R.L. Stine, author of the bestselling “Goosebumps” franchise, and Deb Amlen, The New York Times’ “WordPlay” lead columnist, were the featured keynote speakers at VCON23, the second annual virtual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing, held this year Sept. 27–29.
As entertaining in person as in his popular books, Stine began his “Ask Me Anything” conversation with ACES President-elect Heather Saunders by relating a story about a recent book-signing. A teacher came up to the table, Stine said, and asked, “Can I have my picture taken with you? The kids all think you’re dead!”
The acclaimed author famously married his editor, which he laughingly called “a total nightmare” because “she’s a very tough editor,” quickly adding that he was joking and the only thing they ever fought about was plot. “Once she handed a manuscript back to me and it had two words on the top. That was it, that was the note. And the two words were, ‘psychotic ramblings,’” Stine said.
“Editors have always been crucial collaborators in my work,” said Amlen, who addressed the conference in its opening session. “Once I set my ego aside, I started to learn so much from my editors. Whoever said you do the Lord’s work was talking about editors.”
Amlen also introduced her listeners to the term “administrivial,” which subsequently echoed around the conference.
Also speaking at the opening session, Maisha Maurant, vice president of the ACES Education Fund, recognized the four winners of the 2023 Richard S. Holden Diversity Fellowship, a collaboration of ACES: The Society for Editing and the Dow Jones News Fund. The fellowship seeks to promote diversity and inclusion by advancing early- and mid-career professionals in their work as editors and aspiring industry leaders.
Julie Wilkes, of Find the Good With Julie Wilkes, spoke as part of the opening session of the conference’s third day. Wilkes, an expert in healthy lifestyle practices, drew on her doctoral research to offer suggestions about reducing stress, changing habits, and setting goals. Focusing her talk on the responses to a survey that registrants had completed prior to the conference, Wilkes’ tips included a breathing exercise that one attendee referred to in the chat as “a game changer for me!! I had never heard that specifically before.”
“You have to be able to imagine what life looks like if you make small changes,” Wilkes said.
VCON23 by the numbers
More than 1,200 people registered for the 56 online sessions that ran over the course of two and a half days. The sessions were taught by accomplished professionals, with themes covering four basic areas: words and language, core editing skills, the business of editing, and health and wellness. There were also panel discussions. Session topics included editing for disability inclusion, becoming a Microsoft Word power user, editing for and in the government, anti-hustle marketing, setting up an editing business, embracing our imperfections as editors, and, unsurprisingly, AI in multiple sessions.
Conference registrants came from all walks of editorial life and from across the United States — 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico — and 14 other countries, including Canada, Australia, India, Philippines, Qatar, and Trinidad and Tobago. Others logged in from Bangkok, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Dubai, London, and Tokyo.
Networking opportunities and building community
The conference offered virtual networking opportunities that included Coffee Chats, groups of five to 10 registrants who met for a half hour in breakout rooms to discuss marketing, diversity and inclusion, and work processes. The discussion was often carried over to the community boards, part of the online conference platform.
The boards were the most popular of the platform’s community-building tools. The 152 discussion topics were almost all created by attendees. By the end of the conference, close to 600 attendees had posted nearly 5,000 messages as they chatted with their peers, set up meetups both virtual and in-person, and bonded over professional and personal topics, including medical and academic editing, new editors, editing after retirement and while parenting, home office tips, pets — even coffee mugs.
The entire app, including the community boards, will remain open until Oct. 31, to allow attendees time to review the session recordings and other materials. The annual in-person ACES conference will take place April 4–6, 2024, in San Diego.
ACES: The Society for Editing is the nation’s leading organization of editing professionals, educators, and students. Founded in 1997 by copy editors, ACES is dedicated to improving the quality of the written word and the working lives of editors. It sets standards of excellence and gives a voice to editors in journalism, government, business, publishing, and beyond through top-notch training, networking, and career opportunities. ACES hosts an annual in-person conference and, since 2022, an annual virtual conference, as well as monthly webinars and an introductory certificate in editing, which it co-hosts with Poynter.