Mini-conference in Newcastle

The article below was originally published in the July/August issue of Editing Matters, the magazine of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

On 22 May 2019, the SfEP’s North East England local group organised a mini-conference in Newcastle. As a relatively new member, I was determined to attend my first-ever SfEP conference, even though it involved taking the overnight ferry from the Netherlands to Newcastle. People warned me that it was a notorious party boat and that I would probably not get much sleep. Thankfully, the trip was perfect: it was more like a pleasant mini-cruise than a hyped-up stag party (more on the boat trip here).

Expectations for this conference were high. Not only was everyone enthusiastic about the programme and looking forward to meeting up with old and new friends but a debate erupted on Twitter that raised the stakes for the treats served during the intervals.The pressure was on for co-organiser and cakesourcer, Kia Thomas!

After a wonderful trip, I met up with fellow editors the evening before for a pre-conference dinner. We went to a gorgeous restaurant in the centre of Newcastle, where we shared stories and had a few laughs about my unnecessary boat worries. I love how inclusive and welcoming the editing community is! The following morning, people arrived at the conference venue early, eager to get started. After registering, I socialised with old and new friends. It was great to recognise people from Twitter!

The pre-conference dinner venue in Newcastle.


When we had been welcomed by co-organiser Nik Prowse, it was time for the first session, entitled ‘Marketing your editing business’ and presented by Denise Cowle, a very experienced non-fiction editor who co-hosts The Editing Podcast. She engaged us in a lively session on what marketing is, how to get started, and the importance of interacting with potential clients and other editors on- and offline. Your perfect clients are out there and you can find them and convince them to work with you.

How? Not by advertising your services all over social media telling people, ‘I’m good, hire me!’, Denise said. Instead, make yourself known, establish trust and focus on what problems you can solve for clients: interact with them at events they attend or in social media groups, offer advice and share content such as blog posts. In this way, you establish a relationship and show them who you are before they even meet you. This is important because clients will not only look at your website but see you in these other contexts as well. Don’t try to do everything at once, though, Denise warned: start small, reshare and repurpose your content, and use tools such as Buffer to help you.

After this great start, we paused for a coffee-and-cake break. I’m happy to report that the cakes were glorious. The jam stains on my notebook’s pages will always remind me of the delicious scones!

Great cakes 🙂


Next up was Matt Deacon from Wearset, with a session entitled ‘The changing world of academic publishing and the ripple effect on editors’. Far-reaching changes in academic publishing – caused by the rise of the internet and the increasing pressure on academics worldwide to publish more and in higher-impact journals – have led to the erosion of publishing schedules and manuscript quality. Academic publishers compete by offering new products such as ebooks, online-first or online-only journal issues, digitised older content and paid open access publishing. Editors should embrace and work with these changes rather than fear them. Tools such as PerfectIt (see p3) free us from repetitive tasks, allowing us to focus on improving a text’s language and sense – which is needed now more than ever. Writing-improvement tools such as Grammarly cannot compete with an editor’s ability to understand context and style. Editors could also drive standardisation by asking publishers to provide obligatory templates.

After our relaxed and tasty lunch, business guru Melissa Middleton from PNE Enterprise took over to talk to us about continuing professional development (CPD). This session turned into a very active one, with us having to actually get up and walk across the room (gasp!). We began by reflecting on what kinds of CPD activities we do and how we record them. It became clear that many of us engage in CPD activities that we don’t think of as CPD, including conversations on social media (which made me feel a lot better about myself!). Moreover, many of us do not keep a record of these activities. Melissa shared a useful tool to get started with this. Next, we engaged in a skill swap, where we could offer a service to other editors and ask for support ourselves. I can’t wait to see which matches Melissa made based on these! She reminded us that it is important to work with others in this way.

Skill swap hosted by Melissa Middleton.

Next, Hester Higton, a highly experienced academic editor, taught us a number of tips and tricks to maximise efficiency in her session entitled ‘Efficient editing: how to make the most of your fee’. The main takeaway: don’t do the job that you think is needed, do the best job you can in the time available. She then asked us to look at some very useful sample projects that she had worked on herself, asking us to evaluate the briefs and identify what was essential. How much time would be needed to fix the most urgent issues – for example the footnotes – before editing the main text? How many hours would all that take, and can it be done within the budget and by the deadline? Taking the time to evaluate a project in this way provides you with a clear, evidence-based estimate of what can be done in the time you have.

A slide by Hester Highton showing us how she plans a project.


Finally, the day ended with a panel discussion with writers/editors Sarah WrayDebbie Taylor and Alex Niven, led by Luke Finley. The panel agreed that editing is an extremely underrated job. People don’t understand the skill involved, because good editing is invisible. The panel brainstormed with us on how this problem could be solved. Debbie suggested that famous authors could share a first draft of their work to make people understand the impact of editing. The panel also imparted some of their writing routines, with Alex assigning a particular day to write, and Debbie and Sarah writing about 500 words a day – the former first thing in the morning.

After wrapping up the conference with a raffle, into which we had all been entered unwittingly (thanks, organisers!), some headed home while others went to the pub for a well-deserved drink after a wonderful day crammed with informative sessions.

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