Successful projects officially begin with the written word, which is the start of formal communication that initiates and, later, launches a project. Ask any project manager in any industry–publishing, media, business, science or whatever discipline you can think of–what they think is the most important aspect of a project. And I will venture to say: All project managers worth the salt on their sweaty brows will tell you that the most important aspect at every stage of any project in any discipline, contract negotiation, meeting or restaurant choice for lunch is communication and, if conducted professionally, is accomplished specifically and most successfully through the written word.
Using written words, companies protect themselves from lawsuits by loading their mechanically and/or digitally produced agreements with small print sections that create tiny, but not insignificant, data trails to cover their assets. And you know you should read every single written word in those small print sections or you could be signing away legal ground and exposing your own assets. Right? Nonprofit, for-profit, legal, financial, medical and other enterprises conduct communications through written words that create a paper and/or data trail to form documents verifying informational exchanges, whether you read every single written word in small print or not. And when you sign on the dotted line or tick the I Agree Box, you commit to all of those written words, small print and all.
None of that, „I thought you said“… „the way I remember“… „I never said that!“
Communications, traceable to a source document, are available for review by all parties involved in written informational exchanges. The ability to review documents is one reason data management is integral to organizational communication. If documents are not preserved, then opportunities for review will not exist and, in some cases, an organization will not be incompliance with laws that affect its legal structure. Source documents verify decisions, choices, agreements, plans or whatever negotiations are at issue. Written words clarify the meaning embodied in the communication and follow an established channel through which informational exchanges flow.
The end of a communication ensures recipients understand the intent of the written words and how they are to respond to the written words. It is crucial that the author of the message write the message with questions in mind that apply to the situation being addressed.
- Are the written words intended to elicit an emotion?
- Are the written words intended to invite the recipient to take an action?
- Are the written words intended to foster an environment?
- Are the written words intended to create loyalty?
To influence an intended response, the end of the communication also may express justification for conformance or, perhaps, consequences for nonconformance. A wise professional communicator will, at this point if not before, solicit the exacting accuracy of the all-powerful, Eagle-eyed professional editor to bring the story to its convincing conclusion.
Like any story, letter or Dolly Pardon song lyric, an effective message communicates through the use of Aristotle’s fundamental story construct–beginning, middle and end–the inborn intellectual absorption process at all levels of storytelling, whether one is the teller or the listener. Throughout the ages, across all barriers, and transcending cultures, languages, economics and geography, stories communicate messages to the youngest of us and the oldest of us, through a beginning, a middle and an end.
Stories are how we have learned to behave or take action or work out word problems all through our existence on earth. When appropriately chosen and placed in proper context, a story can communicate better than any other method, according to the members of Forbes Coaches Council. Many executives, educators, planners and even married couples, for that matter, use Aristotle’s fundamental story construct–beginning, middle and end–to settle squabbles, make their points, sell products, market books, win negotiations and cash in on the big screen.
It is no longer enough to be interesting. Messages must be compelling, persuasive and convincing to compete on marketing fronts, making communication within editorial project management, not an idle presumption, but an assumed expectation. No one will pay for a message that is dull, off-target and without story structure. Wise clients pay premium fees for editorial expertise that can squeeze irresistible attention grabbers from disorganized, random and, sometimes, nonsensical verbiage presented in their original manuscripts.
We should never underestimate the power we have earned as editors. Our power translates into value. So, we, the editors, should not allow a potential client to underestimate the money we deserve for smoothing the craters on the rough surfaces of their literary deserts. Because our talent and training have placed us in the powerful position to refine language and enhance intelligibility, we should not be afraid to market our worth and not be afraid to charge accordingly. Remind both yourself and the potential client that the written word is hardly worth the paper or digital file onto which it is transcribed without the all-powerful Eagle-eye of the editor!
Professional editors are quality-control guardians, who are expected to protect and perfect not only a client’s message, but the best practices, ethical conduct and expertise of the editorial profession as well. Editorial integrity is a requirement in our profession, forcing editors to stay on high alert, especially when approached for disingenuous purposes, reflected in the objectives of disingenuous messages, motivated by disingenuous messengers. They sniff around with fists full of loot trying to induce talented professionals to promote twisted, trickle-down toxic dirt, solely to elicit craven outcomes to sleazy endgames, such as proving their king, who has no clothes, is not standing naked among former subjects, who are no longer believers and laughing at him.
Yes, our power as editors can attract deep-pocketed propagandists of every variety–sharks, snakes, operatives, thieves and shadows in the night hunting for editorial genius to frame their deceptive and, sometimes, corrupt communiqués. Fortunately, trained, competent, honest editors seldom fall into a trap of professional compromise and sordid webs of word prostitution by free-flowing sums of mind-blowing booty.
