What I’ve Learned About Attending Editing Conferences

Sophie Playle

I’ve just come back from a few days in Edinburgh, where attended the Society for Editors and Proofreader’s Mini-Conference 2017.

It was the fourth editorial training event I’d been to, including two three-day conferences. So I feel like I’ve learned a few things about attending editing conferences …

Nerves are to be expected

The first thing is that I will always be nervous beforehand. I almost talked myself out of going to the mini-conference on the morning of the event, even though I’d flown across the country to attend it and had been looking forward to it for months! What an idiot.

Luckily, I knew I’d feel fine once I’d got into the swing of things, so I forced myself out the door and onto the bus. And yup, it was all good. I immediately ran into one of my editing buddies, Denise Cowle, whose big hug and friendly smile put me right at ease.

Then I bumped into Chris Bryce, who I’d hung out with quite a bit at the last editing conference I’d been to. Upon seeing my hesitation on where to sit in the event room, she immediately invited me to sit with her and the rest of the Glasgow regional group. I was very happy and relieved to do so.

Editors are a friendly bunch

I read a quote recently that said an introvert makes friends by extroverts taking them under their wings. Well, I’m pretty sure most editors are introverts, but they will still talk to you if you look a bit lost or alone!

At the first conference I attended, the first person to speak to me was Mary McCauley. We’d previously exchanged a few emails as I was excited about attending her talk on marketing. As I faced the crowd of people I’d never met (feeling very much like a deer in the headlights), within moments I heard someone calling my name. It was Mary. She’d recognised me from my online photo.

Honestly, it’s very much worth having a decent photo of yourself on your website and social profiles. I can’t tell you how many people recognised from seeing them online, and it made it so much easier to approach them and start a conversation.

Mary and her friends took me in for the whole conference! I was – and still am – immeasurably grateful for their friendliness, and it’s always a pleasure to bump into them at other events.

When I attend a conference, I try to talk to someone if they look a bit nervous or are sitting alone. It really can make all the difference to someone’s experience of the day.

I always learn something new

I specialise in editing fiction, and have been running my own editing business for years. But when I attended a fiction editing professional development day, someone said to me that they were surprised to see me there, given my experience. There’s always more to learn, I replied.

And there really, really is. Even if you attend a conference and already know a lot about the topics discussed, you get to have a refresher. You also get to experience a different slant on a topic. When Emma Darwin spoke about psychic distance in fiction, I was vaguely aware of the technique but hadn’t put thought into the details and mechanics of it. Now, it’s something I can identify and speak confidently about when I critique manuscripts.

You can learn a lot by chatting to other attendees, too. You get to see how other editors deal with the same challenges as you, like finding work or defining services. And you learn about all the different ways people turn editing into their careers.

Colleagues become friends

When you mostly work by yourself, as most of us editorial business owners do, it can feel like you have no colleagues. Networking online certainly helps you feel less isolated from professional peers, but it’s only when you start hanging out with people in person do they start to feel like real colleagues.

And because editors are a friendly bunch, these colleagues quickly turn into friends.

This is something Laura Poole spoke about briefly during one of her two sessions at the Mini-Conference. She said she loves to be able to recommend editors to clients whose work she can’t take on, and when she does, she always says, ‘Oh! I have a friend who can do that for you.’ It seems like a strange thing to say in most other industries. But in the editorial community, our colleagues really do become our friends.

I remember when I first started out. I had pored over Louise Harnby’s blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour. I think I’d found Louise’s site on the first page of Google. She’s a complete rockstar of the editorial world, and I was so shocked to meet her at the local group in Norwich, where I was living at the time.

We hit it off immediately. Louise really helped me when I was a newbie. One of the ways she did so was by always telling me how brilliant I was! I would blush, but inside glow with pride. This awesome and established editorial professional thinks I’m also awesome … That’s awesome! I now consider Louise a good friend. And it’s not just because she tells me I’m fab – once she bought me pizza, too!

When it comes to conferences, the more you attend, the more you see the same faces and get to know people. It’s easy to make friends with fellow editors because we’re such a tribe. (I hate that term, but it fits!)  Attend a conference and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll feel as though you’ve found your people.

So if you’ve been considering attending an editing conference, I encourage you to give it a go. You just might end up having a really good time.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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