Salespeople like to close deals. Marketers go crazy for fresh new leads. What gets content editors excited? That’s an easy one; content editors like creating, and helping to create, great content. For us, this is fun.
The opposite—for me, anyway—is sheer drudgery. Picking my way through a poorly conceived, sloppily written, rambling, aimless piece of content-for-content’s sake is not my idea of a good time. Nor do I think it’s a particularly valuable use of any content editor’s time.
We all know what useless content is worth: less than zero. Content marketing strategies built on bad content don’t get off the ground. Readers simply don’t respond to it.
Whether you’re running an inbound marketing agency or are in charge of your business’s DIY content marketing campaign, enlisting the help of a professional editor is a great way to make your content the best it can be. But, think about how best you can use your editor’s skills.
Your editor’s job should not be to put lipstick on a pig (or, to be even more colloquial, to polish…let’s say, something that’s very difficult to polish). I’m not just talking about making your content editor’s job more fun (although, there’s something to be said for that); I’m talking about allowing your editor to bring out the best in you and your business by taking the content creation process as seriously as your editor does.
Doing the following will, I think, lead to a more satisfied content editor, and most importantly, much more effective content:
1. Get Editorial Input in Every Phase of the Writing Process
Content editors know this scenario very well: Getting handed an unstructured, rambling mess of a content piece and being asked to “take a look at it.” The very first question I ask when this happens to me is, “What is this article supposed to be about?” Too often, the answer is, “I’m not really sure.”
If you don’t know what it is you’re trying to write about, why you’re writing about it, and what you want your piece to accomplish, there’s very little an editor can do for you. The best an editor can do is correct your typos, missing words, and grammar mistakes. They can’t make your article any more coherent. They can’t generate the insights for you that will make your piece valuable to readers.
There certainly is a time for “verbal diarrhea,” as one of my college writing professors called it. That time is during the brainstorming, just-working-your-ideas-out-on-paper phase of the writing process. What you give to you editor should be a little bit more complete than that.
What I recommend to the writers I work with is that, if they are having trouble focusing their ideas or structuring their articles, they come to me before they write anything.
“I know I want to write about [subject X] but I’m not sure what I want to say about it.”
“Ok, let’s talk about that. Tell me about your experience with [subject X].”
Through a conversation with a writer, I can help them draw out their ideas and recommend an effective approach for writing about them. This is almost always easier to do before an article is written, rather than after—especially when deadlines are looming.
2. Fix the Mistakes You Know How to Fix
You know that teacher you had in high school who would dock you a letter grade for every misspelling he found in a paper? He wasn’t doing that just to be mean. He wasn’t even doing it just to teach you spelling. What he was doing was trying to teach you to be careful, to make sure you were submitting your absolute best effort.
Think of your editor as that grumpy old teacher. Don’t treat your editor like your cleaners, not worrying about sloppy work because your editor can fix it up. (You probably shouldn’t treat your cleaners this way, either.)
All the effort your editor spends fixing up your obvious spelling errors, missing words, and duplicate sentences is effort that would be better spent taking your best work to the next level. Don’t just hit save and send after you reach your final period. Read your content back to yourself, fix everything you know how to fix, and then—and only then—pass it on to your editor.
3. Learn from Your Editor’s Feedback
Editors love to give feedback. That’s what we’re here for. We love to watch writers grow, building up their confidence and developing their skills.
What we don’t like is seeing writers make the same mistakes over and over again. It makes us wonder if you’re paying attention to our feedback at all.
This one is simple: If you request feedback from your editor (and you should) pay attention to what they have to say. Look at the changes they made. If you don’t understand a change, ask the editor why they made it. Internalize what you’ve learned, and try not to make the same mistake next time.
I understand it takes a while to learn some lessons, but if your editor keeps making the same changes to your copy time and time again, either explain to your editor why you don’t agree with the change, or start doing it yourself.
If you’re not going to learn from editorial feedback, don’t bother asking for it.
“On Content” is an ongoing blog series by IMR content manager Matthew Cook that confronts the difficulties and celebrates the pleasures of writing online content.