Conference 2019: In the beginning was the word

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2019 conference at Aston University



Whitcombe lecture

The Whitcombe Lecture opened the 2019 SfEP conference. This year, our speaker was crime writer and former sub-editor Chris Brookmyre, who shared his experiences of writing, editing and being edited.


Styles, projects, memoirs, macros, websites and queries

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


Newbies, fiction, linguistics, mindfulness, copyright

On Sunday afternoon the first sessions got under way.



Training, typesetting, writers, PDFs, EU editing, content marketing

A hearty breakfast set the delegates up for another day of learning and networking, starting with some workshops.


Being effective, indexing, relationships, sex scenes

After another coffee break, the work continued with a busy hour of sharing knowledge and experience.


Grammar, Hansard, failure, accessibility, inclusivity

Before the conference finished, there was still time for delegates to take part in a grammar amnesty, hear how to learn from their mistakes, and more besides.


Closing plenary session

On the occasion of our 30th anniversary, David Crystal, our honorary president, closed the conference with a fascinating talk on the constant evolution of English, as documented in his third edition of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.




These edited articles first appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Editing Matters.






Whitcombe Lecture

Chris Brookmyre

Reported by Lesley Jones

Our speaker this year was crime author Chris Brookmyre, a Scot and a writer whose ‘Tartan noir’ novels mix comedy, politics, social comment and action. His first novel, Quite Ugly One Morning (1996), won the inaugural Critics’ First Blood Award (for Best First Crime Novel of the Year) and was the first in a series of novels featuring investigative journalist Jack Parlabane. Chris also writes 19th-century crime with his wife, Marisa Haetzman, as Ambrose Parry. Dr Haetzman’s research for her master’s degree in the history of medicine uncovered the material upon which their first novel was based.

After thanking Sabine, the SfEP’s chair, for her introduction (which, he said, was ‘just enthusiastic enough’), Chris gave us an insight into his style of writing, which he admitted can be quite divisive. Its controversial nature has led to Chris receiving some interesting emails from readers. He told of one woman who said she was sceptical about the psychic content of Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks but went on to say she was a psychic herself. This story led to Chris’s first F bomb.

To the hilarity of the audience, Chris described his experience of adapting his short story Bampot Central as a radio play for the BBC. In this comedy drama he had used the F word 40 times, and was told by the producer that the BBC only allowed 15. Chris considered whether he could borrow some f**ks, but decided he literally couldn’t give any.

The potted history of his career Chris gave us included his seven years in London as a sub-editor on a cinema trade paper. After moving to Edinburgh in 1993, Chris worked at The Scotsman until he made enough money to take some time off to write. He shared some entertaining anecdotes about his time working on the sports desk and some of the terrible headlines his colleagues made up, including ‘Body found in graveyard’ and ‘Shell found on beach’.

Chris wrote four novels before he got published, but when he got his publishing deal, he learned a lot about editors and copyeditors. When his first book came back from its initial edit, the editor had suggested a deletion in a very unpleasant-sounding crime scene with the words ‘This was a puke too far.’ Because Chris had worked as an editor himself, the copyeditors would receive very clean copy and often send manuscripts back without making changes, but they still saved him from many continuity errors. He has, for example, given his recurring character Jack Parlabane at least three different eye colours. In the novel Not the End of the World, someone holds a boat to ransom. The word ‘sacrifice’ was deliberately misspelled several times, and on the first pass the copyeditor corrected it each time. When they discovered it was deliberate they had to go back and stet each one.

Chris ended his lecture by noting the difference between working alone and working with his wife, Marisa. She trained him to plan. He said that if a novel relies on a plot twist it shouldn’t just be new information – it has to change the meaning of everything. That requires huge amounts of planning, and he feels that it results in a more satisfactory ending.

Chris concluded by telling us how he enjoys writing while walking – outside – dictating onto his phone. He is delighted that, so far, he hasn’t been arrested!

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Creating effective style sheets

Ian Howe

Reported by Tracey Drew

Ian Howe is a proofreader and copyeditor as well as a tutor. His workshop at the conference was very popular! Ian himself remarked on the variety of conference-goers, pointing out that numbers were swelled by several translators.

Ian helpfully explained the distinction between style sheets and style guides. He described the former as a handy tool, a complement and supplement to the guide. Whereas the latter is fixed from the outset, each style sheet is a developing record of decisions and choices made during the edit. It is a dynamic piece of work: almost an individual character! It can consist of a single page or two, while its distant cousin may be moved only with the aid of a wheelbarrow or sack trolley. The style sheet essentially shows ‘how not to make the same decision twice’.

Up to 30 items for inclusion on a style sheet were identified, many of which corresponded with what Ian sees as its primary aim: to ensure consistency. He suggested that prioritising items from essential to optional may prove helpful. Notably, the style sheet can also indicate what to leave alone. Everyone, from author to proofreader – and anyone in between – might need it, and at any time.

So, whether our trusty friend destines us for dizzy heights or is doomed to the dustbin, creative powers can be unleashed. Even when a style sheet has been sent by the client, it is malleable enough rather than set in stone.

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Getting a project from argh! to booyah!

