This week I'm delighted to have a guest post for you, written by Louise Harnby.
Louise is a highly experienced fiction editor and proofreader, and she has just won the Judith Butcher Award from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) for 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.
As editing fiction is not my specialist area, I've gone straight to the top and got the best advice for you. If you're beavering away on your novel and wondering whether you need editing, or if proofreading will be enough, you need to read this.
Over to you, Louise.
Fiction writers have budgets. Deciding how best to invest that editorial budget can be tricky for the novice self-publisher, especially if they’re not familiar with publishing-industry conventions, reader expectations, and the editorial process.
Today, I’m exploring which levels of editing are required for the independent fiction writer preparing a novel for market – in particular whether proofreading is required and if it’s enough.
Here’s a speed guide to the different levels of fiction editing to help you make informed decisions about what you might need.
Stage 1: Developmental editing (also called structural, content and substantive editing). This is the big-picture stuff – plot, pace, characterization, narrative point of view, narrative flow, and audience relevance.
Stage 2: Line editing. This is sentence-level smoothing that focuses on clarity, readability, flow, structure, and phrasing that’s respectful of narrative and character voice.
Stage 3: Copy-editing. This is sentence-level correction that attends to consistent and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, within a framework of accepted/preferred idiomatic and regional variations.
Stage 4: Proofreading. This is the final prepublication quality-control check that looks for minor omissions in the previous rounds of editing, and ensures that the various elements of the book are designed consistently and according to the brief and industry-standard conventions.
I believe it’s possible to do stages 2 and 3 together but that 1 and 4 are separate passes. I do know a few editors who offer 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously. However, I know of no editorial professional who states they can proofread at the same time as carrying out the other levels of editing and that the book will be ready for publication when they’re done.
Your plot pops, but your sentences suck and your punctuation poops. If that’s you, you’ve nailed the developmental work. So do you need a line editor, copyeditor or proofreader?
Hugh Howey is a great self-editor though even he now uses a pro to help polish his prose. In ‘A question about editing’ (The Wayfarer, 2015), he states, ‘[T]he primary onus is certainly on the writer. They should have respect for what they’re doing. But if I had to pick between a great storyteller who lacked precision of language and a perfect writer with no story to tell, I’d take the former every single time. We teach too much prose to writers and not enough plot. Plot is king. Prose is pawn.’
I genuinely love Howey’s support for the indie fiction author’s right to write. I respect the fact that he chooses ‘to fall in with a slightly different step and enjoy the diversity of experience’ and not get ‘hung up on discrepancies of spelling and punctuation (which used to abound), but allowing the words, in all their variability, to form pictures in our heads’.
Back to the question: even though you’ve nailed the plot, do you need a line editor, copyeditor or proofreader? I think it’s the wrong question. Instead, the self-publishing fiction writer needs to ask the following: How does your reader dance?
Howey acknowledges that many readers ‘expect perfection. Not a hiss or pop of static or a missed note’.
If your book is flailing at sentence level and your readers are Howey dancers, you’ll be okay. If they’re not dancing to his tune (‘No way!’) – and even he thinks most aren’t – you’ll need to make an informed choice about what you’ll get help with and what you’ll do yourself.
Imagine you’ve written your first novel. Remember: your plot pops, but your sentences suck and your punctuation poops.
Reader 1 buys it. They do the Howey dance. And because they love it, you haven’t just acquired a customer with that sale; you’ve acquired a fan who’s bought that book and is in the mindset to buy every book you will ever write.
Reader 2 buys it. They do the no-way dance. They’re frustrated because they’ve noticed problems – spelling, punctuation and grammar errors and inconsistencies; repetitive and awkward sentence structure; and inconsistent layout.
They loved the idea of your book and you nearly had them; they could have been a fan but now they’re a grumpy customer who leaves a crabby review and ditches you. One sale and then it’s crickets.
Even with your popping plot, the proofreader is tasked with an impossible job if they’re presented with a file that hasn’t been through stages 2 and 3 (line and copy-editing). If a paragraph needs work to make it readable, it’s not quality control that’s required but a deeper level of editing. Proofreading won’t fix the problems.
