The Agreeable Editor: A Walking Paradox

I recently heard an editor say, “There’s only one phrase you need to know in the editing business, ‘Okay.’ ” That seems fine on face value, but being agreeable doesn’t get you far. You want to advocate for the audience, not the writer.

Writers don’t know best. I sound like a zealous editor when I say that, but don’t forget that I’m a writer too. I expect the people who edit my work to know what’s best for the audience. (And yes, someone edits everything I publish, outside of blog posts. Everyone needs an editor.) I expect my editors to know my audience better than I do. I expect them to challenge me.

I stopped editing for a company at one point because they thought I was too aggressive. I figured that they thought I knew best, and that’s why they hired me. I was wrong. They wanted me to gently coach the writer into reducing the word count, and carry out the writer’s will. I thought they wanted me to translate the author’s words–to make the writer applicable, not make the writer happy. In retrospect, I could have been clearer on objectives, eliminated assumptions, and spent more time building trust with the writer. I’m not sure if it would have made a difference in this scenario, but it would have been worth the try. Nonetheless, I learned something–here’s what I learned.

Most writers don’t want a real editor; they want someone to fix their grammar. It turns out that most people are not interested in creating a book that people will read front to back; they’re interested in expressing their thoughts. And, they value every one. Who can blame them?

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Being Awesome, at Everything

What would you want a leader to say to you? I want to follow leaders that allow me to lead. I want them to expect me to lead, prompt me to lead, and tell me to confront and question their decisions. This is what I would want a leader to say to me.

I want you to be awesome, at everything. That means that investing in you is top priority for me. If you ever wonder, should I ask about this? Should I take up time with this question? Should I ask for feedback? The answer is yes, yes and more yes. Learn now, not later. I would take now over later any time.

Challenge me. Confront me. Tell me why I’m wrong and how you can do it better. Then, do it better. Own it. Make it awesome.

You being awesome means all of us being awesome—including me. This is a linchpin team. We’re the elite. And seriously, if you still wonder what that means, read Linchpin, please.

When it comes time for your review, I want to give you only excellent marks. Excellence everywhere, in all categories, means we’re all excellent. I want to announce to the company that you’re an incredible asset to our team and the company as a whole. I want to tell people on tours that without you we could not do what we do.

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One Easy Way to Identify Your Audience

When I start writing a new article, I ask: What’s the word count? It’s not because I’m a minimalist; word counts tell me about my audience. And my audience indicates the breadth of coverage of the article. Why give someone 1,000 words when they want 150?

The audience of a lexicon or dictionary is very different from the audience of an academic journal. The audience of a magazine desires less coverage than the readers of a manifesto. Likewise, someone reading a textbook or grammar desires something different from someone reading a handbook, or book of tips.

Word counts matter for more reasons than we probably acknowledge. This seems basic, and perhaps even trivial, but we often forget this. Know your audience. Give them the amount of content they want to read.

I know the audience of this blog. And that’s why I’m going to stop writing now, at 150 words.

 

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One Step Away from Fired: Mediocre

Mediocrity kills greatness. A job that is “good enough” is not good enough. Working “hard enough” is not hard enough. Mediocre is one step away from fired.

I know people who were good at their jobs who got fired. They weren’t great, but they certainly weren’t bad. They spent years getting “good enough” at what they did, but not enough time focusing on how good they could be.

In Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, he says that your goals have to be outrageous. Don’t make your goal merely getting the promotion you want, or about the success of your next product or idea; make your goals crazy.

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Post-Traumatic Ship Syndrome

Post-Traumatic Ship Syndrome (PTSS). A real problem in the real world. Primarily caused by under-preparing, escapism prompted by a nearing ship date, or poor planning.

PTSS Symptoms:

  • Afraid of what “they” might think
  • Hyperventilating
  • Suddenly remembering all the things you forgot to include
  • Worry and anxiety
  • Wanting to change a process, function, or premise at the last-minute
  • A full inbox, and too many sent messages
  • Angry with your publisher, your boss, your editor, or your colleagues
  • Very afraid of what “they” might think

Most likely people to suffer from PTSS:

  • Those who don’t ship often
  • People obsessed with the details
  • Bureaucrats
  • People who love the system

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Editing is Translating

Editing is translating—translating someone else’s thoughts and technical language into something practical and useful.