Abi Saffrey

Reported by Debbie Scott

I attended Abi Saffrey’s ‘Getting a project from argh! to booyah!’ with a view to challenging myself and hoping to gain an appreciation of my editor’s world. As a proofreader, and someone who is increasingly doing more sub-editorial work, I want to better understand the editorial process.

I felt overwhelmed at the start of the workshop, as Abi tasked us with managing an editorial project. It may be that my work is on a smaller scale than that outlined in the exercise and therefore fewer people and stages are involved, or it may be that the roles outlined by Abi are referred to differently in the work I undertake for trade publications. Nevertheless, I found myself querying much of the terminology used whereas my team members appeared familiar with the brief and the terms used in the workflow diagram.

We covered a lot of ground, and I basically learned on the (pretend) job. The logic certainly became clearer as to which person made which decisions and at what part of the editorial workflow. I also realised that not all job titles mean the same to all people.

My main takeaway from the workshop is that a good editor must ‘just get on with it’ and encourage their team to do so, ensuring clear and honest communication throughout, recognising that all players have different demands on their time. The exercise enabled us to consider and address the many problems an editor might encounter while managing a project, including receiving incomplete files, and managing delays and unexpected absenteeism. Basically, all problems have the potential to impact the quality, budget and timeline of a project, and ultimately while the editor can delegate everything to get the job done, they can’t delegate responsibility.

Abi set the benchmark high with this workshop. For me, it was a two-hour crash course in editorial management. While it was no walk in the park, it exposed me to the editor’s world, for which I now have a better appreciation. Abi clearly put a lot of preparation into her session, and this was mirrored by the amount I took away.

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Editing memoir, life-writing and creative non-fiction

Emma Darwin

Reported by Sue Kelso Ryan

Emma asked, ‘Everyone has a story but how can editors help an author bring that story to the reader, and address any problems that arise?’ The workshop was packed full of information and examples.

She defined memoir as ‘a new, fast-changing genre of non-fiction stories, describing a causally related chain of events and written using fiction techniques’. It should be compelling, with a strong voice to hold the reader, possibly employing fiction’s five-act structure or written as creative non-fiction. Memoirs might not be chronological: alternative ‘spines’ or themes might be places, objects or events. Fiction’s rule is ‘show, don’t tell’, whereas memoir needs both, and telling can save time.

Setting out how the book works in the early chapters helps the reader follow and decide whether it’s worth their time and money. Editors should consider appropriate tone and psychic distance to improve engagement. They might guide new writers to make good judgements, using a ‘book of rules’ to illustrate what works, yet allow them to challenge this tactfully given advice and break conventions. The author’s drive to record is strong, and editors should tread carefully, especially when editing sensitive material. Discussion should always return to what the writer is trying to do, who the book is centred on, and why it is being written.

The workshop addressed editorial challenges and how to meet them, including delegates’ examples and Emma’s own, when writing This Is Not a Book about Charles Darwin.

See Emma’s website and blog for further useful information.

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Macros for total beginners

Paul Beverley

Reported by Lindsey Roffe

This was my first encounter with macros and my first conference workshop, so I was ready and raring for this presentation delivered by macros master Paul Beverley.

The two-hour workshop introduced us to macros, covering their potential and level of safety. Paul gave an overview of his macro FRedit, and a demo of what other macros can do. Then it was over to us to have a go at installing and using a set of 20 macros. The practical element of the workshop was a little daunting but great for encouraging a better understanding of the power of macros.

Workshop overview:

  • Word macros are computer programs that can ‘do things with words’ and are useful for onscreen editing using Word files.
  • Anyone can learn how to load macros into Word – no programming skills are required.
  • There are many macros that do different jobs, but the three main types are analysis, topical or line editing, and global-change macros.
  • Start with analysis macros and don’t do too much too soon.
  • Macros can help you to
    • complete jobs more quickly
    • produce more accurate and consistent work
    • spend more time engaging with the text
    • work more profitably.
  • Authors won’t know you have run macros – enjoy accepting the plaudits from them as they praise what you and the macros pick up!

Paul has generously created a free book of over 650 macros along with a catalogue of ‘how to’ videos on his YouTube channel. For more information visit

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Creating a website for an editorial business

Ruth Thaler-Carter

Reported by Virman Man

A website gets you noticed and acts as your business card or brochure. You need one. Your competitors probably have one, so if you don’t you may miss out.

What do you need?

  • A domain name, which should reflect what you do, not some fancy pun. Cost? It’s cheap, about the same as a couple of cappuccinos – for the year!
  • A hosting service, which costs a bit more, maybe £100 annually. Ensure you get 365-day technical support as part of this.

No technical ability or time? Get help! No techie friends? Plenty of agencies out there! Shop around. Read the contracts – check out response times, terms of services and payment.

There are two main things to focus on – content and design.

  • Content. Say what you do and why you should be hired. Say how you will approach your prospective clients’ work.
    • Use effective keywords (so you can be found easily on browsers); plain English, testimonials; and work samples (get permission).
    • Avoid personal photos; your home address or phone number; large animations/graphics; and empty space.
  • Design. Hosting sites offer free and attractive templates, but others may use these same templates, so you may want to commission someone to create a design for you. Or, if you have the time to invest, you can try it yourself, with software such as Dreamweaver or WordPress.

