Lots of us who are self-employed editorial professionals once worked in a corporate office. Remember the bosses who seemed to think that they’d get more work out of you by browbeating you or being condescending? Those techniques were always spectacular failures, weren’t they? In our roles as consultants, we’ll get results from our authors that are just as poor if we don’t treat them respectfully and as more than just income sources.
First, we must have an excellent manuscript-side manner. It’s painful enough for authors to see that we’ve red-lined (or blue- or purple- or green-lined) the prose they worked so hard to produce. It’s worse if our queries imply that they should have known better or that they’re wasting our time or that we’re intellectually superior to them.
If you’re a parent, you’ve likely learned that you get better results when you respect your children’s feelings when you’re trying to get them to do something.
Things work the same way with authors – or with anyone, really. If you want your authors to buy into the edits you’re suggesting, you have to get into their heads and see things from their point of view, talk to them respectfully, offer solutions politely, and, whenever possible, sincerely praise things in their prose that they’ve done well.
Never, ever come across in your queries as a scolding parent or teacher.
Second, to do our best work and to keep authors coming back to us with more projects, we have to see them not as sources of money but as people with feelings and varied interests.
When authors feel that we respect their writing and the effort that it costs them, they are much more likely to not hate – and perhaps even to enjoy – working with us. I always find something to talk about with my authors, such as conferences they’re going to attend and presentations they’ve made. I congratulate them on their publishing successes and job promotions.
A large portion of my authors are physician-researchers who are non-native speakers of English trying to get their articles published in US and UK English-language medical journals.
I’ve researched the major national holidays for these authors’ cultures, and I email holiday wishes to the authors, thanking them for continuing to return to me with projects.
Every time I finish projects, I thank my authors for the privilege of reading their work, and I ask them to let me know when their work gets published so that I can congratulate them. And then I follow through.
By doing these things, I maintain a loyal clientele of more than 60 such authors from all over the world.
In short, if you follow what I call the Copyeditor’s Golden Rule – edit others as you would like to be edited – you will never lack for clients.
Copyright 2012 Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.
Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, has been in publishing for 28 years, the first 11 as a production editor for various publishers, and since then as a full-time freelance copyeditor.
She is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in more than 20 nations get published in more than 30 different medical journals.
She has written about editor–author relationships for the journal Science Editor and for the Copyediting newsletter.
She is also creator and curator of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which is housed within her business web site. On Twitter, she is @KOKEdit.
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