Joining In

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Joining the SfEP is an opportunity for in-house editors to have their assumptions challenged and to pierce some zombie rules right in the head

Historically, I haven’t been a joiner – though I was in Dennis the Menace’s Fan Club; and Desperate Dan’s. I refused to join the Brownies – I like to claim that it was for political reasons.

Two years ago, I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). This has been the best idea I’ve had in ages. Better even than my salted caramel and banana macaron.

As an in-house editor for many years, I didn’t think there was much benefit in joining the SfEP. The SfEP website was one I consulted many times over the years to find reputable freelance proofreaders and copy-editors. The directory has never let me down for sourcing excellent freelancers, but I only thought of it as a website for editors to promote themselves. It is that, of course – and an excellent one – but I’ve since learned it is a very valuable editors’ resource. There is a generous online community, a wealth of superb training opportunities, and their very stringent membership process is, in effect, the only way in Britain to become accredited in any useful way as an editor.

When you are in-house it is easy to become a bit complacent. You have your own ways of working that may not have been challenged in years. You’re the one handing out the freelance jobs and judging people’s work but you might rarely get very useful feedback on your own practices. You probably barely have time to think about another cup of tea let alone continuing professional development anyway.

Are you prepared for the revelation that your freelancers are potentially more up to date, more efficient, and more modern in their attitude to descriptive grammar than you are? Even excellent in-house editors need their methods challenged occasionally. Are you aware of the latest advances in editing software? Can you use macros? Do you know about the best and most up-to-date online resources and style books? Are you unthinkingly applying prescriptive styles that give everyone more work and add nothing to your authors’ voices?

Conferring with your peers – either in an online forum, a Facebook group, a local editors’ group, or an editorial conference – is a great way to have your assumptions and habits questioned, usually in the politest way. SfEP members – and other editors who do take an interest in the technological and progressive changes that affect their profession – are very far from a forum of aggressive pedants. The ethos is of a modern community taking its lead from descriptive linguists such as SfEP Honorary President, David Crystal, rather than the hackneyed grammar guides espousing grammatical rules from the 1700s that seem to prove so popular with the public.

I’ve learned a lot, even after my twenty-odd years in this job, from asking other editors about how they work. I’ve had my assumptions challenged, learned some effective new working techniques, and had some zombie rules pierced right in the head. And I’ve met some lovely people, in real life and online, who are very generous with advice and time. Hopefully, I can be of some use to them too.

You’re never too experienced to have your ideas shaken up a little bit. SfEP isn’t just for freelancers. To improve your working experience and your speed and efficiency I would recommend that in-house editors join a community like the SfEP, ACES, or Editors Canada and seek out other online communities. The opportunities they provide for learning and networking have given me a renewed enthusiasm for editing.

I really should have joined the Brownies.

4 thoughts on “Joining In

  1. Great post, Eleanor. I’m so pleased you’re a member of the SfEP Glasgow group! I hope this encourages more in-house editors to think about joining us.

  2. Really good post, Eleanor! You’re right, the SfEP is a very broad and very welcoming church. I’d expand your comment about the stringent membership criteria being the way for accreditation in the UK, to be one of the best ways for accreditation wherever the editor is based. There are many international members, and a not insignificant number are Advanced Professional Members.

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