#CIEP2021 (aka the 2021 Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading annual conference)

The CIEP’s annual conference is eagerly awaited each year. Last year’s conference was moved online after months of planning for the in-person event had already been put in, and it arrived two months later than our usual mid-September slot, necessarily somewhat cut down from our usual fare.

This year’s conference was online from inception, pretty much, and although last year’s was still a triumph in the circumstances for veteran conference director Beth Hamer, this year’s online event was a triumph. Full stop. How Beth delivers such fabulous conferences year in, year out, I don’t know. Hats off to her and her team!

One clear advantage of an online conference is that far more delegates can attend (we had plenty of members staying up very late indeed, or getting up painfully early, depending on their time zone), but the second advantage is that speakers can also be spread around the world – we had contributions from Canada, the US, Thailand and Australia, as well as from all around the UK.

A mighty guestlist

The celebrity highlights of this year included poet Ian McMillan, who is a force of nature, and he spreads around his joy in the language willy-nilly. I was only slightly distracted by keeping an eye on the live transcription from Zoom, which did insist that Mr McMillan couldn’t possibly mean that he spoke in many village halls, rendering them instead as ‘Billy Joel’s’ every time. McMillan spoke about the joy of the precision of language, and the accidental joy that imprecise language can provide, if you know how to look at it. QED.

Our second big name was Random House copy chief and MD Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English. I’m one of his ‘godless savages’, being no fan of the automatic serial comma, but I got the impression he’s forgiven me. I was delighted to learn how Random House nurtures and retains its freelance copyeditors and proofreaders. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other publishers took note, rather than too often squeezing the freelance pool until it squeaks?

CPD galore

Continuous professional development is a cornerstone of the freelance life – you have to keep up with industry developments, and keep your skills fresh in a world of rapidly changing technology.

Conference had us covered – from Suzanne Collier of Book Careers advising us on how and where to find that edge that being up to date and market aware will give you, to sessions on copyright (Pippa Smart), Word styles (Jill French), the new CMOS-linked PerfectIt (Daniel Heuman), technical sessions for the fiction editors (Sophie Playle, Louise Harnby, Crystal Shelley), how to move into med comms (Alison Hillman, Liz Jennings), and what to think about it you’re contemplating becoming a teacher of copyediting and proofreading (Erin Brenner).

Freelancers always want to know about marketing tips. Malini Devadas, an editor-turned-coach talked to us about mindset when it comes to marketing – how to get over the cringe many of us feel when putting ourselves out there and shouting ‘Hire me, hire me!’ I know her advice and encouragement resonated with many of the delegates. And relentlessly helpful LinkedIn guru John Espirian gave yet another audience the lowdown on making the most of LinkedIn.

For even more business help, Kia Thomas, Liz Jones and Claire Bacon spoke about how their blogs support their business, and Maya Berger introduced more people to how to make the best of their business data.

Words matter

Words are power; internationally, English is often power. We were reminded of this in Ema Naito’s lightning talk (more on that in a moment), two sessions by Crystal Shelley – on authenticity reading and on conscious and inclusive editing – and one by Cathy Basterfield (of Australia’s Access Easy English), who opened delegates’ eyes to just how huge are the numbers of adults with low literacy in developed nations, and how even complex text like UN resolutions can be rewritten and packaged in Easy English so that the people directly affected by then can actually read about their rights.

Short words, short sentences supported by appropriate images (but not photographs) and plenty of white space can help even very challenged (non-)readers to access the information they need about health, rights, legal process, safety and Covid measures, and navigating the internet.

No less important is access to the leisure reading everyone else takes for granted – finding out who your team is playing, when and where, what the celebs are up to, reading to your kids and helping them with homework, even if reading a full novel is a step too far.

Inclusivity is what melds communities. Shutting out those who have grave trouble reading is no less divisive than shutting out communities on the basis of colour, religion, sexuality, gender, disability or any other inflated point of difference between humans.

If you can’t read, you probably have a more limited vocabulary, and will find it hard to follow the news on TV. If you can’t keep up with the news, how do you know how to cast your vote? People with low literacy vote, too – or more likely they don’t, because they feel excluded, that helping to decide who runs the country and hence their own lives is not something they can be involved in.

Networking and collegiality

The hallmark of in-person CIEP conferences is collegiality. Chances to chat to old friends, make new ones or meet offline people you’ve only known online are fantastic. This year, we had themed networking, speed networking and access to Wonder rooms for informal networking.

Editors build strong online communities wherever they go. Bolstering those communities by meeting the actual people and talking to them gives them added richness and can lead to enhanced working lives, as accountability groups are formed, people find out who they can pass work along to and who they can seek offline advice from.

This was the first year I’d got to the five-minute lightning talks, curated by Robin Black and Lucy Ridout. It won’t be the last – I now see why people have raved about them in earlier years!

We had an utter feast:

  • the thought-provoking Ema Naito on the power and privilege that mastery of English gives you (or you assume it gives you), the power that English-language editors wield and the bleak downside to that – the perception of people with poor English, or strong accents, as less intelligent and less able)
  • Joely Taylor on editing photography – the amusing, and the less amusing, sides
  • Sam Kelly on how he got his break in football commentating, whilst still managing to find parallels with editing
  • Alison Shakespeare on working with self-publishing authors, to tie in with a new CIEP guide she’s written on the subject
  • John Ingamells gave us a fascinating introduction to the Korean alphabet and numbers, and
  • Michelle Ward talked to us about her adventures in historical re-enactment. And Sean Bean.

And there was – joy of joys – the annual quiz! Raucous when in person, pretty raucous online, too! After being in the team that came joint second last year, I was thrilled to go one better – this year the team I was in won (and by a healthy margin, thank you). Eight people are still doing their victory dances and enjoying twelve-months’ worth of bragging rights (as you can see!).

Closing words

All this, and the AGM, took just over three days. Long days. Wonderful collegiate and learning days. We all now have lengthy to-do lists to keep us going until next time.

Most CIEP members are freelance and so most of us work alone. It’s easy to get into a little bubble of doing things your way. Conference allows people to spread their wings, to talk to others who are just as interested in the weird places commas end up, or whether the subjunctive is going out of fashion or who also delight in finding, and straightening up, an italic full stop.

It allows us to learn something in an area we otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with.

I’m firmly a nonfiction editor, but I took myself off to one of the fiction sessions, just to get a fresh view on matters editorial and see what the other half get up to. The lightning talks provided fantastic five-minutes nuggets of gold that will, for some, trigger new involvement as one topic or another grabs them.

I couldn’t finish this post without also mentioning our Chair, Hugh Jackson.

Last year, his closing words reduced a great many of us to tears, as he spoke of the importance of our work in helping the world to communicate well through the written word, and the importance of our community in keeping editors and proofreaders working towards being the best, the most sensitive and humane, editors and proofreaders we can be when the pandemic was less than a year old and numbers of infections and deaths were rising rapidly.

Hugh is deeply thoughtful (and funny) and he inspires us all to support our own community, and to help other communities. This year, we were ready with our tissues, fortunately: he did it again, dammit.

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