Your website must give your contact details: an email address, for example (but watch out for spam), or a contact form (but this could be off-putting).

Above all, demonstrate your quality and credibility.

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The art of querying

Gerard Hill

Reported by Tim Miles

To accompany his entertaining workshop, Gerard provided 12 pages of notes. These began by borrowing from the title of the conference (‘In the beginning was the word’), asking us to imagine what questions we might have asked St John about the first verse of his Gospel. The notes included sample queries (with replies) and exercises based on a wide variety of texts: children’s books, graphs, tables and, in particular, academic works with multiple references. They illustrated the main grounds for content-related queries, as opposed to just correcting spelling or grammar mistakes: omission, inconsistency and ambiguity.

Gerard prefers to send lists of queries as Word attachments and ask the author to write their answer below each question, rather than working on the complete text with changes tracked and comments. With a new author, he first communicates very formally and starts with an easy set of questions, but then tries to work some gentle humour into the relationship.

He explained how to ensure that queries are phrased in the way most likely to elicit a useful, unambiguous answer: whenever possible, suggest a correction and ask whether the author can confirm it.

Even with the aid of Gerard’s flowchart, I am not yet confident about what to query, what to leave alone and what to just change, and will probably continue to err too far on the side of caution (and verbosity); but the important thing is to record all of your decisions, including any that you made without consulting the author, and your reasons for making them.

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Starting out: A guide for newbies

Claire Handy

Reported by Lucie Zeale

So went the title of Claire Handy’s seminar; and it was a must for people like me who had only just begun in the editing world. It began with Claire’s gentle humour reminding us that everyone was a newbie too, once.

The presentation was split into four sections. ‘Finding work’ was mainly focused on networking, and telling people what you do. The standout message from this section was that people deal with people.

‘Money stuff’ covered invoices, and quotes and charging on a sliding scale according to how much the client would accept. Advice: ensure you are aware of what your quotation will cover; and monitor your work and timekeeping constantly (for yourself as well as for HMRC).

The conclusion I drew from ‘Legal stuff’ was to keep your books in order, record everything and check the HMRC website if you need assistance.

In ‘Staying sane’, Claire’s tips were to go outside at least once a day; ensure you have administration time in your schedule to save stress; and to believe in yourself – we have all felt like imposters, so recording and celebrating successes is important.

This was all very good advice, and although it’s impossible to condense so much information into a summary, I would like to thank Claire for all of it and say, ‘Don’t worry, you didn’t talk too fast!’ Some advice for next time would be paper hand-outs for delegates to help reduce the amount of information in the slides and make recalling it easier.

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Switching to fiction

Louise Harnby

Reported by Jenny Warren

The one thing guaranteed to make me sign up for my first SfEP conference was a seminar delivered by Louise Harnby. In keeping with her legendary support for editors, Louise announced that, although she had no chocolate this year (boo!), she was offering attendees free access to a webinar and her ebook Editing Fiction at Sentence Level without Fear, which elicited an enthusiastic round of applause.

Louise encouraged us not to be fussy editors: pedantry can too easily lead to butchery. We must be respectful of the author’s voice, style and use of idiom; and think about the audience’s expectations, not our own – what does the reader want from this genre?

Next, there was a lightning series of slides on four key areas:

  • narrative viewpoint: the advantages and disadvantages of different points of view, the traps that indie authors can fall into, and how to apply fixes for head-hopping
  • line-level issues and readability: the tendency for some authors to give stage directions, and how to address tense, filter words and action beats
  • dialogue: the effectiveness of dialogue, thoughts and indirect speech to convey the character’s voice, mood and intention
  • technical aspects of fiction editing: style sheets, reference manuals and the value of author reports.

The key message for me was that fiction line editing is both technical and emotional; a good line edit will focus on the story and create an immersive experience for the reader.

For those not lucky enough to attend, you can buy Louise’s Switching to Fiction course here.

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Linguistic bias in editing and proofreading

Erin Carrie

Reported by Kathryn Weber-Boer and Hiske Feenstra

In this seminar, Erin Carrie from Manchester Metropolitan University gave a dynamic introduction to the principles of linguistics, as well as a plea to consider our editorial position as an ethical one.

Language is how we perform our identities: cultural, social, geographic and so forth. The workshop emphasised that any ‘standard’ is arbitrary and depends on context. It highlighted the ways we evaluate the spoken word, but also touched on the judgements we make, based on how authors express themselves rather than their ideas. As editors, the way we suggest changes can have a value-laden impact on our authors.

Erin exhorted us to think carefully about how and why we implement whichever standard we choose as editors. Participants in the session had answered a questionnaire before the workshop, and the results revealed some existing awareness. The majority of participants felt that referring to language choices as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ was less ideal, preferring terms such as ‘enhance’ over ‘correct’ or ‘fix’.

The discussion revealed that there was some objection in the room to the idea that vocabulary could not be described as incorrect or inaccurate, including word choice by non-native English-language writers.

