The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is 30 years old on 26 November.
What is the SfEP and what is it for?
It’s a membership organisation for professional editors and proofreaders, both freelance and in-house. It’s based in the UK, but also has many members elsewhere.
For its members, the SfEP provides great opportunities for learning and networking. Those who are at Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member level also can advertise their services on the SfEP Directory.
It doesn’t only exist for our benefit, though. A key part of its aims is to maintain and improve standards in editing and proofreading, largely through training courses, tests, guides, our Code of Practice and the membership upgrade process. This helps to make sure our customers will get reliable, thoroughly professional services.
In the beginning …
When the organisation was formed back in 1988 – led by the late Norma Whitcombe along with other key founders such as Michèle Clarke – it was called the Society of Freelance Copy-editors and Proofreaders. The ‘copy-’ was soon dropped, bringing about the initials ‘SFEP’. In 2001, the ‘Freelance’ part was also jettisoned, as in-house staff were now also welcome. In a suitably neat bit of rewording, the ‘of’ became ‘for’, so that the SFEP could become the SfEP.
Over 60 people attended the inaugural meeting in London, and the membership would grow to around ten times that number in just the next couple of years. There are now over 2,000 members.
I’m a relative newcomer, having joined in late 2012, when I was looking into editing and proofreading as a possible career change (I went full-time a year later). I was lucky to join just as the current online forum system was being launched, replacing a system of Yahoo! groups and mailing lists that, apparently, hadn’t been working out especially well. I soon dived into the forums, which became hugely valuable in those early years, and still are today.
The organisation had matured in various ways by then. It had become incorporated as a limited company in 2003; its 12 directors form the SfEP Council. The members’ meeting of the early days had evolved into an annual conference as early as 1990, and local groups had sprung up around the UK. The four-page ‘News-sheet’ had become a bi-monthly magazine: first as CopyRight, later as Editing Matters. The SfEP also had a website (the first version having been launched in 1997), an office in London, training courses, mentoring schemes, an accreditation test and a set of guides.
Over the six years that I’ve been a member, there have been other developments: a blog, a growing social media presence (you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), and a series of mini-conferences for regions and specialist types of work. The Society’s international presence has blossomed as well: there’s now even a thriving local group in Toronto, and a mini-conference was held there this year.
Although it’s difficult to back this up with hard facts, it seems to me – and to some other members I’ve spoken to – that the make-up of the SfEP has changed noticeably in the last few years. It seemed to be largely centred around people with in-house experience of the publishing world, and this was reflected in the Society’s communications, training courses and so on, which were largely geared towards working with publishers.
Now, though, my impression is that members from other backgrounds are more prominent than before: working on the SfEP Council, running local groups, presenting conference sessions, leading discussions on the forums and so on. I think this gives us a richer, wider variety of expertise, viewpoints and ideas than we had before, which can only be a good thing. (This is meant with great respect to the people from publishing backgrounds who helped to launch the SfEP and get it to where it is today, and to those who still play a part.) It also helps us to focus on a wider range of customers, especially non-publishing businesses and public-sector organisations that can benefit from our skills.
Where would I be?
Being in the SfEP has been a godsend for me as I’ve embarked on my career change. Without the help I’ve had from colleagues on the forums and in local groups, the training courses, the mentoring schemes and the online directory, I can’t imagine how I could have become established as an editor and proofreader.
It’s easy to forget that the SfEP essentially is its members – not an agency that we just sign up to and expect results from. It depends on its members (along with the marvellous office team) to make it work, and to make it useful for us. I’m glad to have played a small part, with two-year spells as a forum moderator and as the Manchester local group coordinator; I’ve now joined a new team that’s looking to improve and expand the Society’s information resources.
But I’m in awe of those who’ve made much greater contributions – especially back in those pre-web days, when it must have entailed a lot of paperwork, phone calls and trips to the postbox (or even post office). We 21st-century editors really don’t know we’re born. And I can imagine how daunting it must have been for those who’d been working on paper for decades when they had to get up to speed with the digital revolution – but surely most would agree that it has made our work, our communication with customers, our networking and the running of the SfEP much easier.
Now, we face the challenge of keeping up with further developments in technology and business models, and how they’re reshaping the publishing industry and the wider world of work. By facing it together – sharing our knowledge, expertise and ideas as we always do – we’re giving ourselves a good chance.
So, it’s happy 30th to the SfEP. Long may it run.