Editors: How to Get What You Want from Writers via Documentation and a System
If you’re not doing these four things, you can’t expect writers to know what they should write, or how. Writers: You should expect these things, too!
HEY WRITERS: Normally the Writer’s Guide posts are aimed solely at writers. But this piece is aimed primarily at editors. However, if you want to get inside the heads of editors, and understand how to please them and therefore get more assignments, read on. And if your editor isn’t doing these things, you’re writing for the wrong publication.
HEY EDITORS: If you want articles from your staffers and freelancers to measure up to your standards, you have to have clear standards and the writers have to know what they are.
So… it’s important to create and share with your
content creators writers the documentation and system setup that I detail below. Here’s how I know these four things are vital:
As a writer, I’m pretty flexible. Within certain parameters and a limited skill set, I can deliver a range of styles and approaches depending on publication style, audience desires and editorial proclivities. But when I write for editors and publications that don’t have good editorial documentation and systems, I’m just guessing at so many aspects of my research and writing, and I find there’s much more disappointment on the other end. I’m less likely to deliver what the editor wants, and often I’m not sure the editor knows what they expect, either. We might go back and forth on a few stories until one of us is so frustrated the relationship fizzles.
As an editor, I see the same problem in reverse. If I have not communicated these things clearly, writers are flying blind. That’s not fair to them, and it’s idiotic from the editor and publisher perspective. I end up making the same edits over and over, and the writer doesn’t know why unless I explain myself, and I’d rather be editing than explaining. Wasted time and money.
Publication guidelines vs. writer’s style and voice
When you have a formal set of guidelines in place, and a good system, you can then enforce the guidelines efficiently and in good conscience. Just don’t be an asshole about it.
Every writer has their own style and voice. If it’s informative and entertaining, don’t squelch it. And don’t ask writers to be something they are not capable of. Some writers are great with humor; others just sound stupid when they try to be funny. You can’t teach humor. You are a writing coach, not a comedian.
But stick to your guidelines. Make sure the overall end result — the story as edited and proofed — aligns with your mission and style. Strike a balance between the tone and style you prefer, and great writing that might be a little out there. Heck, the offbeat and unexpected story, if well written, might be the most successful piece of the year in the hands of a pliable and considerate editor.
The point is: As an editor, you represent an opinion of one, so don’t assume you have all the answers or the perfect reader perspective, or that every story on your publication should sound the same. That’d be freaking boring! Let your writers surprise and delight you.
However, when you get frustrated with a writer, force change. But first, consider their overall value to the publication and the stage of their career, for example, and their potential for growth.
Does a really talented writer bring so much to the table (experience, expertise, fantastic style, a big following, etc.) that you can overlook the fact that they never spell acommodate correctly?
If a writer has a lot of headroom to grow, are they showing promise by learning and improving all the time?
Does a writer’s responsiveness, productivity or other qualities make up for their shortcomings? Do they fill a gap in your needs?
Or are you dealing with a writer who’s in a rut, does not seem to “get” what you’re asking of them or thinks they’re too good to improve or grow, and who causes you excessive work and stress?
Below, I’ll briefly argue for a certain editorial system which, if you’re not already using it, will make your job much easier and help all your writers improve. First, here are the documents you should craft and send to every staffer or freelancer who contributes writing, editing or copy editing.
HEY WRITERS: If an editor you write for does not do the things above and below, ask them to! Or find a different publication to write for.
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