Another point of concern is when editors are hired (as many of us are) to help the author achieve a ‘standard’, to meet their readers’ sets of expectations. As Erin put it, if writing sets up a relationship between the author and the reader, then the editor is the third person in the room. We facilitate the relationship between reader and writer. We should do so both with respect to the author’s background and in awareness of what our editorial choices communicate to both the reader and the author.

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Becoming mindful with words, work and the whole of your life

Pav Mahey

Reported by Jessica Cox

Pause. Focus on your breath. Feel the air flowing in through your nose. Notice how your chest rises as you inhale, and falls as you exhale. Move your attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground. Be present in this moment. Close your eyes if that feels right, or keep them open if you prefer. There’s no one right way to ‘do’ mindfulness. It’s about being present in your body, open to the experience of now, without judgement. As our wise speaker noted, relaxation is a lovely side effect.

But ‘speaker’ doesn’t seem quite right to describe Pav Mahey’s role as she introduced us to the practice of mindfulness (it’s not just hippy behaviour or something only strange people do, she explained). ‘Guide’ seems more apt – we experienced mindfulness first-hand as Pav led us through several simple practices and explained their benefits.

In daily life, it’s easy to feel pulled and pushed in different directions, losing ourselves in the tumult of the many priorities that compete for our attention. But, as Pav put it, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. It’s essential to look after ourselves.

Pav described simple, informal practices such as mindful walking and listening – even mindful photocopying! And we also learned about more-formal practices, such as body scan meditations and keeping a gratitude journal.

Our hour together passed much too quickly, but I think we all left the session feeling a little more serene and grounded amid the cheerful hustle and bustle of the conference.

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Stephen Baker

Reported by Tim Curnow

In this seminar, Stephen Baker (a rights and permissions manager at Pearson) gave us an overview of copyright, looking at what is protected by copyright and what is not. The focus was on the UK system, although the principles are the same across different jurisdictions.

Stephen talked about the fact that ideas are not copyrightable, but the expression of an idea is; the moral rights of authors; the distinction between ‘in the public domain’ and being publicly available; model releases and building releases (who knew that you may not be able to use your own photograph of the Eiffel Tower without permission?); embedded copyright; and the concept of fair use (ie the conditions under which work may be reproduced).

It was interesting to hear from one of the large publishers about how it is trying to educate authors, and how it sees (freelance) copyeditors fitting into the system. Ideally, I would also have liked a view from outside the ‘mainstream’ publishing world, out where authors (and editors) are often on their own.

The take-home message is that authors always need to indicate for the publisher the precise source for any illustrations, figures and tables (‘no, it’s not from Google’), so that the publisher can perform a risk assessment or consider whether alternative material could be used instead. Copyeditors can help by being ‘another firewall’ when it comes to copyright, simply by saying to the author, managing editor or publisher, ‘I’m a bit concerned about the issue of copyright here.’

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A training toolbox for editors

Hilary Cadman

Reported by Alison Hillman

This seminar started with a question and ended with a challenge. The question was which one of eight statements about the presenter, Hilary Cadman, was false.* The challenge was to make a short video and show it to other editors in the next week.

In between, Hilary shared insights and advice based on her experience of providing training via webinars, online courses and screencasts. A good training platform is easy to use, offers all the features you need and has access to effective support. Hilary suggested considering GoToWebinar or Zoom for webinars, Thinkific or Teachable for online training, and iSpring Free Cam for screencasts.

It’s essential to know the platform well. If your interactive webinar will have a moderator, a joint practice session is advisable. Back-up plans are a must … just in case!

Audience engagement is key. Content may need to be adapted to suit the medium being used. Hilary highlighted the importance of lots of activities of various types in webinars (eg running a quick poll, doing an exercise). Online courses can often be split into modules, and these can be broken up with quizzes, videos, etc. A comments function and FAQs can be useful. For screencasts, Hilary recommended keeping them short, maintaining an appropriate pace (not rambling, not racing), recapping key points and avoiding overuse of ‘bells and whistles’.

After sharing more practical tips on training, Hilary reminded us that short webinars can also be used to promote services and build an email list.

*The false statement was that training was the most profitable of Hilary’s three businesses!

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Editing and the typesetter

Rich Cutler

Reported by Ben Dare

The copyeditor has two roles: content editing and copy preparation. The latter can be neglected or misunderstood, leaving a bag of troubles in the hands of those downstream from the editor – such as the typesetter (TS).

The speaker, Rich Cutler, gave us a feel for the TS’s working life, showing the difference between traditional typesetting software (eg Arbortext) – great for long books and combined print/electronic workflow (and can cost £10,000+!) – and desktop publishing software (eg Adobe InDesign) – better for heavily designed documents.

There are also elements of a document that can cause headaches for the TS, such as unflagged irregularities (eg unusual accents), a table designed without checking the publication size, or manually adjusted Word styles. (Clean Word styles are good, Rich said, but using tags, not styles, is better!)

Best practice? Don’t make the manuscript look like the final product. Do remove unwanted styles and spaces; clearly identify structure, heading hierarchy, displayed material and unusual items; indicate the position of anything to be inserted; flag anything unusual. Think: what might a TS not easily see or know?

