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The Society of Editors and Proofreaders: from 1988 to now

This post was written by Janet MacMillan, an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and is adapted from information on the SfEP website.

Today, the Society for Proofreaders and Editors (SfEP) is well known in editorial circles around the world as a UK-based, but internationally minded, editors’ organisation that welcomes all members, wherever they are and whoever they are.

The SfEP came into existence 30 years ago, in November 1988. Editorial professionals needed a professional body and a way to reduce isolation, and Norma Whitcombe recognised that need. Norma called a meeting, which 60 people attended, and the Society of Freelance Copy-Editors and Proofreaders was founded. The ‘Copy’ part didn’t last long, nor did the ‘freelance’ part, and in 2001 it became the SfEP, and in-house editorial professionals were welcomed too.

In 2003, the SfEP was incorporated, with a board of 12 directors and offices in London. Those offices are a happy place, quite clearly, with some staff members working for the Society since its incorporation.

Training, high standards, mutual support, information and networking have always been very high on the SfEP agenda. In fact, the first training courses were in 1989. Over the years, the training and continuing professional development (CPD) offerings have increased and, more recently, have adapted to the online world and the globalisation of many editorial professionals. New courses come onboard with some frequency. The SfEP has for some while also provided bespoke courses for other organisations and employers. Mentorship is a big thing in the SfEP. Its formal mentorship programme dates back to 1995, and informal mentoring and mutual support goes on daily through local groups (which are located in various places around the UK, an in-person group in Toronto and another group, Cloud Club, for members wherever they may be), through the vibrant forums, through the increasing range of guides, and through the members-only magazine Editing Matters, among other things. It’s probably accurate to say that there isn’t a question connected to editorial life that someone in the SfEP can’t answer – there’s a deep well of knowledge, experience and willingness to share and help each other.

SfEP conferences are highly and widely anticipated, and get booked up very early. The first conference was in 1990 and this year’s will be in Lancaster in September. In recent years, mini-conferences have started popping up to great acclaim, most recently in south-west England and there will be one in Toronto in November. In addition to conferences, in the past decade or so professional development days have been introduced, and have included a legal editors’ day, a fiction editors’ day and an ELT editors’ day, and this November will see a professional development day for those working in educational publishing.

Standards and professionalism are vitally important in and to SfEP – and of course to clients, be they indie authors, publishers, corporations, professional service firms, NGOs, governmental bodies and many others. The Code of Practice, to which every member is bound, was first issued in 1995, updated a couple of times thereafter, and further revised this year. The SfEP’s tiered membership (Entry Level, Intermediate Member (IM), Professional Member (PM) and Advanced Professional Member (APM)) is part of its standards and professionalism, as admission to the higher grades requires evidence of training, experience, CPD and references. It is no mean feat to become an APM; as at mid-2018, only 14% of SfEP members were APMs. APMs and PMs benefit from entries in the SfEP directory, so all those listed in the directory have proved their training and experience, and have clients that endorse their work – a big benefit for anyone looking for an editorial professional.

At the end of the Society’s last accounting year, 2017–18, membership stood at just under 2,700 members. The makeup of the membership has widened and become more diverse over recent years, and includes in-house members, freelance members, and members from all over the world. In addition to those members, there are corporate subscribers and retired members, all of whom contribute to the SfEP.

Membership benefits are numerous (and many can be found on the website), but the most valuable ones – in addition to training and professionalism – are camaraderie, inclusivity, openness, helpfulness, an enthusiasm for new ideas and new ventures, and good humour – good humour (and inclusivity) has taken, and will continue to take, the SfEP a very long way.

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