If you’re happy for your proofreader to do the best they can within the agreed budget and a proofreader’s remit, you’ll both come out of the experience satisfied. Your no-way readers still won’t be happy, but if that’s the way you’ve chosen to dance, so be it.
If, however, you want the no-ways on side, you’ll need a magician proofreader – someone who can pull line and copy-editing skills out of a hat along with the rabbit.
You might get lucky. Your proofreader might well have those additional skills. But even if they have, they won’t be able to complete those extra levels of editing simultaneously. Even if they could, it would take much, much longer and would cost a great deal more.
Most importantly, if they were to do those three editorial passes at the same time under the rubric of proofreading, they would NOT catch everything. I guarantee it. That’s why the mainstream publishing industry takes its books through different stages of editing – publishers know that just a proofread will not be enough to achieve the desired quality.
If you decide not to commission professional sentence-level editing for your novel, that’s your choice. I believe you still have the absolute right to publish; there’s something rather wonderful about Howey’s approach of the storyteller trumping the stickler. The important thing to remember is that not all your readers will be Howeys.
If you decide to tackle the sentence-level work but hire only a proofreader, be sure to go in with your eyes open and with respectful expectations of what’s achievable in one pass.
Whether you choose to dance to the tune of the Howeys or the no-ways, I wish you the very best of luck on your self-publishing journey!
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour, Louise’s Writing Library, and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
I hope you enjoyed Louise's valuable insights. Why not share your thoughts in the comments?
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
As a thank you, you'll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.
Planning the group edit session
I think it’s fair to say that this was the session in my recent mastermind retreat that caused the most anxiety!
Having your work reviewed by an author or desk editor, or whoever commissioned you to edit or proofread, is a part of any job, of course.
But having other editors look at how you’ve edited? Wow! That’s opening yourself up to a whole different level of scrutiny and self-doubt!
At the planning stage of my retreat with six other editors, we brainstormed which areas we wanted to focus on. We all agreed that having our work looked at by others was an important exercise to include, and that it would be a safe and supportive environment to do so.
Related content: A mastermind group retreat: an overview
Our original plan was to have a single piece of text which we would each edit ‘live’, at the retreat. We would then review what we’d all done and discuss the similarities and differences in our edits.
One thing was for sure – this would have created plenty of discussion points, because no two editors will edit a text in the same way.
A better way for us
As we discussed the practicalities of doing a 'live' edit, we came to realise that, for us at least, it was putting too much pressure on ourselves.
Apart from the question of how long the piece would need to be to make the exercise meaningful, and whether we would have the time to accommodate it, there was the fundamental question of why we were doing it.
We wanted to look at the similarities and differences in our individual approaches to editing and learn from each other through examination and discussion of the edited text.
However, it soon emerged that a live edit wasn’t an ideal format for our group. There were concerns that the work we did – in what would essentially be a timed test – would not be a true reflection of how we approached our work or what we could actually do.
Some of us also had worries about exposing ourselves to direct comparisons with each other, as there are often many options when navigating the subtleties of editing. In a limited time how helpful would that be?
If you've ever visited an editors' forum online, you'll know just how detailed (or bogged down!) discussions can get over word usage and comma placement, and the outcome is usually that there is no consensus!
There was always the risk that would happen to us, and that, as a result, we wouldn't achieve much in the time allocated.
And, honestly? We wanted to enjoy the weekend, and there was a real danger that worrying about this particular session would overshadow all the others.
That's not to say that it would never be a suitable thing to do, just that at this stage of our group's development it wasn't the right thing for us.
Instead, we decided that each of us would provide an anonymised piece of edited work that we could discuss in more general terms as a group.
A cross-section of texts
Unintentionally, we each provided a very different type of text, which worked incredibly well because each piece generated a different discussion point.
I wish I could say we’d planned it that way!
The texts that we looked at were of the following types:
When we discussed this piece, what was evident was that even though the sample was fairly short in terms of word count, the time needed to address the artwork and layout, and the volume of queries exchanged with the author, was considerable.
