Senior editors’ unconference (EAC conference 2014)

What better way for senior editors to learn than by talking to other senior editors?

At the EAC conference, I led the senior editors’ unconference session, which was split into two parts. At lunchtime on Saturday, people were invited to come pitch topics for discussion. I wrote them on a flip chart and gave all participants three sticky dots to vote for their favourite topics. (And if we filled the hour with salacious editorial gossip, I figured that would be fine, too.)

After I tallied the votes, the list of topics was as follows:

  1. Marketing
  2. Setting rates
  3. Dealing with a stagnant client base
  4. Workflow best practices; user testing for workflows
  5. Mentorship—in both directions
  6. Usability testing
  7. Achieving buy-in with style guides
  8. Transitioning from print to digital
  9. Finding new professional development opportunities
  10. Getting out of being typecast
  11. SharePoint do’s & don’ts
  12. Working with international clients
  13. Working with subject experts
  14. File management and archiving

“Sr ask same as n00bs??” wondered Adrienne Montgomerie on Twitter. The top topics—marketing, rates—were the same ones that novice editors have to grapple with, but I was determined that this unconference session would unearth new ideas, not just the same old advice.

Everyone was welcome at the Sunday session; you didn’t have to be at the topic-pitching session to participate. The unconference was scheduled for the last time slot of the concurrent sessions, which worked well because people could bring ideas that other sessions they attended hadn’t covered.

Here’s a run-down of what we discussed. (I’ve eliminated the names here because I never got express permission to quote anyone, and some of what we discussed could be considered sensitive or controversial. If you’d like credit, though, by all means let me know.)

Marketing

Because marketing (#1), setting rates (#2), revitalizing your client base (#3), and getting out of being typecast (#10) are very much related, I concatenated those topics so that we could discuss them together.

One editor noted that her marketing strategy was very much non-marketing. She mostly just tells her friends what she’s doing and what she’s interested in doing. Her work and reputation have allowed her to build her business by word of mouth.

One editor has a diverse portfolio, including writing, editing, indexing, and training. When she has enough work of one type but wants more of another, she targets her online presence to the channel she’d like to build.

Not everyone in the room had a website, but those who did thought it was a valuable part of their marketing. A lot of people had LinkedIn profiles, but we seemed to agree that LinkedIn served as a useful secondary verification, not a good primary means of marketing.

Setting rates

Should you post your rates? That point was controversial. One editor pointed out that having a rate sheet that you send out takes away some of the anxiety of quoting rates or negotiating. Another editor has an instant estimator right on her site. One person said that having a rate sheet or a calculator wouldn’t work for her—she has different rates for different clients, and the rates may vary wildly based on the complexity of the material. She always asks for the document or a sample to give an estimate. Whether you charge by the word or hour or project, it all boils down to the same thing—if you’re good at estimating!

Perfect versus good enough?

How much effort should you sink into a project in the quest for perfection? This discussion was interesting: was a sign of a kind of “editorial maturity” the recognition that it never pays to care more than the client? “Some edits we make because they’re needed,” said one editor. “Some things we sneak in to impress other editors.” If a client wouldn’t appreciate the latter, then those changes probably aren’t worth it. One editor said that for a new client, she always strives for perfection, because she’s hoping for repeat business.

Workflows

How do we educate our clients about workflow best practices? The reality is, as one editor pointed out, “the best workflow for an editor isn’t necessarily the best workflow for an organization.” Organizations may have several authors collaborating on a document and many layers of approval. Self-publishers are more likely to have more flexible timelines, but some of them also need a lot of handholding about process. “About half of the work I do is educating self-publishing clients about the publishing process,” said one editor. Another problem with workflow is that a lot of editors who have never worked in house may not realize how the entire production machine works and how they fit into it. The Toronto EAC branch offers a yearly seminar on production editing—perhaps a consideration for other branches as well? Those of us who have worked in house but are now freelance also need to keep on top of developments in production workflow, because “some things are changing in house, and old rules don’t apply.”

Mentorship

What used to be a benefit of working in house was the mentorship you’d get from a senior editor. That system has changed, especially since editorial training programs have become more popular, although we seemed to agree that internships ideally ought to work on a mentorship model. One editor noted that we need mentorship in both directions: we can teach more junior editors editorial skills, while they may be able to teach us the best ways to use newer technologies. Our network, the EAC Listserv, and the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook page were all cited as excellent sources of advice.

Usability testing

We moved on to usability testing, which is an essential part of the plain language process. We hear about it a lot but don’t necessarily know how to do it. Those who have done usability testing could attest to its value: although as editors we try to stay informed about a host of different topics, we have to remember that we have our own specialized language that others may not understand. It takes only two or three users to identify what the major problems are with your document. Usertesting.com offers online user testing that’s relatively affordable, and they have great packages if you aim to do a lot of testing.

Style guides

How do you achieve buy-in with style guides? Call it quality assurance, said one editor. If you use PerfectIt, you can use it to export a style guide for easy sharing. Also see my post about how to optimize your house style guide.

***

We didn’t have enough time to discuss the remaining topics. Anyone interested in international editing might want to read my summary of a panel discussion on the topic that we had at the EAC-BC branch.

Thanks to all editors who contributed ideas and attended the unconference session. It was a wisdom-fuelled, energizing way to cap off a great conference.

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