9 Insider Secrets to Working with an Editor
You peeked in … barely a glance.
All you could see was red.
It was everywhere — like a Hawaii Five-0 crime scene.
How could there be so much of it?
You wondered … could you handle a closer look?
But you knew you couldn’t put it off any longer …
You had to reopen your Word doc and take a closer look at all the changes the editor made to your copy …
All kidding aside, if you've ever had an article come back to you with a lot of Track Changes, you know how that feels. Like someone tortured your work with a red pen.
Well, I'm going to tell you a little secret as an editor. Everyone has been there at some point or another.
We all might long for copy that comes back with just the notation: “It’s brilliant, I wouldn’t change a thing.” But in the real world, red ink happens to writers at all levels. And because writing is personal, corrections and changes can feel personal too.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Instead, working with an editor can be a positive thing. And your writing can improve as a result.
Let’s start by looking at the role of an editor.
The copy editor is responsible for reading your text for accuracy, consistency, and format, and preparing it for publication. She’s going to go beyond basic proofing of verb tenses, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style, and look at whether the copy is easy to follow, and free of inconsistencies.
A copy editor also needs to answer questions like these:
- Do ideas flow logically and seamlessly from one to the next?
- Do sentences or paragraphs need to be moved?
- Does your copy have unnecessary tangents?
- Is your copy factually correct, logical, and interesting?
- Are there repetitive words or phrases?
Obviously, copyediting requires excessive attention to detail and a love of words.
In Business-to-Business, you may work with a designated editor, or your "editor" may be a marketing manager, copy chief, website managing editor, or even a business owner. Essentially, in B2B, it is whoever will review, correct, and approve your copy.
Now, let’s look at some insider tips for working with an editor.
Before you start to write, ask for a Style Guide.
Businesses often have Style Guides or Creative Guidelines that outline everything from acceptable spelling and formatting of keywords to proper usage of trademark symbols on proprietary product names.
Endear yourself to your editor by asking for a copy of the Style Guide up front, and following the rules outlined in the Guide. Your copy will be more accurate from the start! And you’ll look like a genius to your client.
- The editor is not your enemy.
In fact, the editor can be a partner and ally if you have a sincere interest in producing winning copy. Just think, if you’re writing a lead-gen letter, an editor who improves your copy is actually helping you increase your response rates!
Try not to take criticism personally.
This is easier said than done, of course. It might be painful to read some of the comments, or to realize your ”best line” was cut, but try and focus on the result — a better end product.
Consider all feedback “constructive” (even when it doesn’t feel that way). If you embrace the opportunity to improve from corrections made to your project, you’re ultimately the winner.
A helpful editor will not only point out areas that need strengthening, but will offer suggested fixes or direction for how to improve the message. Review changes analytically, with an open mind.
- The editor is your “first reader.”
A good editor is familiar with both the target audience and the structure of effective copy. If your editor expresses confusion or concern about a certain part of your copy, there’s a good chance readers will have the same reaction. Follow the editor’s suggestions to make your text clearer.
- Follow proper procedure.
This is critical to working well with an editor (and not making them crazy). It involves two steps:
- One: Make any requested changes inside the same Word document the editor sent you.
- Two: Make those changes using Track Changes. (Found under the Review tab, if you’re using Microsoft Word.)
Unless instructed otherwise, do not use a different Word document from the one you just got back! Starting over makes more work for the editor and slows down the process. The point of Track Changes, of course, is for all parties to see how the copy has evolved. If you break that chain, you’re negatively impacting the process. Of course, return the requested changes in the specified time frame.
If there’s something you don’t understand, ask. Most good editors are happy to discuss changes with a writer who is trying to learn and improve.
Again, your editor has the same goal you do: publishing effective copy. And you can disagree with an editor (or client) if you feel strongly about not wanting to make a change; however, be prepared to explain your logic.
Make sure you’re waging a battle worth fighting. If you are difficult to work with or stubborn all the time, you won’t make friends with editors or the marketing team.
- Thoroughly proofread your work.
Two suggested proofreading methods include printing out and reading a hard copy of your text (you’ll notice different things on the printed page versus your screen), or reading your text out loud to discover problems or errors.
If you’re working with a health company or a financial firm, your copy may also be submitted to a legal team or Compliance Department for review.
In those situations, you want to be sure what you’re submitting is accurate and uses approved language. The faster these departments can approve your copy, the better for production. Learn the rules for the niche you are writing for!
- The editor is an extra pair of eyes.
Editors bring a fresh perspective to the project, and will notice flaws or gaps you may not see after working too closely with your copy. The editor has your back, and will smooth out bumpy spots to make you look as good as possible.
Finally, it sounds strange, but if you have back-and-forth communication with an editor, say thank you for their help. (It’s true, editors are people too!) They are trying to do a good job for you and their organization — and it only improves your position if the editor likes to work with you.
The easier you are to work with, the more ongoing business you’ll receive and the better your copy will get. You’ll open your edited documents without apprehension — and any fear of “red ink” will be a thing of the past.
Note: Sometimes an editor will simply take your copy and make necessary corrections to grammar, style, and flow themselves. Discover how to learn more from your editor in that circumstance by checking out this article.
[Editor’s Note: AWAI offers an excellent resource to help you avoid legal pitfalls in your copy. The Legalities of Copywriting Made Simple, written by Matthew Turner, General Counsel for Agora, Inc., is a down-to-earth guide that contains dozens of easy-to-understand strategies, tips, and tools that help you write copy that sells without landing you — or your clients — in the middle of a legal mine field.]
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