This was a good reminder to factor this time in when quoting for this type of work.
This piece made our eyes boggle! The sheer volume of abbreviations and technical terms was, on the face of it, a barrier to anyone without subject knowledge editing it.
However, as its editor explained, there was a comprehensive style sheet for her to follow, and the text was from a repeat client. Because of this regular work she understands their needs and style and can work through the texts quite quickly.
Working more efficiently by developing a more streamlined approach to the work may include, for example, using macros and customised style sheets in PerfectIt.
It was good to have confirmation that subject-specific knowledge isn’t always needed. It’s entirely possible to read a sentence and know that it’s not punctuated correctly, for example, without knowing what some of the words mean!
This text was much more conversational in tone, which generated an interesting discussion about how much we intervene – what do we correct and what do we leave? We agreed that keeping the author’s tone of voice was essential with this type of text, and that we would be more forgiving of grammatical ‘errors’ and less rigid about some rules or style conventions.
It also highlighted that the audience is a major consideration when editing – who is going to be reading this and, in this case, will they care about a more informal style? The answer here is the general public, and probably not – its informality and chatty style will be far more appealing to them than some rigidly grammatical but lifeless prose!
Related content: Seven problems when starting a blog and how to solve them
These texts were heavily referenced so, unsurprisingly, the focus of our conversation was on how we would manage this.
We discussed checking references with software such as the now sadly unavailable ReferenceChecker (which still works if you already have it, but is no longer supported or available to buy), and the processes we use to check in-text citations and reference lists.
Related content: How to proofread your dissertation: 12 essential tips
We also discussed our individual approaches to editing a piece of work:
• the order we do tasks in
• our use of clean-up macros at the pre-editing stage to do the routine tidying up before dealing with the language
• when and how we tackle references
• how we handle author queries
Although we had been quite apprehensive about sharing examples of our work with each other, we all agreed that it was an incredibly useful session.
It was less about ooh, I wouldn’t have put a comma there! and more about sharing our working practices. I think we were all relieved when our way of doing something was validated by another editor doing the same thing in the same way!
We all took away little nuggets of information to try out ourselves, whether that was a macro to experiment with (yes, some of us have yet to bite the macro bullet in any significant way!) or a slightly different approach to a common issue.
This session demonstrated that, even within a small group of editors, the variety in the work we edit is considerable, and each area requires different skills and a different focus.
What was also evident was the value of repeat work in getting to know a client’s needs and preferences, as well as understanding their style and quirks.
Would we willingly do it again? Definitely!
Over to you
Are you a sole business owner or freelancer who has participated in a similar activity?
What was your experience?
I'd love to hear your ideas for exercises in a mastermind retreat.
If you're not in a group, has this inspired you to start one? Let me know if it has!
And if you're going to the SfEP annual conference at Wyboston Lakes in September, I'm running a session on setting up an accountability group. Let me know if I'll see you there, and be sure to come and say hello if we haven't already met!
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
The fun side of networking
This afternoon I attended a very lovely event at Òran Mór here in Glasgow: the Scottish Women in Business (SWIB) awards ceremony, ‘Celebrating Women in Business’. In the stunning surroundings of the auditorium, we were served afternoon tea, gin and tonic, and prosecco, and the winners were presented with awards recognising their achievements in the areas of communicating, connecting and collaborating .
I’m not a member of SWIB, but was invited to join one of vice-president Teresa Jackson’s tables. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of walking into a room full of people I don’t know! So I was a little apprehensive about turning up and being a bit of a billy no-mates!
And this is the beauty of a good networking event – everyone was so interesting. And interested. People from diverse backgrounds and with wildly varying business interests gathering in one room to meet and chat, and, if possible, support each other's businesses. And if these conversations go on to develop into business relationships, so much the better.
My previous experience with networking groups was quite overwhelming, with close to 100 people there. People were friendly enough, but it was incredibly loud because of the numbers, and I didn’t feel able to have a proper conversation with anyone. I also felt there was a lot of talking at me and not much listening.
