Monthly Archives: February 2016

SfEP conference newbie? Take the plunge and seed your brain!

With bookings for the 2016 SfEP conference opening soon, Katherine Trail tells us what it was like to pluck up the courage to go for the first time last year, and why she is glad she did.


I took a deep breath, held my head up high and strode into the group of fellow editors and proofreaders milling around on the campus of York University. ‘Hi, I’m Kat. Nice to meet you,’ I said, the tremor in my voice no doubt betraying me as a nervous first-timer.

From subsequent discussions with fellow newcomers (and even conference stalwarts) over that conference weekend, I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit nervous about spending several days with a group of relative strangers. It seems that we editors are often quite an introverted bunch and would rather wrestle with three pages of incorrectly formatted references than say hello to a group of people we’ve never met. If you’re reading this in the grip of a similar terror, let me reassure you: Getting up the courage to say those seven words was the bravest I had to be all weekend.

I had only been an SfEP member for around three or four months by the time conference rolled around, and my decision to go was a last-minute one, helped by those devils on my shoulders on the SfEP forum. I’d been an avid forum user since I had joined, finding the blend of camaraderie and unrivalled knowledge of huge benefit to someone just starting out on their own. My use of the forums also had a very practical result, as I was able to put faces to names from afar. From seeing SfEP members’ photos online, I could spot internet director John Espirian at twenty paces across the crowded coffee room, nod sagely to myself when Rod Cuff spoke so eloquently at the AGM, saying, Ah yes, he touched on that on his forum post the other day, and recognise Sara Donaldson (green hair, that must be her).

I was very relieved to find that everybody I met was extremely friendly and eager to meet me too. From the conversations we had at breakfast, lunch and dinner (and the slightly more garbled conversations towards the end of the gala dinner), I learned a huge amount about others’ career paths and processes and was also relieved to find that ‘imposter syndrome’ was something shared among many of my colleagues. Phew, not just me then!

Going into conference weekend, I had so far in my solo career been doing a bit of everything: fiction, non-fiction, the odd thesis or dissertation, newspaper work as a hangover from my journalism career, etc. I felt like I was drifting a little bit without direction or a destination in mind, lacking the confidence or focus to pull out a map and draw a big X on it where I wanted to be. There just seemed to be so many opportunities, and so many great editors already doing each thing, that I wondered if there was a place for me in there.

I’d approached the SfEP programme of events with a military-like precision, honing in on the workshops and talks that I thought would give me the most benefit as I tried to figure out a path for myself. There was a lot of choice, and I had to miss some sessions as they clashed with others, but finally I had plotted out my master plan. Without fail, every one of those sessions gave me something to think about. As the weekend wore on, and I spoke to more colleagues and the experts who were giving the talks, a little seed at the back of my brain started to sprout leaves. By the time I was on the train home on Monday, it had blossomed into a flower. I had finally found the confidence and focus I was looking for. I was going to specialise in fiction.

Now, I might have told a little lie at the start; the one about how saying hello was the bravest thing I had to do. You see, I’d been gently persuaded into giving a lightning talk on the first full day of conference. ‘It’s just five minutes,’ they told me. ‘Hardly any time at all.’ I will grudgingly admit that the adrenaline from actually getting up in front of a (scarily large) group of people and talking for five minutes just about made up for almost having a panic attack during the session beforehand. And I felt immensely proud of myself. It gave me some of the confidence I had been lacking, and made me feel that I do indeed have a place in the editing world.

Back home, exhausted but happy, I bored my friends and family for days with conference tales. It seemed like my Facebook friends list doubled in the days following, and I’m still reaping the benefits months later, with people I met at conference referring clients and opportunities to me and vice versa. And I’m still on the path it gave me the confidence to follow; since conference, I’ve done three courses on fiction editing, I’ve totally revamped my website to reflect my new focus, I’ve joined the SfEP social media team, and I’ve signed up for the fiction professional development day in June, and I can’t wait to see some old friends and make some new ones. And I’m still on the forum and SfEP social media sites every day, and still amazed by the knowledge of other members and their unflagging willingness to share it with others.

Booking for this year’s conference opens on 7 March. Details can be found on the conference page of the SfEP website. Non-members welcome.

Katherine TrailKatherine Trail is a former newspaper chief sub-editor who nows specialises in fiction. She lives in Aberdeen and when she isn’t editing she can usually be found tramping through the wilderness with her spaniel, Daisy.


The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Specialist Q&A – Archaeology (and related fields)

Specialist Q&AOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Jill Cucchi is a freelance copy-editor. She has answered some questions on her main specialism: archaeology.

  1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I started out in the civil service writing business cases for HM Treasury and answering parliamentary questions, but my passion was always archaeology. After many years volunteering on digs, and after completing a BA (Hons) degree in archaeology in 2004, I landed my dream job as a field archaeologist with Durham University.

  1. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

I did some editorial work for Durham University’s archaeology department, but it wasn’t until I moved to France that I realised it could be a full-time job. After ‘checking’ some journal papers for my husband’s colleague, and really enjoying it, I started looking into copy-editing (via indexing and proofreading) as a new career. I’ve recently started to specialise in academic journal/conference papers written by authors with English as a second language.