Someone recently told me that knowing Hebrew will help me read government documents because they’re written in a foreign language. Academics and lawyers alike don’t write in English; they compose documents in specialist-English. Even specialists don’t like to read the work of other specialists. That’s why they hire graduate students, paralegals, assistants and interns to summarize things for them. They want the raw data. So why do we hide the raw data behind bad writing? Because it’s safe.

If you can’t understand what I have written, you can’t argue with me. If I’ve modified one phrase five times, how will you know what I’m really saying?

Unapproachable is unhelpful, unless being unapproachable gives you and your work clout. In that scenario, it’s job security.

I fight this battle every day. I take the words of other people and I translate them. This makes what I write, edit and publish easy to attack. You know exactly what I’m saying. You know exactly what hills I’m willing to die on. And if you don’t, then I haven’t done my job.

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Your Elevator Pitch about You: 7 Tips

You never know when someone important will ask you, “Tell me a little bit about you—your background, etc.” You don’t want to freeze, look stupid or forget to say the right things. You also don’t want to ramble because that’s boring. You want to state just the facts. (Who can argue with the facts?) If you are really awesome, the facts will speak for themselves.

I recently spent some time developing my elevator pitch about me—my 60-second pitch about who I am. I have one for Bible Study Magazine, one about my company, and one about my publishing projects. But I didn’t have one about me: the things that define me.

Sounds very existential: Who are you? Seriously, though, everyone needs an elevator pitch. If it doesn’t fit into an elevator ride, then you need to edit it. (With the help of my wife, I edited mine.)

I learned seven things by editing my elevator pitch:

  1. Transition words are important. Try “In addition,” “And,” “During that time,” “But,” and “Also.” Transition words are your mental cue. They also help you be succinct.
  2. Use a narrative arc. Tell the story of your life: some conflicts, challenges, climaxes and successes. Also try adding a failure that you learned from, or a failure that you turned into a success. Continue Reading…

Would You Cry If They Left?

Would you want to cry if they left your team? Would it make your life miserable? Would your team suffer if that person started working on my team? If so, then I probably want to hire them.

I don’t want the employee that another manager will easily part with. I want the person they think they can’t live without.

Ask yourself: Could you hire someone to do your job, tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then you need to rethink the way you do your job. You need to change your job description. Figure out what your unique skill set is and then do that. After that, find your calling and pursue that.

I want to work on a team of people that challenge me.

I want to go to work everyday thinking, “I’m not good enough to be this team’s leader.” Because if I don’t feel that way, then my team is not making me better—they’re not making us better.

Incredible teams produce incredible projects, and incredible projects can change the world.

If I want to change the world, I need an incredible team who will turn me into an incredible leader.

I don’t feel good enough today, so today we’re on track. I hope I don’t feel good enough tomorrow. How do you feel?

What Happens after You Publish: The Medieval Rendition

Publishing a book is exhilarating. My favorite work days are those when we send a magazine to the printer. But sometimes we work so hard leading up to ship day that we forget to focus on what happens after the customer receives the product.

Will the customer get it? Will they like it? Does it matter? And perhaps the most important question: Will you be able to laugh if part of the world hates what you publish? Because that’s the risk you take when you publish.

This may help you think about the customer. It may just make you laugh. Either way, it’s worth watching.

(Thanks to Aaron Walters, pastor of The Table, the church I’m a part of in Bellingham, for pointing me to this.)

How will you introduce your next big idea to customers?

Experience is Not Good Enough

The adage, “Some things you just learn with time” is true, but the person with the most experience is not always the best candidate for the next project. I care more about a diverse skill set and creativity than I do about experience. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Experience can be used as a crutch. You’ve heard people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Or, “It must be right; it’s worked before.” If you want to do something creative, the old way of doing things is likely not the answer.
  2. The best candidate is the one who has spent the most time diversifying their skill set and asking the most questions. Chance has it that the person who has been a copy editor their whole life is probably an incredible copy editor. I’m sure they can take me to task on The Chicago Manual of Style trivia. I will likely contract them for my next copy editing job, but I’m not going to ask them to lead the next project. Why? They’re likely to treat it like everything they’ve done before. Continue Reading…
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