I know I’m not the only person in the world to have this experience, and I think it can really put people off – why go somewhere hot and noisy where you can’t chat comfortably, or where you are talked at for most of the time?
The interesting thing I heard from several people about the SWIB events is that they’re not overtly ‘salesy’; unfortunately some seemed to have had negative experiences with this at other networking events. As well as networking, SWIB also has events focused on training, and some which are purely social.
Which brings me to women-only groups and events.
Are women-only networking groups a good thing?
There are mixed opinions on the need for and role of women-only groups such as SWIB. (And I must point out that SWIB does not ban men from joining, and there were some there today!)
As it turned out, most of the women at my table weren’t SWIB members, and as we chatted about whether or not we were planning on joining, some expressed reservations about joining a women-only group. What are the benefits of just networking with women? Is it limiting your options or narrowing your field? Is there a need for a women-only group?
I must admit, I’d never thought about this in any great detail before, and I hadn’t really considered that some women would be ambivalent about women-only groups.
I think the answer to whether there is a need is self-evident; if there wasn't a need there wouldn't be a thriving group. So enough women obviously want a gender-specific group, but I'm curious to know why.
I hadn’t actually considered that people would choose a women-only networking group to the exclusion of anything else. And I’m not sure that they do. Because we don’t operate our businesses in a women-only bubble, and of course we have to do business in a mixed environment, but clearly some women see an advantage in women-only groups.
I suspect that most women will also attend general networking events, but find there is a specific benefit to be had from women-only events that they don't get elsewhere.
So I’m really interested to know why some women chose women-only groups or events.
In an article in the Irish Times in March 2017, Maura McAdam, a professor of management and director of entrepreneurship, says:
'What’s still an issue, and where all-female groups can be useful, is in helping women to own the role of entrepreneur,” she says. “Most men will happily introduce themselves as entrepreneurs; most women won’t. Yet their high levels of creativity, empathy and their problem-solving abilities mean they really get their heads around who their target market is and develop very successful businesses as a result.'
The case against women-only groups
On the other hand, if you’re a women who wouldn’t choose to go to a women-only group or event, why is this?
In this Huffpost blog from 2015, the author puts forward the reasons she believes some women’s groups are actually failing business women: by offering too much ‘conversation, sharing and emotional support’ over ‘action, specific goals and practical support’. Of course this is one woman's experience.
It's a yes from me!
I've decided to join SWIB, because their events look interesting and I’d like to do more networking here in Glasgow. The people I've met are friendly and, crucially, there is the potential for me to create new business relationships. The fact that it's a women-only group isn’t the prime mover for me – the fact that I’ve met interesting people at the two SWIB events I’ve attended is.
So I'm looking forward to my next SWIB event, to having conversations with more interesting people, giving them the benefit of my network, and perhaps doing business with some of them. And, for me, the fact that they just happen to be women is pretty far down my list of things to think about.
I'm genuinely interested to hear both sides of this conversation. Please feel free to answer any of the questions I've posed here, or to give me your experiences of networking groups, good and bad, in the comments below.
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
What does an editor actually do?
Ever wondered what editors actually do every day? I know that I love to take a peek behind the scenes of other people's lives – I'm always curious to know how they structure their week and what their days look like.
For me, no two weeks are the same, and my schedule is pretty flexible, but this week was busy and fun so I thought you might like to have a look at what I got up to. Let's take a peek at how it went for this editor!
9.15 a.m. I've got a busy week, with some days when I won't be able to do any client work. So, after the school run, I get my head down on a book I'm proofreading for a large educational publisher. I'm using stamps of the BSI proof-correction marks to mark up the PDF, which I don't get a chance to do too often, and I enjoy the change from the Adobe comment tools.
3.30 p.m. I work with Pam Laird, owner of Fin & Co hair salon in Carnoustie, who writes great blog posts to help people understand their hair. Today I proof-edit a new blog post and resolve some comments from the previous two I had done. We work in Google Documents, which is an easy way of collaborating on straightforward text documents like this.