Thanks to Rich’s seminar, I can picture what happens to documents I pass on for typesetting. I now understand why certain irregularities are more troublesome than others (eg non-breaking spaces may not be converted by the TS’s software, and are then unlikely to be spotted), so I have a plan to address these potential problems. I’m sure this will result in smoother typesetting (and happier proofreaders!) for projects I help with in the future.

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Writers’ panel: The other side of editing

Chair: Kia Thomas

Reported by Alice Horne

This seminar offered a glimpse behind the comment bubbles and into the process of editing as seen by writers, namely Josie Lloyd, Emlyn Rees, KJ Charles and Alison Ingleby, with Kia Thomas in the chair. Between them, they are traditional authors, indie authors and former editors and agents, so they gave a useful range of perspectives (albeit one that was geared more to fiction editing).

It’s unsurprising that for writers, the ideal editing scenario involves very few changes. If you spot issues that go beyond the cosmetic, a well-considered suggestion (‘Did you mean …?’) helps pinpoint the issue and prompt a solution. Equally, explaining the reasoning behind some changes can help writers hone their skills. Not all comments are created equal, though; one panellist gave an example of a particularly unhelpful note: ‘Can you make this funnier?’

There was, overall, a strong sense of emotion about the process. A manuscript is like an author’s baby, so any changes will hurt. As editors, we can mitigate the pain by adding positive comments – even just ‘I loved this!’ – and, if you have the time, a sensitive covering note saying whether you liked it.

What not to do? Take a confrontational tone or ‘nit-pick’: copyediting should be about getting things right, not trying to find fault. If there’s a style choice you’re not sure about, check before making blanket changes that could waste everyone’s time.

Ultimately, the seminar was a reminder of the human side of editing – one that promises to make working with authors somewhat smoother, if not enjoyable.

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Perfecting PDF mark-up

Jo Bottrill

Reported by Matt Pinnock

After the frivolity of a gala dinner, what better way is there to spend a Monday morning than learning about mark-ups in PDFs?

Jo Bottrill, of Newgen Publishing, presented Adobe Reader’s tools for marking up PDFs, showing how the principles of hard-copy mark-up can be applied just as easily to PDFs.

It was an interesting and interactive session for which the slides alone would not do justice. Alas, to get the most from it, one had to be there.

The processes were very intuitive and similar to working within Word. I felt confident that anyone would be able to make the transition to electronic working in this way. Jo ran through a number of tools but the most common were:

  • highlight – allows text to be commented upon to raise queries with the author and others
  • delete – allows text to be highlighted for deletion by striking it through with a red line
  • replace – similar to ‘delete’ but a blue strikethrough and replacement text is provided
  • insert – allows for insertion of any missing text or punctuation.

For each, a comment box appears on the right-hand side of the screen, allowing others to review and act on your mark-up.

It was noticeable that there was no standard approach, unlike the traditional BS marks. Each client may expect a different selection of the tools to be used: for example, it could be just highlight with comments. Perhaps setting a standard is a future project for our newly chartered institute?

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English among polyglots: Editing for the European Parliament

Cathy Waibel and Edmund Frimston

Reported by Eleanor Ayres

Cathy Waibel and Edmund Frimston of the EU’s clear language and editing unit (part of the translation unit) gave a fascinating insight into their work.

The unit was established seven years ago, and since 2017 it has aimed to intervene as early as possible – attending committees and discussing language queries. Although it does not edit EU law, which requires input from lawyers, it is available to assist EU personnel by editing pretty much anything else, including parliamentary questions, session resolutions, reports and opinions.

Its editors are all native English speakers with knowledge of other languages and a necessary aptitude for diplomacy and empathy. Underpinning its work is the fundamental understanding that all EU citizens should be able to read EU documents in their own language; all 24 official languages in the EU have equal status. With many documents written by non-native speakers, key areas for editorial attention include wordiness, unclear language and false friends (particularly in French and Italian).

With 70% of texts in English, Brexit is unlikely to have any substantial effect on its work, although there may be some reorganisation.

The unit provides a wealth of other services, including drafting workshops, meeting support, clear-language services and an English-language helpline. Showing examples of its rewrites, the panel explained how it aims to deliver the message and ‘write for the ear’ – something we can all appreciate!

The unit is also involved in the production of free podcasts in the Audio Capacity project: ‘the future of reading is listening’.

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Content marketing for editors

Denise Cowle

Reported by Russell Fairless

At the start of Denise Cowle’s seminar, I couldn’t help agreeing with a somewhat forthright opening remark from one of the delegates: ‘Editors just don’t like engaging with the public,’ she said. ‘What don’t you like?’ said Denise. The response: ‘People.’

Fortunately, Denise proceeded to give a gentle but convincing wake-up call to those of us who had thought that ‘brash’ marketing and self-promotion were incompatible with the modest, self-effacing nature of most editors. Content marketing, she explained, strives to build trust and brand loyalty by providing potential clients with valuable free information, and – not least – answers to the questions they are likely to have about copyediting and proofreading.

