Today's focus is editing! Process, people, training, scaling, etc. Let's do this!
John: Hello everyone! I’m a serial entrepreneur and founder of Credo and EditorNinja. I’m a veteran digital marketing leader with 13 years in the space. I was an agency employee with Distilled in New York City, then built marketing teams and programs at Zillow Group for 2 years before going on my own. I’m primarily a product and acquisition focused entrepreneur now building businesses and teams. EditorNinja is my newest venture, in the marketing since January and we edited 210,000 words in May. Stoked to be here speaking with y’all about content and editing!
I also own SingleGeared.com which is a gear review site. I don’t do much on that these days since I’m busy with Credo and EditorNinja, but it is a fun side project that pays for my outdoor gear.
John: Love this question. I think writers can do a decent job editing their own content but they need a few things in place. First, don’t edit right after writing. Give yourself some space, whether an hour or a day, before you come back to edit.
When you start editing, edit for grammar and technical correctness (copy editing) first before you get into the substance and reworking wording. This way you can focus on substance without seeing technical errors.
Use Grammarly for sure. It’s a decent tool, though we find they find ~1/4 of the errors a real editor does and many of Grammarly’s recommendations are wrong. Also, even if you’re self-editing, getting a second set of eyes from someone else is always a good idea!
John: I don’t know that I’d worry about impressing editors! Editors are your partner to make your content sing. The best thing you can do is follow briefs and know the topic well so that they don’t have to send it back for rewrites!
John: This depends on the level of editing! Editors need attention to detail, but more-so they need training to know different styles (MLA, AP, etc) and also how to work with writers to pull the best copy out of them. A good editor is collaborative but also opinionated.
John: The most important skill is clear writing and following the brief you are given! If you’re not given a brief, ask for one! It is hard to do good work if you don’t know what good looks like, and it’s the same for editing. Good editing starts with good writing!
John: Good question! Write clearly, point out areas you need help, and make sure the editor knows the depth of editing you’re looking for and has the brand style guide so they can edit to that and make sure your piece follows that!
John: I don’t have one honestly. Tools I do use are Grammarly, Hemingway (while writing), and we do it all in Google Docs which lets edits be easily shared and comments left. I honestly prefer human editors 100% over tools, though tools have their place alongside a professional editor!
John: Our preferred process is writer writes -> substantive/SME editing for correctness and clarity -> copy and proofing to finalize it. That said, we are finding that many companies prefer copy/proofing BEFORE the SME/correctness/clarity so they can focus on the content and not grammar! I’m increasingly liking this approach.
John: Honestly, none other than the above process.
John: I started working for myself because I got laid off in September 2015. I started EditorNinja because I had the entrepreneurial itch, it makes sense alongside my other core business, and I knew I could deliver a quality product and service. I’m working right now on a piece about my unconventional way of launching businesses, which includes getting first customers before launching anything. I got mine through being established in the marketing/SEO industry and telling people what I/we were offering!
John: There are few things I wish I had known ahead of time, but they include:
John: Good SEO is baked into the piece while it is being written. It’s not something added in after. Writers should have a keyword to go after and write around, and they should use it in H1s, h2s, etc. This lets the editor focus on EDITING. They’re not SEOs!
If a client is asking you to “SEO” a piece after it’s written, that is a red flag. I think all writers creating editorial content online that is meant to rank (so this is outside whitepapers/gated content/etc that is more sales enablement) should have some SEO knowledge and ask for topics/keywords to be sure to include. Then use tools like Keywords Everywhere and Frase/Clearscope/etc if you can to make them as optimized as possible while reading as well as possible.Clear writing > “SEO writing” every time.
John: Companies you’re writing for should do their own edits, IMO. But that should also be stated ahead of time, especially if it’s your name bylined and not a ghostwritten piece.If you’re bylined, I’d ask them to run edits by you if they’re editing as well before it’s published. It’s not always possible (and I say this as someone who employs writers to write for my company Credo), but they can try. As long as they’re not changing the heart of the piece and saying things you don’t agree with, I’d just let it go TBH.
John: I think every company should have a checklist for what they’re wanting an editor to look at.This should also be in your writing brief so the writer follows it and the editor can just double check it is there. This can be as simple as:
John: Great intro: draws in the reader to read the full thing (instead of just skimming), introduces the topic and what they’ll take away. A table of contents is great for helping readers navigate too! A great outro (“conclusion”) is a call to action especially in business. “I hope you learned something!” isn’t a good outro! “If this article helped you and you’re looking for (SERVICE YOU PROVIDE), (link) click here (close link) to schedule a free (whatever your demo call is named).”
John: I do, if it’s something you’re providing for clients. If it’s your own stuff and velocity/speed is most important, this can unnecessarily slow down the process. But if someone is paying you to create it, then you absolutely should. $25 for an editor to review social copy that if it contains a typo would lose you a client is a good investment IMO!