4.30 p.m. I do some admin tasks: among other things I reply to an email enquiry about my availability for an upcoming project, chase a client for a purchase order number for a report I edited and issue a couple of invoices.
7.30 p.m. Social media also claims some of my time, as I reply to comments and shares of my last blog post about an editorial conference I attended on Friday.
A productive start to the week, and I feel on top of most things!
9.15 a.m. More work on the education book – I'm making good progress through it, as it's a pretty straightforward text with some references, and there are no illustrations, tables or displayed elements to check.
A conference call about a different project is rescheduled, clashing with a Skype call I had arranged with another client. Fortunately she is understanding and able to reschedule for tomorrow.
11 a.m. My accountability group has its fortnightly call today, but as one member is currently lounging about in Portugal and another has a medical appointment, we decide to cancel it. We're in regular contact through Slack, anyway, so everyone's happy to leave it until next time.
1.30 p.m. I take part in a conference call about an ongoing project. We resolve some technical issues around uploading content to the CMS (I have nothing to contribute here as there is a lot of technical chat!) and then discuss the workflow processes and how they could be streamlined. There are also some decisions to be reached with the editorial director about the content, including some additions to the evolving style guide.
3.30 p.m. I resolve some more blog post queries from Pam and chat on two Slack communities I'm part of – one editorial and one marketing.
7.30 p.m. I pop out for an interview for a volunteering role at the upcoming TEDxGlasgow. It's always oversubscribed with volunteers, so it's a bit of a lottery whether I'll be one of the lucky ones – keep your fingers crossed for me!
9.15 a.m. Today I won't get too much client work done as I'm going out to lunch. First up I have my rescheduled Skype call – this company is rebranding and wants my help to improve their web content and make it consistent. It sounds like an interesting project and I agree to get back to them with a quote once I've reviewed the existing content.
9.45 a.m. I make a start on another project, proof-editing letters of reference for students who have completed a blended learning course I've worked on – it's interesting to see how they've benefited from materials I've been involved with!
12.30 p.m. Next up, lunch with the Glasgow group of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). We meet monthly for peer support, chat and cake, but today is a social event as we have a special guest joining us. Laura Poole, an expert editor and trainer from North Carolina, was one of the headline speakers at our Scottish mini-conference last week, and we have invited her to join this month's meeting and see some of Glasgow before she heads home tomorrow.
It was great to welcome our international visitor and to meet up with my editor friends. The Glasgow group is a really important part of my working life – being around other editors helps me to remember that I'm not alone and there is support, advice and friendship out there for freelance editors (and of course our in-house colleagues are valued group members too!). I look up to many of the members who have been editors much longer than me and have so much experience and advice that they are willing to share.
4 p.m. Back home to work through some more of the letters of reference and spend a bit of time on social media, reading other editors' blogs and some articles that people have shared.
9.30 a.m. After making sure that my son gets to school in good time for his Higher English exam, my morning starts with two video calls with the Content Marketing Academy (CMA). First up is a weekly round-up call, where Chris Marr, director and founder of the CMA, chats about news, developments and wins in the membership community this week. A lot of the conversation is about CMALive, the annual conference that is now only a few weeks away. I keep my video off for this one and listen in while I clean my kitchen!
10 a.m. I'm done with cleaning in time for the next call, which is for CMA members who are taking part in a 90-day challenge, so I make some tea and switch my video on for this one. We're into week 10 and the last stretch of the challenge, which will finish just before CMALive. My challenge is to be consistent in producing useful content – one blog post a week – and make sure it is relevant, helpful and optimised for SEO and sharing.
10.30 a.m. I finish up the letters of reference and send them back to the client, who is very happy with them. There were 25 in this batch, and there are 250 altogether, so I'm glad to have made a dent in them – only 225 to go!
2 p.m. I watch part of a private webinar for CMA members. Kevin Anderson of The Story Edge talks to us about using case studies in our business. It's really interesting, but I have to leave halfway through to do that pesky school pick-up. Fortunately it's being recorded, so I can watch the replay later.
