I started my career with a craving for big-city glamour — what blossoming editor wouldn’t want to follow in Max Perkins's footsteps? — but in the name of paying my mortgage, I have since edited books for self-published authors, copy-edited a fashion blog, proofread CPA manuals and food-safety guides, judged fiction contests, penned branded push notifications and so much more.
Along the way, I have learned that what I am editing does not matter as much as the story it tells. Brands and clients want to draw people in — after all, that’s what content marketing is all about. Whether you are just starting out as an editor or are transitioning to content editing from another medium, here are five things to remember:
1. No Two Client Style Guides Are the Same
“But Jess,” you say, “don’t most places edit in either Chicago or AP?” In short: No. Of all the clients I have worked with as a content editor, none have used either guide verbatim. Several prefer Chicago, but use numerals for 10 and over. One requires AP with serial commas, and another uses Chicago without them. One hyphenates “hypoallergenic." Yet another doesn’t allow any contractions.
Identify which style your client generally prefers, then use what you learn from its website and social media accounts to fill in the rest. If there are inconsistencies in live content, make a decision, verify it with the client and stick to it going forward. When you’re editing for a brand, its preference trumps the genius minds at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press — even if it hurts.
2. Know When to Push Back
There are, of course, exceptions to the above. Usually, the people you work with on the brand side are marketers, strategists, PR pros — but not editors, at least not in the sense that they spend all day, every day evaluating and fixing words. If they would like to, say, present all articles as blocks of text without paragraph breaks or ban images from their content, you should push back as long as you can make a solid case for your decision. Presenting content clearly is vital to meeting content marketing goals.
3. Write Everything Down
As good as you might be at using your brain as a Rolodex, organization is a big part of successful content editing —especially if your accounts might someday transition to another editor. Beyond keeping track of style decisions, anyone managing content needs to be able to monitor deliverables, due dates, content volume, writer availability and other data. Knowing how many pieces you need to review each day, week, month and quarter will be the cornerstone of your success.
At Skyword, we use a monthly editorial tracking sheet that lists each brand, total content volume, the number of articles delivered and how many articles are in the queue, along with any notes. I update this sheet after I finish an article. I also take notes during client calls and meetings, then filter info from my Evernote notebooks to the tracking sheet as necessary.
4. Stay Calm — and on Deadline
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
On the list of ways content editing is like going to rehab, this is item number one. When you’re juggling a variety of content, running up against deadline issues is inevitable. Beyond staying organized, remember the Serenity Prayer and:
Control what you can...
Content editing has a lot of moving parts, so stay on top of anything you can affect. If a submission deadline is close, contact the writer to check in. If your copy editor hasn’t met quota, touch base with him or her for an updated ETA and reestablish daily priorities and expectations. Even if it feels like you are hounding people or the issue is technically someone else’s job, you’re the editor. It’s your job to get results.
...then let it go.
You can’t control a client changing strategy in the middle of a delivery cycle, a freelance writer’s availability or a contact for an interview not responding on your time line. For the more Type A people among us, adapting to such inconveniences takes effort, but bump pieces to the next delivery cycle or tweak the editorial calendar if you have to. It may feel like defeat, but it’s really the content editor’s version of making whiskey sours with all those lemons life hands you.
5. Be Grateful
You get to edit for a living. Branded content may not always match the prose that made you fall in love with words, but you get to tell stories, provide value and make a lot of people happy. Not everyone can say that about their career.
Want to share a content editing tip of your own? Comment below or tweet @BostonContent.