Denise started by getting us to consider our own buying processes – the ‘moments of truth’ that all purchasers go through when choosing goods or services: ie stimulus research purchase experience. Using a series of exercises, she coaxed us into considering the sort of questions that clients are likely to ask – and should expect to have answered. How many of us, for example, even include prices on our websites? Only four out of the 32 delegates, it turns out. Denise also introduced the ‘big five’ of content marketing, with price at the top of the list.

Finally, we were asked to think about the top 10–20 questions that potential clients might type into Google. Did our websites provide answers? (Shamefully, I have to admit that mine does not … yet.)

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The six habits of highly effective editors

Matthew Batchelor

Reported by Pip Schofield

I’m certain Matthew Batchelor’s entertaining and memorable seminar secured its large attendance with those tempting words ‘highly effective’. Drawing on neurolinguistic programming (NLP), Matthew revealed useful tips and strategies to help us embed new learning, accelerate professional development and, most importantly, give the best of ourselves to any one task.

Habits one to four outlined how an editor’s role must encompass detective, spy, linguist and ‘sound mixer’: applying, respectively, methodical observation, a suspicious mind, an authoritative and precise knowledge of the written word, and, critically, an ability to ‘make the text sing’ by showcasing the (often) broad brush strokes of an author’s creativity with contrasting, detailed suggestions.

Habit five added the ‘circle of excellence’ using a creative NLP technique. Matthew asked an audience volunteer to recall past experiences of success. Then, using an imaginary ‘circle of excellence’ (drawn on the floor), he invited the participant to step into the circle while remembering the physical feelings involved. Matthew explained that an ability to anchor positive feelings and qualities can dramatically increase focus on a given task, enabling us to be ‘in the zone’.

Lastly, Matthew examined the techniques and learning preferences required to support habit six: ‘accelerate your learning’. Outlining the benefits of sleep, timing, repetition, argument, mnemonics, gestures and exercise, he assembled a ‘STRANGE’ mnemonic to support future learning and perfection.

Matthew’s seminar revealed that highly effective editing involves more than a set of tools and techniques: it also demands the right attitude.

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The last word: Indexes, indexers and indexing for editors

Nicola King

Reported by Zara Chadha

Nicola’s insightful and comprehensive seminar offered advice on how to compile indexes, how to assess their effectiveness and how to work successfully with indexers as an editor, publisher or author. Nicola explained that indexers aim to produce accurate and well-ordered resources that enable readers to understand the content of a book.

Her talk incorporated useful and engaging exercises that gave everyone the opportunity to identify index entries for an example passage and to compare good and bad indexes. As well as practical tips that Nicola shared for proofreading an index (focus on layout and legibility), a key takeaway for editors was the importance of dialogue. As indexing often takes place alongside editing and proofreading, indexers regularly identify corrections and raise queries as they work through a manuscript; these need to be communicated to editors and integrated with their work.

Dialogue is also crucial for ensuring that errors are not introduced into completed indexes: if an editor, author or publisher highlights potential problems in completed indexes, they should talk to the indexer rather than making changes themselves. This conversation will help the author and editor to understand the indexer’s decisions, and vice versa, resulting in a resource that is reflective of the text and useful for the reader; the indexer is also the person best placed to make any necessary changes quickly and effectively. Nicola concluded by recommending Butcher’s Copy-Editing and Indexing for Editors and Authors as fundamental resources for anyone involved with preparing indexes.

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Building better relationships with clients

Ruth Thaler-Carter

Reported by Karen Jones

Ruth Thaler-Carter gave an informative insight into dealing with clients and safeguarding freelancers from the pitfalls of working independently.

Communication is the key word. Spell out contractual issues before starting. Leave nothing to misinterpretation.

Record details of the work as follows:

  • The project. Is it proofreading, copyediting or other editing?
  • The scope. What is the number of words or pages?
  • Style. Is there a house style guide or will a style sheet need to be set up?
  • Payment. Is payment based on a flat fee, time, the number of words or the page count? Consider an advance before starting, or set up interim payments.
  • Deadline. Be clear when this is, for both client and freelancer.
  • Receipt of the work. Let the client know when the work is received, and ask them to confirm they have received it back.
  • Additional assistance. If help beyond copyediting is required, it needs recognition, eg your name as a co-author. Make sure the final version is seen before publication.

Keep in communication with the client on a regular basis. Use courtesy, respect, tact, thoughtfulness and consideration. Phrase queries in a non-confrontational way, eg ‘This doesn’t make sense to me, so it won’t to your readers’.

If you have a crisis such as illness, injury, bereavement or needing to care for someone, let the client know immediately, as this may affect the deadline.

It is important to do great work. When the client is happy, there is no better relationship. Testimonials are invaluable.

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Editing sex scenes in fiction

Maya Berger

Reported by Kathy Swailes

Sex scenes in fiction can be a minefield for editors and can make or break a story. A well-written scene may fit in so well that the book is less cohesive without it, but a poorly written scene may bore, offend or make us squirm uncomfortably, and may potentially cause a reader to stop reading.

