My first ACES conference: An inspiring, motivating and educating experience

My first ACES conference: An inspiring, motivating and educating experience

April 7, 2017 By Sandra McVearry Conferences

ACES’s 2017 conference in St. Petersburg was my first ACES conference. I delayed registering for it for months because I was concerned that, as a relative newcomer to the organization and the world of copy editing, to attend now would be premature. 

I could not have been more wrong. The conference experience exceeded my expectations.

Preparing to attend

Once I registered in early March, I solicited advice from my region’s ACES group on Facebook. It turns out that I received advice from veteran attendees of ACES conferences and at least one session presenter (thank you, Laura Poole)! Their sage advice included:

Their advice was spot on. Armed with this hint of what was to come, I planned my schedule.

Be flexible in your scheduling plans

Though I went to the conference with a plan, flexibility is key once you’re there. I planned to attend every session targeted to freelancers, but I had a list of alternative sessions that I was interested in for every time slot.

Things I learned include:

Sandra McVearry poses in the vendor area of ACES 2017 conference during a quiet moment. (Gerri Berendzen)

The first session I planned to attend — “Freelancing 101” — had a last minute change in presenters, and I knew the new presenter from the copyediting program at UCSD and the EFA (Jennifer Maybin). I asked her if she thought it was the right place for me, and she steered me on to my plan B session.

If you’re unable to stay on site like I was because the hotel was booked solid when I finally registered, it’s OK. I regret being unable to attend the evening activities so that I could have the full conference experience (I had my family accompany me to Florida — which is another topic entirely on the practicality of a business trip with spouse and children in tow), but I tried to maximize my day-time attendance. I jammed as much interaction and meeting of others as I could into the day-time sessions. I regret that I had moments of shyness where I failed to greet the people beside me and exchange business cards before each session. 

Next year (yes, I’m planning on Chicago already), I will not make that mistake.

Day one: Setting the tone and meeting my tribe

I worried the opening general session would be meaningless to me as a first timer, but it was not. It set the tone for the conference and served as an introduction to the people who make ACES possible.

I attended “Beyond Editing: First and Last Steps When Working With Self-Publishers” (Katherine Pickett) and “Freelance Editing: The Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known” (Elizabeth d’Anjou).

As I sat there listening to the presenters and the questions from the audience, I realized that I was sitting amongst my tribe. This sentiment was echoed by many people I connected with during the conference. The people at ACES understand you as an editor. No one’s eyes glaze over when you discuss what you do. They get it! 

They get having an opinion about the Oxford comma and the use of singular “they”! They’re more interested in if you’re a generalist or a specialist. If you’re a specialist, be prepared to talk about your area of expertise. The enthusiasm for editing is palpable.

Riding the high of two great sessions, I made my way to the networking lunches. The food was good, and I made connections during the lunch, but it was hard to talk to each other and really connect with my fellow First Time Attendee tablemates because of the volume in the room. It turns out that we editors are a chatty lot. Ever resourceful, we made our introductions by holding up our nametags to give our names to each other because it was hopeless trying to speak to anyone not immediately next to you. 

We passed out business cards and did our best to connect, but it was hard. That may have been the one moment of the conference where I missed working at home in the quiet of my office. It was overstimulating, but we all gave it our best effort.

I concluded day one with volunteer time at the EFA booth. Oddly, the hustle and bustle of the vendor booth area was more relaxing than the networking lunchroom was. The vendor booth (and coffee) area was my favorite area to connect with people and network at the conference. Several session presenters had their own booths and were available to chat with and sign their books. I was a total grammar geek and brought my copy of "The Subversive Copy Editor" from home on the off chance that I’d have a moment to meet Carol Fisher Saller and have her sign it. She did! 

The time spent going through the vendor booths is time well spent. The resources are useful.

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If you’re a specialist, be prepared to talk about your area of expertise. The enthusiasm for editing is palpable.

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Day two: Operating in cognitive dissonance

Day two started off with Craig Silverman’s presentation on “The Online Misinformation Ecosystem” and just kept getting better. I attended “Freelancing 201: Beyond the Startup” (Laura Poole), “Copy Editing Fiction for Traditional Publishers” (Amy Schneider), and “Bookmaking for Beginners: Getting Your Self-Publishing Client to a Finished Product” (Dick Margulis).

Poole’s 201 gave me insight into goals to set as I grow my business. Though I plan to work with Indie authors, Schneider’s session on editing for traditional publishers was informative and valuable. That session is another example of changing my schedule on the fly after talking to her about what she covered. I knew I wanted to be in her session when she said “fiction style sheets” because I want to know how other copy editors manage them. My pen was smoking across my notebook paper in Margulis’s session that was a complement to the one the day before on working with self-publishing clients. (Note: Most presenters provide their handouts and slides to the ACES website so you don’t have to take notes, but I’m a note taker. What I write down, I remember.)

The consistent take away for those of us who freelance from all of the freelancing sessions I attended is to never forget that you’re not just an editor. You are running a freelancing business, and to be successful, you cannot neglect the business aspect of what you do.

During day two, I found myself operating slightly in a place of disconnect and had a delightful conversation about cognitive dissonance with Jake Poinier while he was signing his book, "The Science, Art, and Voodoo of Freelancing Pricing and Getting Paid," for me. Quite a bit of the information I encountered as I networked contradicted what I’d heard the day before from the people I had met.

One person would say “be a specialist” only to be followed by my encountering someone who is all about “be a generalist.” One person I’d meet would say that “working with Indie fiction authors is the worst,” and another would glow while saying “Indie fiction authors are my favorite clients.” 

So here’s the lesson I took from my great day of cognitive dissonance as a conference newbie. Listen. Listen a lot. Write down what people say so you can think about it later and compare where you stand on things for your own business practices. The things that turn off another copy editor may not be the things that turn you off. I’m one of the rare breed who like copy editing reference lists. Others hate them with a passion. So, take what you can use from the sessions and start there.

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So here’s the lesson I took from my great day of cognitive dissonance as a conference newbie. Listen. Listen a lot.

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Day three: Mind blown

Day three I attended “Persuasive Pricing: A Strategic Approach to Your Freelance Rates” (Jake Poinier) and “Save Time and Your Sanity: Increase Your Efficiency With Microsoft Word” (Rhonda Bracey).

Both sessions were perfect ends to my first conference. I needed the “Persuasive Pricing” session for guidance on growing my freelancing business, but the session on Word — it was amazing. Rhonda Bracey is a wizard with Word. The room was so packed with attendees that people were standing in the back and sitting on the floor. 

I thought I was rather well versed in Word before I attended that session. Bracey opened my eyes to a whole new level in which I can be using Word and optimizing my efficiency (Hello, wildcards. How did I not know about you sooner?). I walked out of that room with my mind blown, and I wasn’t the only one. The gasps were audible from others in the audience when she demonstrated short cuts that would save valuable time as we copy edit.

The takeaway

After my first ACES conference, I feel silly for ever having been hesitant to attend. I will build attending the annual conference into my schedule from now on. That is how important I found this experience to be. Attending ACES 2017 was an inspiring, motivating, and educating experience. It was invaluable to my professional development as a copy editor.

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