SfEP: an edited history

Who and what it's for

The SfEP was the brainchild of Norma Whitcombe, an energetic computer programmer who had moved into indexing and copy-editing. She saw that editorial freelances were isolated and needed a professional body. Over 60 people came to a meeting she called on 26 November 1988 and they founded the Society of Freelance Copy-Editors and Proofreaders, though the 'Copy-' part was soon dropped. In-house staff were welcomed from 2001, when it became the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

From the start, the Society aimed to provide mutual support, networking and information while encouraging high standards based on high-quality training and engagement with publishers. It was incorporated as a limited company in 2003 with a board of 12 directors and offices in London.

What it did and does

The Society ran its first one-day courses in 1989, and later offered bespoke in-house training for organisations and, from 1995, one-to-one mentoring for its members. Every year since 1990 there has been an annual conference, a chance for members and others to catch up, socially and professionally. Professional development days have been introduced in recent years.

In the 1990s the newsletter was restyled CopyRight, which in 2004 became the magazine Editing Matters. In 2006 came the first of a range of guides to the business of being an editorial professional. The directory of members' services was printed from 1990 to 2006, and was available online by 1997. From 1996 members could discuss their work in online mailing lists, notably (from 1999) SfEPLine, which became a forum in 2012.

How it keeps up standards

With the aim of promoting high standards, the Society set up the Accreditation and Registration Board in 1994, and offered registration from 1996. That certification was replaced in 2002 by an exam leading to accreditation in proofreading; this was withdrawn in 2014 when the basic editorial test was introduced, based on the SfEP editorial syllabus.

A 44-page Code of practice was first issued in 1995, setting out the professional standards of work, practice and conduct expected of all members. The rigorous complaints procedure was entirely revised in 2013 and updated in 2015. Since the 1990s the Society has been represented on BSI and ISO committees, and has helped to create the national occupational standards for publishing.

Who belongs

The Society had 640 members in 1990 and passed the 2,000 mark in 2014. Grades of membership were first proposed in 1996, implemented in 2001 and revised in 2015 to give four grades – Entry Level, Intermediate, Professional and Advanced Professional – as well as Corporate Subscribers and Friends. Admission to the higher grades requires evidence of acceptable training, experience and referees.

Members meet regularly in dozens of local groups, and there is a Skype group for those overseas. About 10 per cent of the membership live outside the UK and the SfEP has good relations with similar bodies abroad.

Online and off

The SfEP soon went online. The website was hosted by demon.co.uk in 1997, redesigned in 2003–4 and relaunched in 2015 on its own server. Over the years www.sfep.org.uk has grown to become a mine of information on good practice, rates of pay, model terms and conditions, detailed FAQs and much else.

Online training, launched in 2014, has shown very strong growth; tests are now online and so is Editing Matters.

The SfEP began employing an administrator (jointly with the Society of Indexers) in 1993 and moved in 2002 to its own offices, where the four hard-working staff are based.

Looking ahead

The Society is financially sound, with substantial reserves, and it is growing. In 2015 council set up a strategy group to look further ahead. The Society's raison d'être is to uphold editorial excellence and, with that in mind, in April 2016 the SfEP declared its aim to become a chartered institution.