8.30 p.m. Remember what I said about having a flexible schedule? Another regular client is Caroline McKenna of Social Good HQ, who does fantastic work to support, guide and educate people working in charities and social enterprises. She gets in touch today to ask if I can do a proof-edit of a blog post with a quick turnaround – she'd like it done for tomorrow. I'm always happy to help Caroline, and I would normally do it first thing in the morning, but as I'll be out all day tomorrow I sit down for an hour in the evening and get it back to her. She's really happy with it, even though I chopped out the entire first paragraph!
5.15 a.m. What fresh hell is this? I'm not a morning person at all, but today I make a special effort. I'm interested in being a trainer for the SfEP, so I'm going to observe my colleague Lucy Metzger teach the Introduction to Proofreading course in Edinburgh. I'm just about awake enough to tweet from the taxi on the way to Queen Street. Look at the time!
Introduction to Proofreading is aimed at people who are interested in proofreading as a career and want to learn more about it and those who do some proofreading as part of their job but have had no formal training.
The course is held at the Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue, an easy walk from the station; we arrive in good time for breakfast and set up.
8.30 a.m. Before the course starts I write my biography and session summary for the SfEP annual conference in September, where I'm running a session on setting up and making the most of an accountability group.
9.15 a.m. There are eight participants on the course, all with different backgrounds and levels of experience, and the day goes well with lots of interaction, questions and chat about proofreading as a career. Lucy and I take the opportunity to promote being a member of the SfEP as a great move when starting out. Joining was one of the first things I did when I changed career and moved into editorial work, and I still say it was one of the smartest things I did!
4.45 p.m. After the course we have a well-deserved (well,I think so!) gin and tonic before getting the train home. We're so busy chatting that Lucy almost misses her stop, but she manages to get off the train in the nick of time!
9 p.m. I'm contemplating an early night (it was a very early start for me, don't forget!) when I see a message on Slack - one of the CMA members is in Glasgow for the weekend and she's wondering if anyone's around. I haven't met Rachael in real life, bit she's staying in a hotel only 15 minutes away from me, so I throw on my shoes and head off for a quick drink with her. It's always good to meet face to face with someone you've only ever known online!
1.30 p.m. Some weekends I have to work, especially if I've had a week with a lot of time away from my desk. This happens pretty often, but I honestly don't mind as I have the privilege of choosing my own work hours - no one is telling me to work on a Saturday; it's my choice. Today I spend a few hours finishing the education book I'm proofreading, and I write this blog post!
8 p.m. Sunday evenings are when I do some planning. I write out my Bullet Journal planner for the week ahead and have a think about how work fits in with my other planned activities. I also top up Buffer, which I use for social media scheduling, with posts for my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. I take some time to look through blog posts and articles that have been published over the previous week and make sure I'm sharing any relevant and interesting articles written by friends and colleagues, as well as shareable writing from various websites and blogs I follow. I use the news aggregator feedly to curate all this in one place for me to read.
And now we're back to Monday again, with another week to look forward to!
There's no such thing as a typical week!
So there you go – seven days in my life as an editor. Of course, not all weeks look like this. Sometimes deadlines loom and publishing schedules shift, leaving me with no option but to power through. When that happens I feel like I barely look up from my screen all week!
But this week I had events planned well in advance, so I knew I wouldn't have as many billable work hours available as usual. Which is fine – I enjoyed the mix of work and social time that I had.
This week shows the variety in my work life, and I hope you enjoyed a wee look behind the scenes. You can see how admin tasks, marketing, networking, meeting colleagues and, hopefully, teaching are all part and parcel of my work, and every other editor's, too, I imagine.
What about you? How did your week shape up? Did you have a nice mix of tasks and activities to keep you interested and motivated? Let me know in the comments – I'm nosy about stuff like that, remember?
Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day in Edinburgh at the second Scottish mini-conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). The first was in 2014, when approximately 60 editors attended; this year we were in a bigger venue (the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church in Nicholson Square) and 90 of us, from Scotland and the north of England, were there.
