(Sorry, I get overexcited by these things.)
September, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a time of new beginnings for me. And what better way to start this new year than by attending my second Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference? When at the very beginning of last year’s conference I saw that the date of this year’s coincided with my birthday, I decided I wasn’t going to go. But by the end of the conference (recounted at great length here, here, here and here), I was already doubting that decision, and by the time this year’s conference rolled around, not only had I completely changed my mind, I’d also agreed to lead a short session.
I’ll talk more about the experience of swearing at a roomful of colleagues for forty-five minutes another time (my session was about swearing, by the way. I didn’t just forget what I was supposed to do and start being rude to people), but for now here are my probably not very coherent thoughts about the sessions I attended.
First up was the Whitcombe Lecture, delivered by Lynne Murphy. I love Lynne’s blog, and I am absolutely cursing myself for not having picked up a copy of her book, but I could hear my alarmingly large TBR pile shouting at me all the way across the Pennines. Her talk on the differences between US and UK editing cultures was fascinating. Although I interact with a lot of US editors online, I hadn’t realised there was such a difference in style, and I’d certainly never thought about how that might relate to the more general cultures of each country – Lynne discussed the US’s preference for written rules in general, compared to the UK’s reliance on tradition. I’d also underestimated just how much more grammar education people get in the US compared to the UK – my generation was lucky if we got told what a noun was.
After coffee and biscuits (cherry cookie, pretty nice) I attended Eleanor Collins’s session on editing narrative openings. As a writer, I think I’m quite good at writing openings – for me, they’re often where the whole idea for the rest of the story grows from – but it’s clear that a lot of authors struggle with where and how to start their books. When editing, I can usually spot a problem with an opening and identify a better solution, but Eleanor’s session has given me a stronger framework and vocabulary to better explain the solutions to clients. Although it seems I’m in the minority in absolutely hating the opening to Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. I don’t care about your bloody salad, mate, tell me what’s happened to this balloon!
Lunch was next (controversial opinion: the dumplings weren’t really all that bad, once you knew they were dumplings), and then it was time for Maya Berger’s session on editing erotic fiction. As someone who regularly edits erotic romance, there wasn’t a great deal that was new for me here – this is the eternal conference dilemma: go to sessions that are relevant to your work and risk going over old ground, or learn something new that you might never need. But I really enjoyed the session anyway – Maya discussed what can be a delicate or embarrassing subject with tact, wit and professionalism, and there is always something to learn – for example, Maya had useful resources and tips for finding work editing erotica.
The last session of the day was mine, and once that was over I popped briefly in to the social media social, which is a lovely way to put real live faces to the names and avatars you’ve spent all year chatting online with. That evening was the gala dinner, including a great speech by Sam Leith, a hilarious performance by the Linnets, and friendly and funny conversation with my table-mates. And wine.
On Sunday morning, after packing up my titchy little room (it was very weird sleeping in student halls for the first time in…more years than I care to think about) I headed for Laura Poole’s session on making more money. I was very much looking forward to this one, as it’s the part of my business I need to do the most work on. Laura has so much energy that you can’t help but feel inspired by it, and the session definitely encouraged me to think more carefully about what my financial goals are and how I might achieve them. It’ll take work though – as Laura started her session by saying, “The dream is free; the hustle is sold separately.”
Next was Erin Brenner’s session on using business data to increase profits. I really enjoyed this session, although it did make me wonder: Why aren’t I better at data? A huge part of my old job was about capturing data and trying to make people use it to make better decisions, so I don’t really know why I’ve neglected to do this for my own business. I do track my time, but Erin’s session also looked at tracking and analysing enquiry and client information, which I currently don’t do anything with. I feel a new spreadsheet coming on…
The last elective session of the conference was Sarah Grey on inclusive language. This session was amazing, although sadly cut short due to time constraints and technical gremlins. Sarah’s main point was the radical notion that we should treat people – ALL people – as though they are people. Inclusive language welcomes people into a text, while exclusive language makes people feel as if it is not for them, and surely that’s something most authors would want to avoid. I’ve always felt that knowing when to flag problematic language can be a difficult line to walk in fiction – there are considerations of character voice to take into account – but as editors it’s important to think about what our responsibilities are not just to our client, but to their readers, and in particular any who may be hurt by the words the author has chosen.
The final session was the joint plenary with the Society of Indexers conference, given by Kathryn Munt of the Publishing Training Centre. She gave us a really interesting insight into offshoring in the publishing industry. I could feel a few hackles around the room being raised, but Kathryn was keen to point out she wasn’t trying to sell an idea – this is something that is already happening. It raised interesting questions about how we as editors – both collectively and individually – can engage with this process, and encourage the outsourcing companies to engage with us to ensure that quality doesn’t suffer.
It was a thought-provoking end to a fantastic conference. I learned a lot, I was inspired to do things differently in my business, and, of course, I loved meeting up with online friends old and new and making connections with people I’d never interacted with before. I’ve said it before, ad nauseum, but I’ll say it again, the SfEP community is incredible and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
And I’m especially proud that I was on the winning quiz team. Granted, I knew absolutely nothing about any of the literature questions and had to leave all those to my friend Nikki and the incredibly brainy Society of Indexers members who were on our team, but I knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of cheesey pop lyrics would come in handy some day. The next quiz (and, you know, the next conference) will take place in Birmingham on 14th September 2019. I’ll see you there.