If you’ve ever worked in an office, you know companies promote workers who’ve been good at what they do – engineers, sales reps, accountants, whatever – into management positions. If you’ve ever worked a desk job, you also know that just because you’re a good salesperson or recruiter or software coder doesn’t mean you’ll be a good manager.
The same holds true in the writing profession. Because you’ve got a way with words doesn’t mean you’ve got a way with people, and editors have to be good with both.
If and when you’re ever approached about an opportunity for a freelance editing job, should you take it?
To work as a freelance editor, you need to be:
Organized – So you can keep track of writers, deadlines and all the other details that come with the job.
Creative – To come up with story ideas from press releases, news stories, trade magazines, convention speeches and the other sources you’ll no doubt be tracking to stay on top of the subject matter covered by the publication you’re working for. You’ll also need creativity to see how writers’ pitches fit into the publication’s editorial strategy, or whether pitches that are slightly off target can be tweaked slightly, or whether writers whose pitches are far off the mark are still candidates for other stories based on the strength of their writing.
Decisive – Face it, when you’re the editor, you’re in charge, and the inflow of questions is constant. Is it OK to quote this person anonymously? This source doesn’t meet the exact parameters of what we needed, can I use them anyway? Is it OK if I file Friday instead of Wednesday? What do you think of this photo to illustrate the story? It’s no job for someone who can’t make up their mind.
A good communicator – Editing is all about collaboration, with writers, fellow editors, the publisher, and yes, sometimes even the sales staff. You need to be able to share ideas in a constructive way. If a writer turns in a story that’s a mess, you need to be able to explain what’s wrong and how they can fix it without making them feel to crummy about it. And if they turn in a masterpiece, you need to be able to sing their praises. You also have to be able to defend why you handled a story or a part of a story a certain way to whoever you’re working for.
Detail oriented – So you can copy edit stories and not let typos, bad links or factual errors fall through the cracks.
A multi-tasker – So you can juggle multiple stories in multiple stages of being finished while at the same time assigning stories for one or more future issues, choosing or assigning photos or other art, dealing with housekeeping tasks such as processing invoices, and helping with promotional activities, which these days involves using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to get the word out.
Punctual – Because when you’re an editor, the number of deadlines multiplies exponentially. Not only do editors met out deadlines to writers, they’ve got their own deadlines for turning in finished story packages, making assignments, etc.
A team player – When you’re an editor, you’re part of a bigger team producing the magazine, newsletter, website or whatever it is you’re working on, and you need to be able to play nice with the other members of the team – even if you aren’t physically working with them. That means making yourself available to your team as they need you, whether that’s the occasional 6 a.m. PST conference call with the East Coast editors, or the 8 p.m. PST call from a freelancer who can only call after their day job ends.
A good negotiator – Because if you’re being hired as an editor, there’s probably a contract involved, and to get the best deal for yourself you need to be able to ascertain which contract terms are reasonable and necessary and which aren’t, then articulate and defend your position, but be willing to give a little so both sides are satisfied with the deal.
If you’ve worked as a freelance editor, what qualities or characteristics helped prepare you for the job?