Maya Berger started her seminar by assuring us that the same editors’ toolkit that we always use should be used for sex scenes too, so technically the only difficulty is our own sensibilities. However, through the judicious use of examples that we were given to work on, she revealed how delicate some of the issues may be with an act that is as old as humanity, so there are limitations on author creativity. But it is how we deal with any issues arising that is of paramount importance, using extreme tact in our querying.

We were also advised to consider our own wellbeing, especially when faced with exploitative and non-consensual scenes. A reader will only have to read these scenes once and may skim over them if too unpleasant, but an editor needs to read and re-read, and analyse.

Editing such scenes in young-adult novels and speculative fiction was also discussed. How young is too young? Does it vary in time, country and universe? Might we recommend an author to seek out the services of a litigation lawyer prior to publishing if we believe they’ve stepped over the line?

These topics and many others were covered admirably, though hurriedly, as the content of this seminar was so extensive. I would love to talk for several more hours with Maya and other fiction editors to flesh out the subject (pun intended)!

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Grammar amnesty

Chair: Lucy Metzger

Panellists: Luke Finley, Annie Jackson and Cathy Tingle

Reported by Amanda Anstee

We may feel that we should be grammar experts, but this helpful and reassuring seminar allowed delegates to admit that perhaps this isn’t always so and to seek clarity on particular points.

Style guides and grammar books at hand, the panel resembled Countdown’s dictionary corner, while their experience from writing Editing Matters’ Finer Points column and/or involvement in the SfEP Brush Up Your Grammar course was evident in their knowledgeable and insightful replies. To begin, they reflected on -nt/-ned endings and how either is acceptable but consistency is key; on the need for ‘as such’ to have an antecedent noun when replacing ‘therefore’; and on how the vocative comma is required in certain phrases (‘I don’t know Marion’ cf ‘I don’t know, Marion’) but is perhaps falling away in others (‘Hi Marion’).

Responses to delegates included: a comma is required before a non-essential appositive at the end of a sentence (‘our friend, the mayor’); adjectives are generally ordered from most to least subjective; adjectives are separated by commas if they are both gradable/quantifiable or both defining/classifying; open compounds can be hyphenated with en rules (post–Cold War).

The authorities disagree on some points, even on the terminology to describe them. Often it comes down to usage and context. If we familiarise ourselves with the style guides and books that are appropriate for our respective fields, we can build our confidence in reaching a judgement.

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Hansard at the House of Lords

Eleanor Clements and John Vice

Reported by Anna William

The Palace of Westminster is undoubtedly an interesting place to be these days, and Monday’s seminar with John Vice and Eleanor Clements from Hansard at the House of Lords gave a fascinating insight into their work.

John began with a brief history of parliamentary reporting, and explained that Hansard’s current form (named after Thomas Curson Hansard) began in 1909. Despite Hansard’s own prescriptive views on language, today’s reporters are more descriptive, tasked with producing a ‘substantially verbatim’ account of every speech in the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

John then demonstrated, using video recordings, some of the difficulties in translating speech into writing. While swearing could be politically awkward, Hansard’s role is to ‘report not regulate’. Interruptions are hard to describe accurately and objectively, so often appear as simply ‘[Interruption]’. The use of props is problematic and often omitted, and body language is fraught with issues of subjectivism and ‘plausible deniability’. All such things can dramatically affect the mood of a debate, yet often go unreported. The recordings, officially part of Hansard, are therefore invaluable.

Eleanor concluded with some practicalities of Hansard reporting. Typically, 16 reporters follow a day’s rota, each spending five minutes in the chamber. They then transcribe that ‘turn’ using notes and recordings, check names and procedural information, punctuate, correct grammar and obvious errors, and edit for sense and clarity, all of which takes around an hour per turn. Long, unpredictable days and tight publishing targets (online within three hours of a debate) require a carefully managed ‘editorial relay race’.

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From the failure files: Learning from big mistakes

Laura Poole

Reported by Fay Perry

As an attendee of Laura Poole’s seminar on learning from mistakes, and a reasonably new proofreader and definitely not a writer, I was going with a clean sheet. I didn’t want this article to be my first ‘big mistake’. As it turns out it won’t matter if it is – I’ll be in good company.

Laura, or should that be Lara (in-session joke, sorry), began by telling us about her biggest blunder. Recommending a fellow editor to one of her own clients turned out to be a costly move for Laura when she ended up forking out money, as well as free time, to avoid a lawsuit and thus keep her reputation intact. Lesson learned – always vet potential referrals.

The floor was then opened to the audience, to recount experiences that ‘haven’t quite gone to plan’.

Reading the brief before you do the work should ensure you do the correct edit; verifying the level of editing and final number of pages features large when price quoting. Being blasé after numerous proofreads led to one unchecked publication having a poem printed upside down, but the story that drew the biggest gasp was overwriting all your work with the original copy … ouch!

The upshot is we are all human: we all make mistakes. The best thing to do is ’fess up and learn from it. While Laura likes to ‘make the leap, building your wings on the way down’, the rest of us might benefit from a bit of pre-leaping preparation!

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A luddite shares accessibility tweaks for your online presence

Vanessa Wells

Reported by Agnès Lombard

Having had her website checked for accessibility, Vanessa wanted to share what she had learned as a result, along with tips for making websites and social media posts available to more people.