History of the Scottish mini-conference
The first conference grew from the two Scottish local groups (LGs) at the time (Glasgow and North/East Scotland) deciding to have a joint meeting. This idea grew arms and legs and, before we knew it (and with a lot of hard work behind the scenes), the mini-conference was born.
The speakers on the day were all local group members (with one exception), and they donated their time for free, as they would at a normal group meeting, allowing us to keep our costs very low.
It was very well-received by our many members who find it difficult to attend the annual SfEP conference because of financial, travel or time constraints. Anywhere is a long way when you live in the far north or the islands!
One of the aims of that day was also to establish whether there was enough interest to restart the Edinburgh local group, which had been defunct for a number of years. It’s great to see that, three years on, the group has not only been resurrected, but is thriving.
This year – bigger and better!
This time around we were bigger and, I like to think, slicker. We used the ticketing site Eventbrite, which was very straightforward. It worked extremely well, handling ticket purchases and refunds, and sending reminders to delegates. The fee that it takes (a percentage of each ticket which you can absorb into the overall ticket price) is well worth the peace of mind and huge time saving. Several delegates commented on how professional it looked and how simple the process was.
We also secured two well-known key speakers for the day: Geoff Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and blogger at Language Log and Lingua Franca, and Laura Poole, scholarly editor extraordinaire, trainer and co-owner of Copy-editing.com.
As with the first conference, we also had a local group member speaking and several members of the SfEP council to update us on current issues.
We were welcomed by Sabine Citron, current Chair of the SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG, who spoke briefly of the history of the mini-conference. She wondered out loud why, despite the organisers of the first conference writing extensive guidelines on how to go about it, no other local groups had got together to put on their own event. Any ideas?
He began by suggesting which reference books he thinks every copy-editor should have to hand (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage and The Chicago Manual of Style) and what books should, in his opinion, be burned! (including the revered-by-some Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style!) Grammar was up next, and he asserted how outdated most current books are, observing that, consequently, people are anxious and unclear about passives, prepositions, pronouns and the use of adverbs and adjectives.
‘Unsupported flaming nonsense’ about avoiding the passive voice and eliminating adjectives, from sources such as Strunk and White, George Orwell and The Publication Manual of the APA was given short shrift. Using extracts from a recent speech by Theresa May and the much-lauded, beautifully written ending of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, he demonstrated how adjectives and adverbs are not just decorative, but are needed for sense and meaning.
Pullum’s advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Ignore the advice of books on usage and writing when they tell you adjectives and adverbs are redundant and should be avoided. They have not looked at the statistics of normal prose or considered the implications of their advice.
He went on to address singular they – which many (most?) editors already accept, and is now approved by many style guides including, recently, The Chicago Manual of Style – observing that it is increasingly treated by the young as the default when referring to an individual whose sex is unknowable or not at issue.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: 'They' is fully acceptable as a neutral singular pronoun when referring to an arbitrary, generic, indeterminate individual.
Avoiding the split infinitive was up next for a take-down, with Pullum noting that this convention appears to have been started in the 1830s by ‘P’, an anonymous writer, for no good reason.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Don’t ever unsplit a ‘split infinitive’ if it makes sense. Great damage may be done to intelligibility as well as style.
Finally, he stamped on the idea that you can’t use hopefully to introduce a sentence, reminding us that adverbs don’t just modify verbs – they can also act as modal adjuncts to qualify the relation between the proposition and the truth. For example, 'hopefully expresses that the truth of the proposition isn’t a certainty but merely a hoped-for outcome'.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Don’t ever imagine that there’s something wrong with 'hopefully' as a clause-introducing modal adjunct.
Professor Pullum’s talk confirmed what many of us already think, but gave us the confidence and ammunition to use when challenged by those who are still bound by outdated conventions.
Some of the things that you could include in your application to upgrade are:
There was some audience discussion of the application process, including a comment that someone ‘couldn’t find the time as it would take so long to do’, although a recent upgrade to Advanced Professional Member felt it didn’t take too long – about a morning – and was much less painful than doing a tax return!
