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Editing across borders: Abigail Nathan on the highlights of the National Editors Conference

From 10-12 April, the Society of Editors (WA) was host to the sixth IPEd National Editors Conference in Fremantle. As ever, this was a marvellous opportunity for editors of all types to come together and explore the new challenges and opportunities that are present in our industry.

With publishing currently facing such drastic change, one might expect that the tone of the conference would have been doom and gloom, with a soupçon of fear. Far from it. Overwhelmingly the sessions were positive, highlighting the possibilities the industry shift offers rather than dwelling on what we perceive we may be losing.

While workshops on XML, onscreen editing, and the ‘rockstar freelance lifestyle’ took up day one, the real conference began on the second day with a highly entertaining keynote speech from Nury Vittachi on ‘Globalese for beginners’. Punctuated with slides showing examples of ‘Chinglish’ that had most of the audience howling with laughter, Nury’s talk embraced the overall theme of the conference: editing across borders. English, he pointed out, has already gone global, with the majority of its speakers based in Asia. He provided examples of commonly used ‘English’ phrases many of us had not realised originated from China. With the spread of globalese, Nury suggested it was time for editors to adapt to a changing language and learn to be more forgiving in a profession that demands pedantry and perfectionism.

Demand for digital sessions

Adaptability was a key theme throughout the conference, and most panels tackling anything related to digital publishing and ebooks were standing-room only.

A number of presenters discussed how different coding languages and mark-up are necessary to produce ebooks, and the various platforms that people are using to get this done. There has been some panic among editors that these changes will mean editors need to learn programming languages or become experts in software packages we’ve never heard of, or alternatively that a good chunk of the editing process will be automated. However, nearly every presenter explained that while all these new things are happening, editors won’t need to learn about them in any detail, beyond being aware of their function, and that editors still need to check the text no matter how it has been produced. Everyone stressed that digital developments were less about editors being outmoded or even learning new skills, and more about adapting the skills we already have.

Tagging a manuscript ready for digital publishing, explained panellist Linda Nix, is not so different to the hard copy mark-up most of us are already used to. And while learning how to code might help an editor to understand the work involved, the important part is learning enough to be able to communicate with the IT specialists who will actually wield that code. There’s no need for all editors to become developers.

This adaptability was something Don Watson had trouble with in his own keynote address as he confessed to a dislike of track changes—a statement that caught the audience in a collective shocked gasp. He also picked up the theme of globalese, pointing to the difficulties and dangers encountered when corporate jargon strips language of all its meaning—and when the internet bundles all information together as equal. When you have Einstein quotes next to unknowns, he said, what does this do to thought and language?

The answer, again, was one focused on opportunity. Roly Sussex’s keynote focused on ‘The challenge of the open’. Discussing open-source material and open scholarship, he acknowledged that while these developments made vast amounts of information available to more people, the difficulty was in the quality control of so much content. Editors, he suggested, would be the ones with the skills to make sense and order from this chaos.

Quality control was perhaps the final theme of this jam-packed conference. Again and again, presenters pointed out that quality control would be a key part of any editor’s future role. The importance of tight workflows and consistent standards was highlighted in a number of sessions. These discussions revealed that, though digitisation has meant work can be done faster, or even automated, the checks and balances an editor provides have become even more important.

Throughout a conference brimming with inspiring presenters and captivating keynote addresses, nearly every session captured the notion that, as much as things are changing, many things remain the same. As Selena Hanet-Hutchins explained, though future books may ‘have more on the inside’, they will still need editing. So long as we’re adaptable—and willing to ‘cross borders’—there will always be a place for editors.

Abigail Nathan is a freelance editor and writer and managing director of Bothersome Words Editing & Writing Services

Conference ‘takeaways’ for editors

1. English is a global language and editors need to accept the changes this globalisation brings.

2. Publishing is changing, not ending. Editors need to adapt their skills.

3. Digitisation and large volumes of online information do not cancel out the need for editing. Editors are required for curation and quality control.

4. Tight workflows and consistent standards are the best way to deal with high-volume, high-speed production.

5. Readers, and the reading experience, are important. Editors are necessary to make sure text and story are accessible regardless of the format in which the text is presented.



Category: Features