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How to Assess a Potential Client

Will this client be a pleasure to work with, providing interesting work and quick pay?Are their processes effective and their expectations clear? These are all things an editor would like to know about a new client. Some of these points an editor can ask colleagues about, but most of it the editor needs to learn for her- or himself.

There are questions that will help reveal whether a client is a good fit for an editor, and warning signs you can look for. Aside from specifics about the project such as word count, topic, audience, and medium, ask these questions to start assessing a potential client:

  • How long have you been working on this project?

  • What is the goal for this project? (sales, impact, etc.)

  • What is the publication date?

  • What steps has this project been through already?

  • What are the strengths and challenges of this project?

  • What is your main goal for editing?

  • What have you published before? Where, when, what, and how?

  • Have you worked with an editor before?

  • Who has final say or makes the decisions? (an individual, a committee, the big boss)

  • How much do you want to spend, in time and money?

From these questions, you can learn much more than the answers. What you learn is the client’s familiarity and comfort with standard publishing practices. You learn how much more effort they want to put into the project, and thus how quickly and decisively they will answer editorial queries. From the wording of their answers, you can get a sense whether the project has gone on so long that no one wants to talk about it anymore, or that they’ll make very quick decisions to get it finished.

Knowing the deadline helps you scale the work — if there’s only time for proofreading, you won’t try to accomplish a substantive edit.

The answers give the editor a chance to ask follow-up questions, and to decide if this client has the knowledge and style that they like to work with. Some editors only work with publishing industry professionals and some editors really like helping novices through the process. Whichever the preference, these questions help the editor understand the client, and make a better match.

As scieditor, Adrienne Montgomerie has been assessing potential clients for nearly 20 years. She helps publishers and businesses develop training resources. Adrienne is certified as a copy editor by Editors Canada and teaches about the tools and processes of editing for several professional associations. You can find her columns about editing at

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