National editors conference: recollections from a delegate

Kerry Davies, Chair, IPEd Board

9th IPEd National editors conference, Beyond the Page, Melbourne, 8–10 May 2019

More than 300 editors gathered in Melbourne on 8–10 May 2019 for the 9th IPEd national editors conference, Beyond the Page. The conference is the premier national event for the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), the national professional body for editors in Australia, now with a branch in New Zealand.

The conference contributes hugely to the continuing professional development of its members. Its pre-conference workshops focused on business, technical and editing skills, including legal issues and ethics, firmly targeting working professional editors.

The evening’s welcome reception included the launch of Inclusive publishing in Australia: an introductory guide. This is the work of the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative, a conglomerate of publishing organisations, including IPEd. It is just the beginning of a huge push to make Australian publications accessible to people with any disability that thwarts reading – not just visual impairment. Find out more at www.aipi.com.au.

The conference proper opened the following day with Dr Angela Savage, Director of Writers Victoria, regaling delegates with Great Moments in Editing. She took a pithy look at stories of authors and their editors (or, as editors prefer, editors and their authors), reminding us that an editor’s skill lies in a delicate mix of experience and kindness. And then IPEd Patron Roly Sussex made the point that we have all become compulsive writers due to technology (think about it).

In the opening keynote, Susan Butler AO, recently retired editor of the Macquarie dictionary and now lexicographer at large, spoke on the fluidity of language – when to care and when not to. She touched on writerly things, like Amanda Vanstone stating that she was ‘literally bending over backwards’, and discussing the argument to get rid of apostrophes – not one that Ms Butler was inclined to endorse, thankfully, despite the enduring/endearing (they’re often mixed up, she told us) use of the grocer’s apostrophe.

The welcome reception hosted the launch of Inclusive publishing in Australia.

The welcome reception hosted the launch of Inclusive publishing in Australia.

Conference convenor Renee Otmar introduces speakers to present the 5 things they wish they had known.

Conference convenor Renee Otmar introduces speakers to present the 5 things they wish they had known.

Most of the concurrent sessions focused again on editing skills and ethics, advocating for the editing profession and editors’ business practices (Pamela Hewitt explained that freelance editor rates, while marginally increasing over the past decade, have actually declined in real terms).

Perhaps the most interesting sessions, at least to this delegate, were the Super Book Clubs, with panels of authors and editors discussing some of the issues that arose for them and how they addressed them. First of these sessions was Memoir and Life Writing, with panellists Mandy Brett from Text Publishing (The trauma cleaner), Kirstie Innes-Will from Black Inc (the Growing Up series), and author Sian Prior (Shy: a memoir) as moderator.

Michael Williams, Director of Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, gave that afternoon’s keynote address, talking about the establishment of the centre, following a generous endowment from Tony and Maureen Wheeler (founders of Lonely Planet). It was created to mark Melbourne being named as a UNESCO City of Literature, the second after Edinburgh and now one of 18 worldwide, with the brief ‘See what can be done’. He described the centre as a ‘year-round writers festival’, and publishing and editing as ‘the connecting of an idea – the imaginative moment – with its natural audience’. And he described modern life, with all its trauma and mayhem, as ‘needing a good edit’. Wise words.

At the gala dinner that evening, the second winner of the Rosanne Fitzgibbon Editorial Award (the Rosie) was announced as Julia Carlomagno for her work on Briohny Doyle’s narrative nonfiction Adult fantasy (Scribe). The $4000 award was set up in 2017 to recognise editorial excellence.

IPEd Confidential, the following morning’s plenary, updated members and delegates on the work of the IPEd Board, standing committees and working parties, including the Style Manual Steering Group, which has been consulting with the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency on production of the long-awaited 7th edition of the Style manual. Here also was launched the Janet Mackenzie Medal, as IPEd’s highest award, for service to the editing profession and/or IPEd, in honour of our late, great colleague, with an educational trust also to be established in her name.

Another plenary session was the keynote from the ANU’s Dr Katherine Bode, on a digital collection called the Australian Newspaper Fiction Database, which provided a fascinating rundown on Australia’s literary beginnings. Guest presentations were from Michael Webster, Chair of the Small Press Network, who let us in on secrets about book sales databases, how they’re devised and how they’re used by the industry, and Grant McAvaney, CEO of the Australian Copyright Council. There’s something about talks on copyright, which you might think would bore us off our seats, but they’re usually packed full of surprises and humour. And this was no exception, with Mr McAvaney starting with a quote from Mark Twain, 1903: ‘Whenever copyright law is to be made or altered, then the idiots assemble’. The rest did not disappoint.

Friday’s Super Book Club didn’t let delegates down either, with Young Adult and Popular Fiction: Editing for Multiple Markets, presented by author Alison Goodman and Lisa Berryman from HarperCollins, moderated by Toni Jordan. The session focused on editors as readers, recognising our passion for, and love of, words. One of the most fascinating points raised was in setting up a system for magic in a particular work, magic often being a key element of young adult fiction: ‘With a magic system, the more you put in place, the more can go wrong, trapping yourself in a critical magic crisis’.

Another interesting session was Philip Bryan’s A Typology of Typos, examining the most common typos, and why and how we make them – they’re a product of thought processes, visuals (the way our eyes jump over articles and prepositions) and even what I call dyslexia of the fingers. And what are they? 1. Marital (marital/martial; nuclear/unclear); 2. next of kin (Greeks/geeks); 3. crossed concepts (light horse/lighthouse; chocolate lemmingtons); 4. homophones (principle/principal, duel-flush toilets); and troublesome words (diseased estate). Mr Bryan did have tips for how to weed them out, but that’s for another column.

The final plenary of the conference was from Penny Modra, who runs a company called The Good Copy, looking at the suitability of the language we use in the contexts of business, marketing, and communicating with those we wish to.

The conference closing gave delegates a unique rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘very model’ from a speedily convened and practised choir, and the announcement of the 10th IPEd national editors conference – midwinter in Hobart, 2021. It’s gonna be a cosy confab!

Photos: Students in RMIT’s Certificate IV and Diploma of Photography and Photo Imaging program: Kennardi Sebastian, Daniel Mallia, Sam Stuart, Nelson Shen, Gianluca Carretta, Chaohui Hu, Jade Saad, Erin Brown, Makayla Atkins and Teresa Huong Truong.