6 questions for Wendy Toole of the SfEP [INTERVIEW]

Wendy TooleThe SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders) was founded in 1988 and since then has nurtured and encouraged copy-editors and proofreaders both in and new to the industry. With the increase in digital self-publishing and national entrepreneurial spirit, chair Wendy Toole talks to us about the advantages of being part of SfEP and its place in the new world of publishing.


1) So do I need to have years of experience to join the SfEP?

You don’t need to have any particular level of experience to join SfEP as an associate. With a stronger background in editing and/or proofreading experience, you may be eligible to upgrade to full membership (at either ordinary or advanced level) straight away.


2) Do you think most of your members have a traditional publishing background? And going forward, do you think that more and more of your members will come from less traditional publishing backgrounds?

Although many people join SfEP after pursuing successful careers in other areas, a significant percentage have always come to us with many years of in-house editorial experience. At present, we are in the process of reviewing our membership structure to respond even better to the needs of experienced publishing professionals who join SfEP and wish to progress to full membership at ordinary or advanced level. Whether editors and proofreaders work in house or freelance, or alternate between the two (as I have done in my career), SfEP membership has lots to offer!


3) Are you finding that your numbers are growing, as more people look to build flexibility into their lifestyles by working freelance?

Yes, the Society’s membership numbers are continuing to grow, with an overall increase of 10 per cent in the last year: we now have over 1,500 associates and members, including around 275 advanced members.

When people are working freelance, they can feel isolated and may find it hard to get a first foot on the ladder. The support and advice of other freelances that they find within SfEP, not to mention the opportunities for work and recommendations, are invaluable.

In addition to the generously discounted training courses (SfEP’s own and those of some other respected providers), membership benefits include everything from discounts on stationery and reference books to a free legal helpline. Our email list SfEP Announce regularly carries advertisements for both freelance and in-house job opportunities.

Anyone interested in joining SfEP, whatever their level of experience, is welcome to attend up to 3 meetings of one of our 34 local groups to find out more about the Society and to network informally with other members before making any commitment.


4) What would you say to someone who argues that editors are becoming unnecessary as it becomes increasingly normal to sidestep publishers and more traditional routes into publishing, in favour of self-publishing – and presumably self-editing?

I would say that they are mistaken! In my own experience and that of many of our members, there is actually something of a surge in job opportunities at present, as self-publishers turn to our online directory to find copy-editors and proofreaders to work on their projects. I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories of self-published books hitting the marketplace full of the most awful errors owing to a lack of proper copy-editing and proofreading. Authors are quickly wising up to the situation, and increasingly, clients are coming to us when they want to place work because everyone included in our online directory has achieved a defined standard at either ordinary or advanced level.  In addition, all our members and associates are bound by the SfEP Code of Practice which is why publishers and other clients have confidence in our name and reputation.


5) I feel it’s really important to be able to enhance the family feeling of publishing, and clearly so does the SfEP with training and member support at your core. What other continued opportunities for growth can SfEP offer? 

The Society runs a mentoring scheme for those who have already completed some training in proofreading and/or copy-editing. This scheme offers supervised, practical training to associates and members of the Society who are new to professional proofreading and/or copy-editing, with experienced members as mentors. They provide copies of existing or past jobs for the mentee to proofread or copy-edit, then review the work, giving feedback and advice, and answering any questions.

Overall, one of the major aims of the SfEP is to help editorial freelancers and in-house staff to improve and develop their skills. SfEP courses cater for the whole range of experience, from beginners to established editors who need to update and extend their existing skills. All our courses run regularly in London and (less frequently) at other venues around the UK.


6) The SfEP will shortly be launching a new discussion forum. What has prompted the change from your discussion email list? How do you anticipate the new discussion forum will be used? For members to advertise their skills? Or troubleshooting editing queries in a community of professionals? 

All of the above, and more! SfEPLine, the Society’s email discussion list, has more than 900 subscribers and has worked well for many years. However, many of our members and associates are more comfortable with forums than with mailing lists, and we’ve now found a format that includes multiple forums and mailing lists (to go with each forum) so that they can choose whether to be proactive (and go to a forum) or reactive and receive emails as they do now.

In the forums, it will be easier for people to access what they want (and exclude what doesn’t interest them). For example, there will be a separate forum where newcomers can voice fairly basic questions. As well as providing for the professional functions of sharing good practice, discussing queries and so on,  we’re planning a marketplace where members and associates can sell themselves to their colleagues, and there will be opportunities for subcontracting work. We’ll also have forums for many other topics that will make an editorial life easier and more interesting.


You can find them at www.sfep.org or follow them on twitter @theSfEP. Also see our interview with Helen Stevens (August 2011).  

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