The hallowed territory of professional editing can be quite lucrative even without vice, once you have forged a professional track record to support your demand for high fees. Stop! Do not land your craft on a strip where you will need to don a HAZMAT get-up to protect your body parts from some of the most dubious literary waste on the planet. Carefully back away from the lethal concoction to avoid exposure of your reputation to its indelible stain on your integrity as an editor. Copy that?
Further, starting out or enhancing your career as an editor could mean working with slugs posing as potential clients. Make a point of learning the difference between slugs and clients. A client walks upright and looks you in the eye. Slugs have ill-functioning eyes that dangle from pods on top of their heads, and their squishy boneless bodies navigate slowly on the ground squirting slime as they drag their tails behind them. Beware of the snail trail! That would be a signal of the slug’s own track record. Though slugs may not be organically poisonous to human systems, they will destroy the track record editors are trying to cultivate. Research your potential clients as carefully as they may research you.
The power of a well-trained and experienced editor’s impact on the success of any project underscores why creepy crawlers may seek my editorial skills for their unscrupulous marketing schemes. But marketing garbage and selling sewage are not why I trained to become an editor. I am in this business because I like the challenge of working with written texts. I get great satisfaction from transforming texts into an improved condition and receiving fair compensation in exchange. My ability to perform these editorial duties does not mean I am obliged to take every questionable buck fanned in my face.
Be selective about clients; do not let their ability to pay be the only deciding factor.
Because working with the people who need my services is not always as satisfactory as working with their crippled manuscripts, I have developed my very own selection process and my very own humane style to accommodate clients I do accept. I suggest you do the same. People can be difficult. I can be difficult. You can be difficult. Screening is a wonderful method for avoiding difficulties. Learn to screen personalities to determine if the person is going to be a good fit for your practice. You can tell.
As important as screening people, is the screening of manuscripts by people you like to determine if there is any help you can genuinely provide or will you simply be stealing their money to try and try, again and again to unsuccessfully perform an impossible chore. I know what I do in those cases. You have to do what you can live with when they run out of money and their book or other project is still not worthy of being used for fire pit fuel. Screen wisely through a fine filter and throw out the dregs without hesitation.
In our editorial practice, success depends a great deal on selectivity. There have been times that I took projects that did not pay as much as other projects, but I took them anyway. Other aspects of the duties were worth as much or more than money. If I see that I can learn something new or be introduced to resources that can be used in later endeavors, I will consider taking the project for those reasons. The ability to claim new credits have paid off enormously, enriched my portfolio and strengthened my track record.
The humane treatment of the clients we select will also affect how we develop our professional track record. I incorporate a spirit of collaboration in my practice, which does not mean setting myself up to be bulldozed by a loud mouth with a big budget. It means that my working agreements lay out the map for a collaborative partnership for us to get where we need to go without having to fight every step of the way. By trying to remove any hint of condescension or superiority in relationships with clients, we enjoy a healthier chance to survive to the end. No one likes to feel as if someone is looking down on them–the client nor the editor.
However, never forget who is paying whom; and also never forget who has the expertise. When I work with others, regardless of my role, I reach for the highest levels of professionalism and empathy. I remind myself that people who come to me for help are already feeling vulnerable by the mere fact that they need help in an area where they lack ability. I think of myself as a manuscript doctor who needs to use my best bedside manner in examination, evaluation, and cure. My goal is to keep their vulnerability in mind as I approach the health of their writing projects.
Nothing is gained by making people feel weaker and more vulnerable than they already feel. In fact, in nature, vulnerable creatures can conjure up the strength to lash out violently, ripping out eyes and hearts if they feel they may be the main dish on another creature’s table. Not that I fear a client will have me for dinner, but my perceived attack on a vulnerable client could cause that client to create an impossible working environment, give me a foul review/reference or fire me. With that in mind, I remember my role as an editor: to use my editorial training and experience to strengthen my clients‘ writing through compassion and guided assistance.
If I think a client’s presentation is pathetically hopeless and the client is an idiot, I keep those thoughts to myself. Further, I do not insinuate such thoughts in my treatment of the client. After all, who was the idiot who took on the client I now think is an idiot? Seldom do clients get through an interview or manuscript evaluation without showing tip-off signs of their personalities.
Do not let your desperation for one payday turn your life into an open-ended, head-butting stress-a-thon! If you find yourself in that situation, however, do not panic. Consult the agreements you signed with them at the beginning of the project. Then, quietly get on with the work of helping your clients accomplish what they cannot accomplish on their own.