be a better editor

How to Be a Better Editor: Working with Writers

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Most people working in content marketing have some kind of writing training — a degree in journalism or English, experience writing professionally and maybe even writing courses designed to help in a specific job. Marketing writers are everywhere, and most people generally understand the value of good writing.

But editing takes a completely different perspective. And in my experience, most people on content marketing teams come to the job through writing, not necessarily through editing. That creates a gap in skills and experience, and sometimes it means that marketing teams don’t realize they need editors at all.

I’ve seen over and over that good editing is a gift to a writer — and that the best editors help writers produce their best possible work.

I asked Wayne Hoffman, executive editor of the Jewish online magazine Tablet, how he has learned to get the best possible work out of writers. Wayne has been a managing editor at four different publications over the past 20 years, and he’s overseen full-time writers, regular contributors and freelancers.

No One Should Write Blind

Wayne says it’s important to share your philosophy with every writer so they know exactly what you’re looking for. “I’m very specific. I tell writers what I do and don’t want. Sometimes I’ll even lay out the article for them — the beginning, middle and end,” he says.

Go Find the Good Ideas

He oversees Tablet’s personal essays, and he’s learned that he’s looking for a specific kind of personal essay. “I’m looking for things that strangers want to read,” he says. Sometimes, he says, “I’ll get a pitch where the story is shaped wrong, but there’s a kernel of something interesting in it.” he says. Then, he’ll ask the writer to rework their pitch around the better idea.

Join the Writer on Their Journey

“As an editor, you can’t just be a critic,” he says. “You can’t just say ‘I give this an F.’ It’s a matter of getting into the piece with the writer and being by their side to help them work through it.” He’s learned that, as an editor, he has to invest the time in helping people improve. And on the flip side, writers have to be flexible and ready to enter a conversation.

“A good editor understands what you’re trying to say and helps you say it better,” he says.

Especially if a writer isn’t used to being edited — say they’re not a professional writer — being edited can be really devastating, he says. He’s learned to work alongside writers and coach them through making a piece better, even if it takes many rounds to get to the end result.

Lee Price is co-founder of Managing Editor. After 7 years as a content marketing consultant at Rep Cap, she started a thought leadership consultancy to help visionary leaders dig up and develop their big ideas. She's a proud University of Virginia fan, Twizzler enthusiast and feminist. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her on Twitter @leevprice.

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