  1. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

You need to have a wide-ranging knowledge of archaeology and archaeological practices (e.g. chronology, excavation, methods of dating), as well as a good understanding of related disciplines (e.g. zooarchaeology, archaeobotany). For me, having French as a second language is also useful in differentiating scientific jargon from direct translations.

  1. How do you go about finding work in this area?

As most scientific papers need to be written in English, academics who are non-native speakers are always looking for copy-editors and/or translators. As my husband works for the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris), and his colleagues knew he had an English wife with a background in archaeology, I was constantly asked if I could do urgent jobs when their usual copy-editor was busy. After a few (hopefully well done) ‘rush jobs’, I took on every urgent job that came up, did minuscule jobs (e.g. reading a 100-word abstract, correcting a book review), offered a final free proofread, adjusted my hourly rate – anything in fact to get some experience. Often the copy-editors that academics use have a PhD (I don’t), or are fluently bilingual (I’m not) so competition is tough. However, now I have an ever-growing set of regular clients, and I’ve had requests from other universities and museums via recommendations.

  1. What do you most enjoy about the work?

I love that it combines my two great passions: archaeology and literature. I love taking a piece of complicated text and making it readable. I love it when a client has a paper or a grant application accepted and I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I love that my job allows me to read (and write) and learn about archaeology without getting wet and muddy, though that is fun too.

  1. What are the particular challenges?

Trying to copy-edit complex scientific papers when I am not a science graduate and the author is a non-native English speaker. Also, the text can be incredibly specialised (e.g. 12 pages on the nitrogen value of pig’s teeth), so it can be challenging to stay focused.

  1. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

The worst job I had was a paper I had copy-edited being refused publication and not knowing why. Ouch! (But later accepted, thankfully.) The best job I had was a scientific budget report with a two-day turnaround (sadly, the two days were Saturday and Sunday). The client readily accepted my increased hourly rate and insisted I take a bonus – I thought I was dreaming.

  1. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

You will need a sound knowledge of the subject so read lots of journals, volunteer on some digs, see if you can help out at your local museum and register for some (often free) online courses (e.g. FutureLearn – they have several archaeology/history courses). You’ll also need excellent (I’m not quite there yet…) copy-editing skills as the publication process is tough.

  1. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

It varies (wildly) depending on the client’s grant allocation or the project’s budget, but I’d say for an average 15-page paper (about 8/9 hours) you could expect around £200. My biggest perk, at the moment, is just being freelance – after 12 years in the civil service this is a dream!

  1. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

It’s hard to say really as I’m just starting out, but I’ve recently been asked to translate and copy-edit a book chapter for the Musée du quai Branly on anthropology, which is a new and exciting direction for me. I’ve also been asked to copy-edit a catalogue for an art gallery in Paris, which has nothing to do with archaeology at all, so it seems the possibilities are endless.

Jill CucchiJill Cucchi is an Entry-Level Member of the SfEP. She is an archaeologist turned copy-editor specialising in academic journal/conference papers for non-native English speakers.


The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

New support forum for ELT editors

By Denise Cowle

Last week I attended an awayday for editors who work specifically on ELT (English Language Teaching) materials. Organised by Karen White of White Ink Ltd and Helen Holwill, it was a really useful day, with workshops, presentations, and lots of networking time.

What was very obvious was just how few of the editors I spoke to were SfEP members, which got me thinking – why not?

Several of those I spoke to said that, as ELT editing is specialised, they didn’t think the SfEP had anything to offer them.

The same could be said of many areas – think of specialist science and medical editors, for example – but the SfEP has much to offer every editor, especially those who are freelance, and here’s why.

  • Forums provide much-needed support and information, on topics ranging from the finer points of grammar to negotiating contracts and rates of pay. For me, they are the highest-value benefit of membership.
  • Discounts on editorial training covering a variety of skills and levels, both workshop based and online (distance learning).
  • Local groups where you can meet up regularly with other editors. There are 39, plus an international group and a Skype club for those who are based overseas or in remote locations. If you’re freelance then feeling isolated can be an issue, so local groups are a lifeline, providing peer support and a space for discussion (and venting, if necessary!). And who doesn’t love a chat over coffee/cake/wine?
  • A searchable online directory for Professional and Advanced Professional Members to advertise their services.
  • A 24-hour legal helpline, again for Professional and Advanced Professional Members.

A colleague was at the awayday as an official representative of the SfEP, specifically to raise awareness, and there was definitely interest in joining once the benefits and services were explained.

The SfEP aims, among other things, to promote high editorial standards and uphold the professional status of all editors, in all specialisms and from all backgrounds – whether freelance or in-house. The variety of its members is what makes it such an enriching community. It’s a bonus that many are also generous with their expertise.

So if you’re a member, the next time you’re chatting to a colleague who isn’t, why not remind them of the advantages of joining?

And if you’re not a member, have a think about it. You can go to a local group meeting up to three times before joining. Why not come along and say hello? The cake is really good.

Denise CowleDenise Cowle ( and @dinnydaethat) is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP and is also the coordinator of the SfEP local Glasgow group (@SfEPGlasgow). She specialises in English Language Teaching materials but also works on non-fiction books. Denise lives in Glasgow, and before seeing the light and retraining as an editor she was a physiotherapist in the NHS.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP