Friday, May 07, 2010

Is the Editor Always Right?

I used to work for a hospitality company that had the motto, “The customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer.”

What does that mean? When you’re faced with a demanding, unreasonable client who wants something that’s not even remotely your responsibility—or who wants to pin you with something that’s not your responsibility—you don’t have to knuckle under and give that annoyance her way. Most of us have met those types at some point…the restaurant diner who wants to move this particular two-top across the restaurant so he can sit with his friends, the MBA who wants to change ad copy so it’s *shudder* convoluted and grammatically incorrect, the franchisee who wants a marketing assistant fired because an email contained the wrong link. The list could go on. Unreasonable demands don’t have to be met.

Then there’s that second part of the motto. “…the customer is always the customer.” Even when demands are unreasonable or just plain outrageous, this person is still your client, the lifeblood of your business. Regardless of his behavior, you should treat him with courtesy and respect. You should also set aside the manner of the assault and examine the request to see if it has some legitimate basis.

So, what does this have to do with editors?

As a writer, editors are your clients. Read that again. Editors are your clients. Yes, you have a target audience, but editors are the ones who buy your work and make sure you get paid for it. On those occasions—rare, I’m sure—when editors come to you with changes, what’s your response? You may be so desperate for work that you don’t even think about the changes; you just make them. If you’re like many writers, though, the fact that you’re being asked to change anything about your masterpiece of creative writing raises you blood pressure and your temper. And it’s at those times that writers burn bridges.

I sometimes fill assignment gaps by writing through online sites like Demand Studios. Such sites often hire freelance editors to edit the copy. They’re quick, low-paying assignments that provide writing practice and a little extra pocket money, so my stories usually get accepted without a peep. Recently, though, I had an editor who had a string of comments for every 75-word paragraph. There were comments about phrasing and wording, comments about citation and one comment that I took as a personal affront to my faith. It was tempting to write a scathing reply and find another venue for that particular article. Instead, I logged off and let it rest for 24 hours.

I eventually talked myself out of high dudgeon and back into common sense. I reworded where asked, fixed a typo (oops!) and ignored the supposed affront to my faith. The only place I didn’t budge was in the citations, where I knew I was in line with standard practice. I explained that to the editor—politely—my article was accepted and I got my fifteen bucks.

Yes, that little story has a point. I could have burned that particular bridge and lost not only fifteen dollars but also some great Internet exposure and some of my professional reputation. If I’d gone far enough, I could have been banned from the site. Would it have been worth it? No. Plus, I’m a believer in the principle of behaving in small matters as I would in large. If you can manage to deal gracefully with a few small-time copy editors who may actually have a bone to pick with the world, you’ll find it much easier to work with major players who are simply trying to do their jobs.

Finally, here are a few facts to put things into perspective:
  • Editors are the gatekeepers. Like it or not, they are what stand between you and publication in that particular venue. They also talk to each other. Burn too many, and you’ll soon find your career in ashes.
  • Most editors didn’t get to their positions by being unprofessional or unreasonable. They have jobs to do and they’re doing them to the best of their ability. A request for a change is not a personal assault.
  • Editors are busy. If they are willing to ask for changes instead of tossing your work in the recycle pile—especially if you haven’t signed a contract—that’s a sign that they see some potential. Take it as a compliment and work with their suggestions.

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