Don’t Balk at the Editor

I’ve probably mentioned somewhere that I write elsewhere. Many elsewheres, actually.

Writing elsewhere means there will be a someone else who will be, in one way or another, looking over your work. That someone will be an editor. Don’t balk, be thankful there is an editor.

Why have an editor?

One of the best reasons for having an editor present on the platform you are writing to is that, if that platform considers it important to pay someone to control quality, then that platform is integrally concerned about providing quality for its readers. As I’ve gone on and on elsewhere, Quality overrides Quantity. Though it’s not a sure thing, putting an editor between the writer and the “publish” button is a very wise business practice.

Take the somewhat popular content platform, Medium. Seems that recently, the CEO has had to make some difficult choices, including the laying off of several workers, the closing of two regional offices and the need to figure out how to make money off of the platform without compromising a dedication to not being one of the crowd in content platform-land.

Being one of the crowd, in this case, will include several aspects we are all familiar with (or at least those who consume the written word on the Internet). A few of the more garish are:

  • flashy, so-called “click-bait” titles / headlines
  • “5 best / top 10” so-called “listicles”
  • homespun “how tos” (usually on something you ought to already know how to do)
  • plenty of embedded advertising links
  • mediocre, keyword stuffed, questionable quality content

Replying to that article, then, users of Medium began to offer up a number of ideas on how to “monetize” the platform without actually “monetizing” the platform. From “bitcoin” to “Patreon”, the ideas were variations on the same theme. No one bothered, really, to talk about the elephant in the room, though. Before you can sell a product, you need to make sure it is good enough to get the potential client to dish out the dough. That means quality.

View story at Medium.com

Who’s identifying “quality” and how?

Now, content platforms over the past decade or so have woefully left the identification of “quality” in the hands of the users. This means that quality was calculated by some algorithm that took into consideration

  • page landings,
  • time spent,
  • original landings,
  • likes and shares, and, of course,
  • ad clicks.

A regular user looking for a quick fix will not evaluate the actual quality of what has been read. That user may not care about spelling or grammar, or may not even notice spelling and grammar issues. That’s where the editor is necessary.

The drudge editor

Sometimes that editor is some unknown person who has passed an incredibly silly, ten-question grammar editing test (and usually, three of those ten questions will be about comma placement! Not joking, two of the ten will involve “its” vs “it’s” and “their” vs “they’re” vs “there”. There will probably even be a “affect” vs “effect” question. So that leaves four questions for evaluating your capacity to be an editor).

This type of editor will be churning through hundreds of articles, all more or less of the same style and length. There will be little intercourse between the editor and the writer beyond a rejection with request for revision, or maybe a rating based on just how you used or misused that comma.

Human editors with heads and hearts (and cheeks)

If you are lucky, though, some of the platforms you end up writing for will have real live, human editors, with names, and the capacity of being friendly in email exchanges. If you’re really lucky, those editors will not only be friendly, but will also have the cheek to tell you what you need to hear. Here’s my example.

As you can guess, I edit myself on most platforms. Medium, Interpretive ESL Teaching, here on ctohp. However, on an educational site I’ll call “YouLearn“, the guest blogging I do is actively edited by a woman I’ll call “Marge”.

The content on YouLearn is aimed at both learners and educators. The platform itself sells a product useful in educational settings. The blog is supportive of the platform, not meant to sell the product but rather to give added value to the entire experience on the platform. Most of the posts are “how to” and “10 best” type content, though usually several levels above those I am critical about earlier in this post. That upping in level is thanks to editors like Marge.

So, I’ve written several posts for this platform, and I will admit that, because I’m generally pretty bitchy about how to and 10 best writing, at times it is challenging for me to moderate my “voice” in what I offer this platform. My original pitch to them was turned down because it was way too long, way too involved and perhaps because it was way outside of the objective of offering friendly, fun advice to educators (I write specifically for educators, retired from working with students eight years ago).

Just not my best work….

I recently took on some keywords and tried to craft an article. It got totally out of hand. I tried to include way too many ideas, they started piling up on each other, Christmas got in the way, I could hardly stand to read the thing myself, finally hit “submit for review” and hoped for the best from Marge.

Marge asked me to “fix” a couple of things. I think she’d done a general first read at this point. I agreed with her comments and “fixed” those things. However, the next time I heard from her, I got taken aback with a kind of cheeky comment:

“To be honest, this post did not have the level of structure and the logical flow that I’ve come to expect from all your work.”

Well, no, it didn’t. I’m a fairly careful structural writer (at least I like to think so! ha), but this post was just banging around in my head. Had I left it another month or so on the hard drive, I might have had the distance necessary to realize that the final, pretty big changes Marge ended up doing instead of asking me for another revision were exactly what was making me queasy each time I read it.

Four eyes better than one?

Even the best of writers need those other two eyes, sometimes only occasionally, sometimes quite frequently. Marge has a lot of other things to do to the guest blog posts she edits. She has to format to make sure they match the platform’s style. She often has to change language, adding those horrible “awesome” and “fantastic” adjectives that I avoid like the plague (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).

Having to turn my article upside-down to fix structural issues is not exactly part of her job, but having worked with me in the past, she made the extra effort, maybe even knowing that I had simply hit a wall and could not identify what was in need of attention.

Editorial privilege (they are also “authority figures”, like teachers and the cops!)

Marge couldn’t avoid giving me some basic advice on post writing. Maybe she knows I’ve been teaching writing for over three decades and that advice is kind of what I’ve been repeating for years.

She certainly couldn’t assume that I wouldn’t know those things she included at the bottom of her email, before wishing me well. She couldn’t believe I had just accidentally stumbled onto crafting pretty passable material in the past.

Maybe she’s just using her “editor’s privilege”, chiding me because she had to go an extra mile to whip my work into shape. That’s her right! And maybe she’s right (at least in this post she was!)

The privilege of editors

If you get the chance, then, to work for a platform where you have a real life editor, with a name like Marge, who will wish you a happy holiday, who will say nice things and sometimes not so nice things (but many more nice than not nice!), who will make the effort to “cover” for you when you just aren’t seeing what she’s seeing, jump at that chance. That platform respects its own quality, its readers and its content creators enough to invest in the safeguard that is the editor.

And if you are just starting out as a writer, find yourself an editor. There is a reason for their existence. They not only read what we write, they make sure we don’t slip. That’s what Medium needs, that’s what any platform that wants to be able to pay their writers needs. Pay for editors and you’ll make more than enough to pay your writers.

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