Many technical competencies come together to create an editor’s professional brand.
A thorough grasp of grammar, an almost intuitive sense of language nuance, a competent vocabulary, a fluid imagination to buy into the client’s concept/story, and a sharp eye for typos and errors are just some of them.
As in any other profession, your client’s trust in you rests not only on your technical competence as an editor but also on the manner in which these competencies are brought to the table when the rubber hits the road. Naturally, much attention is paid to acquiring technical competencies—though not always, alas.
Your reputation as an editor, your professional brand, is not built on the single leg of your technical competence. The second leg that balances your brand is that of your professional ethics.
Your reputation is often your resume.
If these professional ethics were to be summed up, they would best be represented by the phrase Quality of Work.
The quality of your work determines the excellence of your professional brand. This quality, as I said before, is determined by not only your knowledge and familiarity of your domain but also your personal accountability. How important is it for you to do your best, to BE the best you can be? How essential do you think it is for you to strive for excellence in your work? How focused are you on developing and expanding your skills? How dependable are you for the punctual conclusion of your assignments?
At my first job, being on time meant being five to ten minutes before time. If you arrived on the dot of time, you were late. For every three “late” appearances, you lost half a day of leave. There was no arguing with the lady in whose possession the attendance register reposed. She would be breathing down your neck while you signed in your reporting time. You dared not cheat or there would be that sardonically lifted eyebrow to annihilate you on the spot! I promise you, the lady was dynamite!
Over three years, that insistence on punctuality became second nature. The sardonic eyebrow-wielding lady is not in touch with me anymore, but her spirit lives on in me. I dare not arrive late unless there was a valid (something like, I’m sorry but I had a road accident and I died on the spot) reason for the delay. Broken machinery/bones were, naturally, not worthy enough to be considered.
A few days ago while discussing her first book, a friend inadvertently let slip that her editor had taken one full year to edit her manuscript of forty-five thousand words. One full year! I was flabbergasted not only because of the time the editor had taken but also because when I read the book I was dismayed to see what a shoddy job had been done. The only recipient of editorial attention was the punctuation. That was impeccable. I may not notice my own punctuation goofs, but other people’s errors stand out sorely to me.
The dismayed client told me that she had engaged the editor for copyediting her manuscript. In the edited manuscript that was sent to me for beta reading, I found that the grammar had not been touched, the sentences remained in a godawful snarl, and misused word usage ran rampant, unchecked by the editorial pen. I could not imagine how an editor could focus only on the punctuation and consider their job done! Of course, it is possible that there were even more grammatical and structural errors before the document was edited and some were corrected. But there were still too many errors left to correct.
Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, “Certainly, I can!” Then get busy and find out how to do it.
I have come across other shoddily edited manuscripts. They look piteous. Their authors look frantic because not only have they spent a bomb on the poorly done job, they are also impossibly detained in their project because it must be done all over again, starting with looking for another editor with even greater fear than the first time around.
While I too belong to this side of the table, such indifference on the part of fellow professionals has pained me beyond measure. It gives the whole fraternity a bad name. A singed client would naturally be reluctant to trust the next editor. They would keep breathing down your neck and be endlessly fussy. Even more unfortunate is when the authors feel so betrayed and fed up, that they give up on their manuscript entirely.
Editing is a professional domain in which the quantum and scope of work defy precise description. It is natural for the scope to creep larger. Often the client is a debut author and is not familiar with the terrain. As experienced editors, our job is not only to deliver a service but sometimes also to guide. Since you are familiar with the work, you also know where you might encounter scope-creep. When I quote my fee and the time, I try my best to take scope overrun into account. It wouldn’t be professional to be as surprised as the client when a few minor extras pop-up in projects.
An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.
I have been deeply influenced by an essay I read nearly twenty years ago. Until I read it, I had not realized that to be known as a competent, accountable, and ethical professional was vital to me. The essay is called A Message to Garcia. It has always been my endeavor to emulate the irrepressible and admirable Rowan and never the hapless clerk. Rowan provided an efficient road map to become the kind of professional one would want to be. It is much easier to follow in the footsteps of a role model.
How do you ensure that your professional brand has a high value?
Dagny is a Freelance Editor, Writer, Life-Coach, Entrepreneur, Single Mom, Idealist, and loyal friend—not always in that order though. Her love for the written word is deep and abiding.
She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org