John: Ooooh I love this one. Part of it depends on what you did as an editor in publishing. What I’ve found is most editors there are basically content managers at an agency or in-house! So you’ll probably want to find a job with strategy/working with writers/etc which is usually a Managing Editor or a Content Manager. One skillset you should have is keyword research and also measuring the efficacy of content to drive business metrics (leads, signups, whatever)
John: Editors need to know what level of editing you’re wanting so they can edit to it. Editors HATE it when they edit and a writer comes back being super defensive as well. Editors are your friends! Their job is literally to make your content better, so treat them as a partner and be open to their feedback. This doesn’t mean they’re always right and you should absolutely be the final arbiter of many things, but try to see them as a partner working towards the same goals as you.
John: Once again, depends on the level of editing you’re doing. If it’s outside of your area of expertise and you’re being asked to edit for correctness, this is probably a mismatch of skillset and should be dealt with. That said, allocating extra time for editing it (and charging more for that) is always a good idea in cases like this. You could also use a service like Help A B2B Writer Out or similar to find SMEs (or ask in freelancer communities like SuperPath or Peak Freelance) who can review it for you as well for correctness.
John: I recruit editors from a network of trained editors I have access to. They’re all professionally trained.We always do a test project with them at EditorNinja (usually a piece from my other company, so it’s low stakes) so they can get a feel for how we edit. I also share past edited pieces with them so they understand the depth to which we go and how we do it (suggestions vs fixes vs comments).
I don’t ask for writing samples because editors are not writers. Writers write the content, editors improve it and make it ready to publish.
John: Our ideal customers are twofold:
If anyone here fits this, feel free to schedule an Editorial Assessment with me to see if we’re a good fit!
John: First, decide if you want to do it freelance or in-house. In-house is more stable, but of course you have less control. Freelance you have more control, but you’re also doing all the sales and client management and operations. Pros and cons to both.
Start by editing content written by friends. Our best editors at EditorNinja are the go-to’s for their friends who are writing blog posts, dissertations, books, etc. So they have a ton of experience editing It is MUCH easier to get hired when you have experience as well as training.
John: Great question that like many things doesn’t have a clear answer. I’d say it depends on the skillsets of the team. I know agencies who have writers editing each others stuff, and usually there is a person assigned to Managing Editor and QA duties. But many of them also work with copy editors and proofreaders because that can easily be outsourced and is often a big time-sink for the person who is often the highest paid and most skilled (and busy!) on the team.
I see quite a few companies producing a lot of content with a dedicated editor on the team, and I think ultimately that’s a great thing to work towards. But do know that editors will cost you ~$40-$50k/yr and if you scale content up or down you’re still paying that salary. If a company variable needs then a service like EditorNinja can make more sense because you can more easily scale up and down (plus get going in a day rather than going through a full hiring process)
John: Editors are not writers. Do not go looking for an editor to write content. Look for writers to write and editors to edit. Many editors are also writers and many writers also have some editing experience (though you should always ask what that means), but they are two very distinct skillsets!
John: Depends on if the “editor” is really more of a managing editor/content manager or a true editor.
A managing editor/content manager is absolutely at the start with the brief and finding the writer etc.
Copy editors and proofreaders are only brought in after drafts are written and it’s ready for review and feedback. Same with SMEs who are providing feedback, though I’d also recommend that if a writer doesn’t have SME they should be speaking with SMEs while writing to make the piece stronger.
John: I’m going to agree with you here. That is an outline, not a brief.
A good brief should tell you what the topic is, what you’re looking for around length and tone of voice, and also the main keyword or keywords you’re going after if it’s a piece being written for SEO. It is also fine IMO to provide auxiliary keywords a tool has told you should probably be included if you want to rank well.
An outline is much deeper and something the writer should put together ideally IMO.
I like to hire very good writers and give them the brief boundaries instead of an outline, which I have seen is often a crutch because the writer hired isn’t very good.
John: I’m still figuring this one out tbh. I like to take the approach of educating the 77% of readers are less likely to buy if they are on a page where typos or mistakes are present, and ask if they’re confident enough in their current process to eliminate this risk. Most businesses now are very conversion-conscious, so this is a good question for them.
It’s also an education problem. They see editing as “typos” when editing should be WAY more including formatting, on brand, tone of voice, etc. It’s not less than typos, but it is WAY more than that.
Many companies don’t understand all of that, so we should be clear about what editing is to us and what we’re offering.
John: Hmmm that’s an interesting statement. I’d say great leaders are great listeners and summarizers so they communicate the heart of what is intended.
I think to give great directional feedback, you should start with the question of “what is this piece trying to accomplish and is it doing that?” Then ask the secondary question of “Is it doing it as effectively as it could?”
Being clear on that ahead of time is ideal so you “know it when you see it”, but also asking it after it is written is helpful now that you have more context.
John: Two ways to get around this:
John: As a writer, you should get paid based on a full piece of content that has word count/length parameters. Don’t charge per word, because then you’re incentivized to write “more words” and not “better words.” Better is usually shorter, so align incentives.