Another delegate observed that knowing what sort of information will be needed for upgrading would be useful at an early stage, perhaps when first joining, so that members could record it in a way that will make applying for an upgrade easier. Jane agreed that this was a useful point and would look at how the information could be given to new members.
It’s worth remembering that with the new upgrade process you can’t stay at an entry-level or intermediate member forever – there are time limits at both levels – so it's best to think about how you can work towards upgrading sooner rather than later.
At this point Stephen Cashmore, Training Director of the SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG, was to talk about the SfEP training courses, particularly the recently updated and expanded Proofreading and Copy-editing suites. Unfortunately he was let down by connectivity problems and wasn’t able to demonstrate the online courses as planned. You can learn more about these courses on the SfEP website.
We then had a tea break when people had a chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new members. Having half an hour is the minimum time needed to get a drink and have a few different conversations, I reckon!
She did a live demonstration (brave!) of how she uses these tools to do pre-editing clean-up tasks such as deleting multiple spaces and returns, changing hyphens to en-dashes in number ranges, and cleaning up ells used as ones and capital Os used as zeros.
Ashley also demonstrated the function/shortcut keys that Editor’s Toolkit assigns and the toggle word and toggle character functions in Wordsnsync EditTools. One major function she uses Wordsnsync EditTools for is the journals dataset, which contains the correct title and short name of 16,000 journals. This tool will automatically check a reference list against the dataset, make corrections and highlight what has been checked and is correct, and what has been checked, found to be incorrect and changed.
She explained that this incredibly useful facility can save a lot of time, but can be a bit temperamental and doesn’t like you doing anything else while it’s working – not even moving the mouse! – so it’s best to go and make a cup of tea while it does its thing! This took a couple of minutes to run through a list of 30 references in the live demo, but Ashley says her desktop would run through the same list in about 30 seconds. Longer reference lists will obviously increase the time it takes.
The lunch break saw plenty of editors relish the chance to catch some Scottish sunshine while they did some more catching up (For a supposedly shy bunch they don’t half talk a lot!)
The afternoon sessions were given over to Laura Poole, our guest speaker who had flown all the way from Durham, North Carolina (not to be confused with Durham, in the north-east of England where a couple of delegates had travelled from!).
We were entreated to own our skills and experience, and the words only and just were banned when talking about ourselves.
Laura’s final session, titled Taking charge of your freelance life: tools and techniques, was about finding balance, managing the dreaded feast or famine cycle, business practices and task management.
We spent some time looking at why, as freelancers, we fear not earning and so say yes to every opportunity we are offered. Drawing on her training as a life coach, and using her own real-life examples, she asked us to consider these questions each time we need to make a decision, rather than automatically saying yes:
And also, remember that ‘No.’ is a complete sentence!
It’s an interesting exercise that reminds you that there are consequences, good and bad, for every decision we make.
Looking at the feast or famine cycle, Laura suggests using the '3 Ds' to triage your schedule when you are overcommitted – delete, defer, delegate – and to use downtime for self-care, business building and networking.
There was plenty of interaction with the audience, as Laura encouraged us to share our experiences, and information was delivered with humour and plenty of personal insights to illustrate various points.
Laura’s sessions were very insightful and practical, reminding us that we have skills we can develop to strengthen our position as freelancers, and that there is much we can do to take charge of our lives and stop feeling we are being controlled by our work.
The last segment of the day was given to Lucy Metzger, Vice-chair of SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG.
Who’s next for a mini-conference?
If you’ve got pangs of jealousy because we had such a great day up here in Scotland, why not organise your own mini-conference? It doesn’t have to be as big as this one – why not join up with another LG for a joint meeting and take it from there?
The SfEP have guidelines on setting up an event like this – it’s a fantastic alternative to the main SfEP conference for those who can’t make it. So go on – why not be the next mini-conference that everyone’s talking about?
If this event has left you pining for more editorial interaction, the next SfEP annual conference is 16–18 September 2017 at Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire. I hope I'll see you there!