Given that 15–20% of the world’s population lives with a disability, and each type of disability requires a different solution, Vanessa advises keeping your website as simple as possible, saying ‘it is better to be less cool and less effective, but to reach more people’. Vanessa gave many examples of things that cause accessibility issues (eg CAPTCHAs, link shorteners, Bitly, poorly written/meaningless alt text, YayText, picture carousels and animated GIFs). She also shared a video explaining how screen readers work and pointed us to Funkify, where simulators give you an idea of what your website looks like to people with disabilities.

Some of her tips included:

  • having buttons on your website that enable people to adjust font size and luminosity
  • replacing CAPTCHAs with a simple ‘Tick this box to prove you’re not a robot’ box
  • giving all pictures a meaningful description using alt text (auto description is useless!)
  • using the Check Accessibility feature (in the Review menu) in Microsoft Office to identify accessibility issues in your documents
  • remembering that screen readers cannot read PDFs.

Despite having to enlist the help of a professional to fix things she could not remedy herself, Vanessa said that making her website more accessible had not been expensive. Her seminar was definitely enlightening, and gave us all plenty of food for thought.

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Editors and inclusivity

Jay Hulme

Reported by Allison Turner

Jay Hulme works with Inclusive Minds, a collective that encourages inclusivity and diversity in children’s books. Jay began his seminar by explaining that doing this is not sensitivity reading – which takes place later and checks that non-dominant groups are written about in a non-biased way. An inclusivity consultation starts at the beginning and finds ways to specifically (and sensitively) include diverse groups. He explained that earlier is better: early changes are easier to make from both a publishing and a psychological standpoint. After spending years thinking about their book, most writers won’t want to change a major character trait or crucial plot point.

Jay spoke both personally and passionately about why inclusivity matters, including a small rant about Tolkien’s lack of female characters and his own gratitude as a child reading about a character he could relate to as a trans person. He said ‘it’s just not fair’ for someone with a disability, for example, to have their experience reduced to a problem to be ‘fixed’. Books can have a huge impact on their readers – particularly young readers – so books should model a better world.

Asked about authors writing from outside their own experience, Jay noted that there were multiple opinions, but he thinks if it’s done well, it’s good. That means being precise in details, which entails talking to people who have lived as many facets of the experience as possible and can see how they relate to each other.

This was an interesting seminar that gave me a lot to think about!

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Closing plenary session

David Crystal

Reported by Melanie James

What a fitting tribute to the 30th SfEP conference that our honorary president, David Crystal, was the closing speaker.

The auditorium was abuzz as he regaled us with his deep insight into the ever changing usages of English, documented in the third edition of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

It’s apposite that the way in which this edition was produced reflects how our modern world has been turned on its head in recent years: copyedited after being typeset, almost exclusively by David and his graphic designer wife, Hilary, in record time.

David revealed that the cutting-edge 1995 CD edition prompted one aged assembly member to ask, ‘Where d’you put the needle?’ Fast forward. The latest edition stands as testament to the dramatic evolution of English since then, recording the myriad ways we communicate and express ourselves in the 2010s.

English continues to increase its global presence but its curve is flattening out. Given that 60–70 countries use English as their lingua franca, it’s imperative to represent its worldwide varieties. These are driven by two major forces: intelligibility and identity. Take ‘robot ahead’ (traffic-light sign) in South Africa, and ‘it’s more Portobello Road than Bond Street’ (cheap!). Both possibly baffling. It’s important to represent cultural background; language in culture is a key feature of that. When, in 1960s America, David, ‘in line in a diner’, was asked ‘Howd’yalikeyar’eggs?’, he replied ‘Cooked?’

Our modern world’s unpredictability is the root of the new vocabulary explosion and the diverse ways we communicate. Who could have predicted the proliferation of the ‘exit’ meme (BREXIT, BECKSIT, TEXTIT, SEXIT), or a double page to illustrate US presidential oratorical style?

The World Wide Web exploded into our lives in 1991, followed by chat rooms, instant messaging, email, texting and Google. LinkedIn appeared in 2003, Facebook in 2004. With Twitter’s arrival in 2006, Stephen Fry’s enforced elevator sojourn left millions on tenterhooks.

The new encyclopedia comprises 50 additional pages, each with 1,000 new words! David recalled that the 2003 edition merely nodded to technological communication. This latest edition’s largest additional sections focus on it and new rules of expression: the significance of full stops in instant messaging, where their inclusion sets readers literally into panic mode; and the #, whose appearance in 2007, combined with words/themes, positioned it as a new taxonomy. It transformed so rapidly, it’s now almost meaningless, yet punctuates our daily lives relentlessly along with acronyms whose meanings are far removed from yesteryear connotations (LOL).

The rules have changed. David doesn’t stand in judgement but rather as witness to and chronicler of the dynamism of English. The new encyclopedia’s latest formats (online/audio) are aptly symbolic of those dynamic shifts.

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Merriment, Motörhead and medication: Vignette of a delegate’s first SfEP conference

Reported by Lucie Zeale

Please see next page for Lucie's report.


To next Conference 2019 page