Learning more than editing at an editors conference

Institute of Professional Editors (Australia) conference, April 2013

Living in Queensland all my life, I’d not been to Fremantle (Western Australia) before this conference. And what a beautiful place it is – definitely a place to revisit and explore.

This is the report I wrote for Offpress, the Queensland Society of Editors’ newsletter.

As I reflected on my conference experience, it wasn’t so much the content of the sessions that stood out. Rather it was a deepening of my respect for our profession, our editing elders, our language.

I had the privilege of listening to and speaking with some of those who have contributed so much to IPEd over so many years. Despite their long years of volunteering to create IPEd and the accreditation program, they remain committed to our profession, its growth, its future, its promotion. As a member of the Accreditation Board, I want to respect and honour them by making sure we give editors the best way to grow professionally – and by ensuring that we’re not undoing any of our predecessors’ wise decisions.

Keynote speakers, Roly Sussex, Nury Vittachi and Don Watson so brilliantly and entertainingly reminded us of how language is changing, and challenged us, as editors, to remain the ‘guardians of our language’. As Don Watson said, ‘Our brains are suffocated by today’s careless language’, so we need to help writers achieve clear writing.

Carmen Lawrence, in her keynote address, and Bev Port-Lewis, in her welcome to country speech, highlighted our connection to and respect for place. Whether that be a geographical place or an intellectual place, our sense of wholeness and our ability to move forward are damaged when we lose those contacts.

I felt almost discombobulated as I listened to those who spoke about the future of digital publishing, and who, implicitly, honoured the pioneers of the medium. And declared that there are still many opportunities for pioneers and innovators.

As for this ‘digital (r)evolution’, as Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya so elegantly describes these times of ever-changing computer technologies, just what did I learn? While I will always love reading the traditional way, and will always cherish my experiences with hold-in-my-hand books, I am excited about the possibilities offered by digital publishing.

Selena Hanet-Hutchins described the journey of ‘the book’ from marks on the ground to tell stories, to boxing stories up in a book; and how a communal exercise became a solitary activity. And now the digital age, with its possibilities for community to once again participate in story-telling.

She contends that traditional publishing focuses on retail results, where the reader is largely overlooked. Digital publishing considers readers, and welcomes feedback and interactivity. Traditional publishing plans the workflow, from the author’s concept to publication, as a straight line, with little input from readers. However, the relationships and workflows in the digital arena are far more convoluted.

Readers will increasingly become part of the workflow – and more than just Kindle or Kobo comments. We can expect to see interactions between publisher, writer, reader, marketing and social media.  ‘Just like we “mash up” music, so we will “mash up” books’, Selena suggested, and described The People’s E-book software, where you can drag and drop pages to your art book.

As editors, our role in these emerging formats will include coaching writers, helping them keep their expectations realistic, and rebriefing them throughout the process. We will learn to value individuals above processes and tools. As serialisation and subscription models evolve, we will find ourselves having to edit ‘chunks’ of text, rather than the full manuscript.

Dr Angelo Loukakis, from Australian Society of Authors, asked ‘How will the rise of digital and self-publishing affect the quality of publications and reading ability?’ What a big question! Angelo assured us that ASA promotes editing as a vital part of their process, and described two of their services: manuscript development and editor-driven mentorships.

His statement that ‘editing is a craft and a human service’ is a great reminder of our editorial role.

Jasmine Leong, editor of CSIRO’s Double Helix publications, described some of the challenges she and her team meet as they bring science and maths to young people. How do you speak to children without patronising them, yet without presenting concepts that are too complex? How do they enthuse children about science topics other than animals and space? She reminded us that, although the publications are for children, the readership is much broader – parents enjoy the magazines, and teachers value the professional currency of the information.

For me, her question, ‘How can content be repurposed (making information available on many platforms)?’ raised further questions about how we, as editors, need to adapt to the requirements of these differing platforms, and how we need to help writers understand and modify their approach or style.

Staying within the digital flavour, (not surprisingly) I attended Dr Katy Mc Devitt’s session about editors who blog. Katy recommended The Proofreaders Parlour  and Chapter 3 of Yahoo! style guide: defining and developing your voice, and reminded us that we need to give our readers a reason to contact us. I was quite chuffed that Katy shared my comment that ‘not all editors are cardigan-wearing, tea-sipping, introverted pedants’, especially when it did the Twitter rounds.

As I’d been unable to attend the freelancers’ workshops, I enjoyed the Q&A session that replaced a session whose speaker was unable to speak. Some interesting questions were raised: what do I call myself? (‘editorial consultant’ as Sarah Fletcher prefers), and what does my email signature say about me? (Patrick Horneman encouraged us to use an international phone number – OK, I don’t have overseas clients just yet, but what’s wrong with suggesting that is a possibility?) Panel members reminded us of the necessity of dealing with the decision maker when setting up a project. Patrick spoke briefly about income protection and public liability insurance – yes, we should have them.

Pam Peters highlighted the importance of editors being able to ‘edit for readers anywhere and everywhere, without disengaging them’.  We need to consider geographical, stylistic, age and gender preferences, as well as variations in spelling, capitalisation, word and sentence punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and collocation. She recommended the Macquarie–Australian Broadcasting Commission project Australian Word Map as an essential reference.

Our profession is alive and well, an exciting one, full of potential (regardless of the publishing mechanisms), one that will always add that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the written word.

Are we ready?

 editor at work

editor at work

4 thoughts on “Learning more than editing at an editors conference

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Charlotte.

      I suspect that everyone in the publishing industry will need to learn different ways of thinking and working.
      But being aware of how we reached ‘now’ is an essential foundation.

      Happy writing!

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