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Don't Fear the Editor

It's not always easy to market your editing skills. As someone who's been doing this for a few years now, I see two main reasons:

1) There are many kinds of editing and editors. 2) Many people don't really know what an editor does.

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Oh, there's a general sense in the popular imagination. Thanks to cartoons and sitcoms, an editor is harsh and fearsome, a frustrated writer dragooned as a cynical hit person for the publisher, forever medicating a hangover and stomach ulcer with black coffee and pungent cigars. Or if you don't like that version, maybe a snobbish esthete who never dirtied his or her hands in the real world, has no idea about what people actually do and say, expects the impossible from writers, and wants it yesterday.

In general, editors are seen as privy to the inscrutable ways of the power structure. They're censors, slave drivers, cops, or Oxford comma zealots who are there to limit, change, and negate the art that passionate writers have sweated blood to create.

Speaking as both a writer and a hands-on editor (line, copy, developmental), I can assure you this is totally incorrect. Well, mostly -- I have my opinions about the Oxford comma. Anyway, let's dump the archetypes and approach the world of digital copy from a different angle.

Pixel-Stained Wretches in the Gig Economy Welcome to the gig economy. Welcome to a market that demands lots and lots of fresh copy all at once. Welcome to a new pool of writers that are, shall we say, in a bit of a hurry as they generate all that content. This can be a problem when you're looking for web copy that sings, short-form that packs a punch, or long-form that sweeps your readers away with its eloquence and brilliance. Because what you're actually getting is the result of hungry writers selling their skills as content creators and banging out copy at a penny or less per word. Some are really good; others, not so much. And the web is flooded with the not so much.

My theory? Because English language arts classes are a high school requirement, it's assumed that all high school grads are literate (fair enough, I guess), and that if you're literate, you can write (yes... but). This undervalues the craft of writing as something that doesn't require an expensive specialist, and anyone is eligible to bang out web copy at a penny or less per word.

I'm not faulting those pixel-stained wretches, regardless of their skill level. Instead, I wonder why anyone would consider using some of this output to represent a product, service, or brand -- because readers notice the difference between good and bad writing. And a skilled editor can make bad writing good and good writing even better.

Isn't that a worthwhile investment?

SEO Madness Search engine optimization, an algorithm-friendly writing style that monetizes words like crazy, has generated a demand for lots and lots of words. Millions upon millions of new posts, ads, and messages are hitting the Internet every minute. And, percentage-wise, how much of it do you think is any good? Not much at all. I see two reasons for this.

1) For many writers, generating SEO-friendly content means throwing in every target keyword/phrase as often as possible. Even though online marketing folks understand that such low-value content can proliferate quickly and erode search engine efficiency, they keep churning it out. SEO-focused copy is all too often characterized by clunky writing stuffed with mind-numbing repetition. It's content that no one wants to read -- and it's everywhere.

2) Even though words are being monetized like crazy, very little of that revenue trickles down to the writers. Hence, the pixel-stained wretches mentioned above will accept low-paying writing gigs and work too fast, maybe without having fully mastered their craft.

As someone who cares about written language, I have to wonder why anybody would consider paying for this substandard output. OK, they have their high search ranking, but now what? They have crappy writing associated with their brand. Sounds like a marketing fail to me.

It also sounds like a growth market for the editing profession.

Editing = Collaboration I've been a writer ever since I learned the alphabet, and I developed my editing chops as a way to manage all those words spilling out of my head. So while I've relished the excitement of free-flowing creativity, I also know that writers have to make our thoughts easily readable if we want others to share the excitement we felt in the writing process.

Don't think of me as a cop. Think of me as a collaborator. The reader over your shoulder. An extra pair of eyes. An advocate. I've felt the same struggles and triumphs that you experience as a writer, and I'm here to find what's already good in your writing and help you make it more accessible and impactful for your preferred audience. I ensure that your ideas flow smoothly and that your word choices cast you in the best possible light while maintaining the voice that is uniquely you. I work to understand what you're aiming for so that I can help you define the target and manage your angle of approach.

When appropriate, I aim for clear, engaging communication rather than strict, traditional usage (although I can do that, too). When I read something, I hear it with my mind's ear. And if I stumble over certain words or phrases that break the flow because they're syntactically confusing or tonally "off," that's what I will massage.

Here are a few more of my guiding principles:

• Assuring that your sentences are competently structured to support an informal tone of voice that won't sound lazy or unskilled • Maintaining a logical flow of ideas by breaking up run-on sentences and dense paragraphs, or by minor re-sequencing of information • Avoiding redundant word or phrase use and unintended rhyming or alliteration • Taking editorial initiative to add connecting or concluding phrases or sentences that match your clear intent

As a longtime copywriter, I know how tricky it can be to make that crazy English language behave itself in writing. As an editor, I know when a writer is struggling to follow the rules of the craft while trying to engage and inform an audience. As a wordsmith who has served as both an off-site consultant and on-site team player, I know how to listen and deliver.

I approach a writer's work with patience, respect, and constructive criticism -- something any good editor would do. Effective editing is really about collaboration. With our combined understanding of the goals, rules, problems, and workarounds, we can make something truly great.

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