To close out Be Kind to Writers & Editors Month, here are some tips for doing just that from writer and editor Braulio Agnese. I know firsthand that Braulio knows how to do this--he was my editor at Architect magazine for several years and was nothing but nice. Here's his advice for getting the most out of writers and editors by using a little more honey, a little less vinegar.
For a corporate communications manager, freelance or contract writers and editors are, in many ways, like any other vendors. That means managing expectations and keeping them satisfied through some fundamentally good business practices:
• Clear deadlines and schedules
• Timely and effective communication
• Prompt payment upon project completion
But because they traffic in content creation and management, in information and meaning, writers and editors aren’t quite like other vendors. They approach their craft with something you might call love — yet they have very different relationships with content. It behooves a good communications manager to understand some of the differences.
The Setup: Beyond word length and subject matter, the more information about the piece you’re commissioning you can offer a writer, the better it will be. Things such as: Who is the audience? What’s the tone? Will direct quotes be required? And if you prefer that documents be formatted a particular way (font and type size, line spacing, etc.) to make your own internal processes smoother, tell them that, too. [Show, don't tell, what you want]
Back and Forth: Some writers are happy to hand off their copy and never see it again. The majority, though, expect (and, on occasion, welcome) one or two rounds of edits and rewrites. What’s the system at your company? Writers need to know up front how long they should be “on call” once a piece is turned in.
Sharing Is Caring: Writers love mentioning their work to others, especially when they’re given a byline. Be sure to provide your contributors with website and social media links to their pieces (and a physical copy or two, if applicable) as quickly as possible once something is published. Because when writers talk about something they did for you, they’re also talking about your company.
The Devil Is in the Details: The first thing any good editor will ask for is a copy of your company’s editorial style guide. (You do have a style guide, right?) Editing is about accuracy, tone, and meaning, but at its most fundamental level it is a task that stresses consistency and focuses on minutiae: punctuation, capitalization, spelling. Editors need to know your rulebook, because in editing there are no absolutes. (Well, except for the ban on two spaces after a period.)
Level of Effort: Be clear with editors about how much rein they have. Are they addressing only style guide–level issues, or is there the freedom to replace words, recast phrases, and move sentences around when necessary? The deeper the dive, the more time-intensive the work will be.
Roll With It: Don’t be surprised if editors go beyond whatever document they’re tackling — especially if they’ve worked with your company previously — to offer suggestions about the style guide or to point out larger inconsistencies or places for improvement. Be open to their comments. You hire editors for their gimlet eye, so it’s almost inevitable that they will notice important things your company might have missed.
Braulio Agnese, a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., has been an editor and writer for many years, discovering his passion for it in high school. A savvy connoisseur of design and the arts, Braulio enjoys few things more than exploring the urban realm — except, perhaps, a trip to the ocean or a really satisfying meal.