writing in LaTeX (which is really hard and editors hardly ever do) than on editing in it (which comes with its own set of difficult issues). I'm a fairly experienced user, and I felt that he skated over the big problems that newbies are going to come across. Nevertheless, kudos to Richard for his introduction to such a complex topic.

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Education publishing

Jo Bottrill, Stephen Baker, Alison Evans, Jane Lee, Becky Swanwick

Reported by Gillian Kane

The aim of this session was for a panel (smaller than advertised but with a wealth of expertise) to give an overview of the opportunities available in education publishing. This was a whistle-stop tour of challenges: identifying what students and teachers really need; how to provide accurate, high-quality content in various formats (which then needs to be tailored to a syllabus that might not be approved until halfway through the writing stage); and the difficulties of getting products endorsed by an exam board.

For me, the most exciting fact was the need for skilled freelancers in a wide variety of roles. Changes in the publishing environment have led to more outsourcing in fields traditionally kept in-house. Examples included picture research, project management, answer checking and even commissioning editing. I particularly appreciated the in-depth look at what development editing entailed in the education world.

There was an overall theme of branching out: breaking into international publishing is creating opportunities beyond UK shores. Changes in technology are allowing us to develop new skills. We need to think about what we can offer beyond proofreading and editing. We should ensure that customers know our skillset, and have confidence in our own abilities. Although it was one of the last sessions of the conference, I found it one of the most informative and inspiring.

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Speed start-up: things newbies need to know

Louise Harnby, Liz Jones, Sue Littleford

Session sponsored by Freelancers in the UK
Reported by Amy Barnes

The session 'Speed start-up: things newbies need to know' was a whirlwind tour of the presenters' experience in finance, pricing and marketing. Sue Littleford provided invaluable advice about invoicing, dealing with late payments, registering a business, taxation and record keeping. She emphasised the need to acknowledge our rights and responsibilities as business people, with reminders to 'put on our mental business suits'.

Liz Jones discussed the 'dark art' of preparing quotes, collecting data to inform pricing, finding a balance between our requirements and the client's budget, and – of particular relevance to me as a nervous newbie – the importance of not being apologetic or self-deprecating when discussing fees.

Finally, Louse Harnby gave a simple definition of marketing as making oneself discoverable and interesting, along with numerous suggestions for achieving this. I appreciated the description of marketing as a process of testing: there is no best or right way, and finding what doesn't work is a success rather than a failure.

All of this was accompanied by very detailed handouts that I intend to consult regularly. Overall, the session exemplified the kind of practical advice and encouragement that so impressed me throughout the conference.

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New texts for old: the challenge of the internet

David Crystal

Reported by Jane Simmonds

David Crystal started by talking us through his own 'love/hate affair' with the internet, which he has used regularly from about 1996 onwards. Whereas books, articles and journals on paper are all unchanging, created at a point in time, with the publication date printed on them, the internet contains textes sans frontières. The internet has no start or finish, no borders to its pages, no end to its links. It also has no single authorial voice, and is multiple and often anonymous.

The internet has brought in a new era for linguists, characterised by its changeability. Twitter started out in 2006 with the prompt 'What are you doing?' In 2009, it changed to 'What's happening?', eliciting an entirely different range of tweets, becoming a kind of news service. David Crystal continued to explore the nature of the internet, offering his thoughts rather than solutions. He asked, 'What constitutes text on the internet?', giving often very funny examples from his own experience and research. In an email, does the text consist of simply the message, or are the replies included, or the subject line and recipients? Would the menu of a website be included? What about hyperlinks? And metadata? Security options? Comments on a post?

Particularly confusing are panchronic texts. These are common, even ubiquitous, on Wikipedia (as well as other sites), where there may be a number of contributors to a page at different times, resulting in an entry that is stylistically heterogeneous, varying in tenses, repetitious and ultimately becoming incoherent. Wiki editors are alert to dealing with lies, obscenities and so on, but it is less obvious how to tackle other problems that make the text difficult to use. 'Print on demand' also raises questions – David Crystal gave the example of how he now makes some of his out-of-print titles available on demand, but will correct errors and typos that he is aware of before printing. This results in a book that has the same ISBN as the original but is slightly different inside. The British Library is looking into how to classify print-on-demand publications. Blogs are another form of text on the internet – perhaps writing at its most 'naked' and unedited. In a blog no one is usually editing for style, so it is inconsistent, idiosyncratic and diverse.

Finally, David Crystal talked about how pop-ups and adverts chosen by software for their apparent relevance can in fact be inappropriate and insensitive to the subject matter. He gave examples from the amusing to the horrifying, including cars advertised next to a news story about a death in a traffic accident, and cutlery advertised on the same page as a report of a fatal stabbing. He answered questions from his highly engaged audience, leaving us thinking about the ambiguity of the English language and the many new issues posed for editors by the changeability of the internet.

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