'Editing IATEFL Conference Selections' By Tania Pattison

4th February 2017

Very soon, you will find the latest issue of IATEFL Conference Selections coming through your letter box – or into your inbox if you have opted for the digital version. In this blog post, editor Tania Pattison tells you how this publication is put together and what her role involves.

What is Conference Selections?

Conference Selections is IATEFL’s annual collection of reports of papers delivered at the Conference. The Birmingham issue contains 96 papers – some are reports of plenary talks and key events such as the IATEFL/ELT Journal debate and the Hornby Scholars’ talk, but the majority are reports of individual sessions. It is a refereed publication with print and online distribution to individual members in over 100 countries and is intended to give a taste of the Conference to IATEFL members who could not be there in person. The publication was introduced in 1997 when Simon Greenall was President and is celebrating its 20th birthday in 2017.

How did you become involved with Conference Selections?

I am the publication’s fourth editor. The first was Peter Grundy (1997–1999), followed by Alan Pulverness (2000−2004) and Briony Beaven (2005−2009). I took over with the Harrogate Conference in 2010, but my preparation began much earlier. In late 2008, I saw an advert in Voices for a new editor. At that time I was a full-time EAP teacher, and I had a background in materials development. I had been an IATEFL member for five years, and I wanted to become more involved with the organisation. I applied, had an interview and got the job.

I spent the next year ‘shadowing’ Briony; I also signed up for courses in copy-editing, proofreading and educational publishing through Ryerson University in Toronto. Contributors are often surprised to learn that I do not work at IATEFL’s Head Office in the UK. I am based in Canada (I’m a British expat), and I work mostly from home.

What does your role entail?

Putting an issue of Conference Selections together takes nine months. Work begins with the Conference, where I give my annual talk on writing for publication. The deadline for submission is usually around two months after the Conference (this year’s deadline is 29 May 2017). Some papers come in right after the Conference, but the majority arrive within two or three days of the deadline. I often stay up all night before the deadline, drinking tea and acknowledging papers as they flood in.

When a paper arrives, I make a copy of it and remove all identifying details – name, location, school, etc. These versions are sent to my editorial committee, who spend the summer reading and commenting on the papers. I’ve been fortunate to work with some dedicated and well-informed team members – Edward de Chazal, Chris Lima, Siân Morgan, Sandie Mourão and Amos Paran. Edward and Amos are still on the team, and they will be joined in Glasgow by Jennifer MacDonald. Every paper is given a grade; while these are important, the comments are even more so – it is often these comments that I base my decisions on.

As I get feedback from my editorial team, I start to map out the issue. Planning the chapters is harder than it sounds. If someone writes a paper on, for example, using technology to teach writing to teenagers, does it go in the chapter on technology, on teaching writing or on working with young learners? My difficult decisions about which papers to include are made after all the reviews are in. Not everything can be published, and it’s always hard to decline a paper; I know how much work goes into them.

Most of the actual editing happens in the autumn. When I was working full-time, I carved out time in the evenings and at weekends for this. I’m now freelance, so I can set aside larger chunks of time. When I’m done, the manuscript goes to IATEFL’s copy-editor, Simon Murison-Bowie, who polishes the text. Simon is integral to the entire process; he is not only a talented copy-editor, he also takes on the role of project manager once the manuscript lands on his desk. Another key player in the process is our designer/typesetter Keith Rigley, who miraculously manages to make everything fit within the 240-page limit.

Writers learn the outcome of their submissions in November. At that stage, we deal with queries and make any changes and corrections to the document. It is not unusual to go through six or seven sets of proofs – with a 240-page collection, it takes time to get it right.

Sometime in January, after spending far too many hours staring at proofs, I write an email to Simon saying ‘print’, take a deep breath and hit the ‘send’ key.

What do you get out of this role?

Well, there is a payment attached to the position, but that is far from being the only benefit. After editing more than 700 Conference reports, I have learned a huge amount about aspects of ELT that I am not personally involved in. It is also enormously satisfying to help new writers to find their voice and to get into print, and it’s thrilling to edit the papers of established ELT experts.

It’s also great to play a role in an organisation that has meant so much to me since I became a member in 2003. IATEFL is my professional home; it is my main source of professional development as well as one of the few places I find a community of like-minded people. I am happy to give back to the organisation that has given so much to me; for the same reason, I joined the MaWSIG committee in 2016.

Anything you don’t like about it?

The most difficult thing by far is telling writers they have not been successful. I know how important it is for writers to be published, and I hate to disappoint people.

How has this role influenced your career?

I’ve realised over the years that working with words is what I enjoy most. I am never happier than when I’m sitting by the fire in my home office, grappling with a piece of text that isn’t flowing quite smoothly, or where the grammar is not quite right. My work with Conference Selections has actually prompted me to take my career in a new direction. In 2012, I went freelance. I do some materials writing and curriculum design, and I still do a bit of EAP teaching – but a large part of my business is now editing. As I write this, I am working on editorial projects with publishers in the UK and US; I am also doing an increasing amount of copy-editing with individual clients. Ironically, as I develop my editing business, I am moving beyond ELT and into other fields; I have recently copy-edited texts on archaeology, history, computer technology, fine arts and more. None of this has anything to do with ELT, but my enjoyment of this work started with Conference Selections.

Where can I get more information on writing for Conference Selections?

I will be giving a talk on ‘How to write successfully for IATEFL Conference Selections’ on Friday 7 April 2017 at 8.15 am. If you’re presenting in Glasgow, do come along!

Tania Pattison has been editor of Conference Selections since 2010. She is also Deputy Publications Coordinator of MaWSIG. She is a freelance writer and editor specialising in EAP and academic materials. Her website is www.contextacademics.com