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Waiter! Can I Get Some Copy Editing Please?

copy editing

Posted in Blogging, and Content Marketing. 6 min read

Dinner was fabulous. So good, in fact, that you don’t care who sees the empty lobster shells strewn about the floor or the wine glass rings tattooed upon the tablecloth. Your belly is full, you’ve got a nice buzz, Uber is on the way, and someone else will be picking up this beautiful mess once you’re out the door.

Check please!

Ah, the life of a copy editor. Cleaning up what others have left behind.

There is a long history of writers not loving their editors — some don’t even think they’re fit to fix a haiku.

Why the animosity?

I suppose it’s because some writers feel they do all the heavy lifting, spilling their guts out just to have someone else come along and remove EVERYTHING THAT EVER MEANT ANYTHING.

But a good copy editor is not out to destroy your story or quash your creativity. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. A good editor is on hand just to improve upon your awesomeness.

Keep Your Eyes on Each Other’s Paper

Copy editors may often have to work with some brilliant writing that’s just not put together all that well. I’ve been on both sides of the fence; in fact, I still am.

At Bluleadz, I’m a copywriter who gets edited, and I’m also an editor for copywriters. Those that are editing my work aren’t necessarily above me, nor am I above those whose work I edit. It’s the idea of getting a second set of eyes on our work, regardless of who writes or reviews it, to make it the best it can be for our clients.

Why the second set of eyes?

Because it’s very difficult to edit your own work (though I’ll tackle how to try when everyone’s out to lunch in my next post). Writers are too close to their material, and can easily breeze over errors, grammatical mistakes, and redundancies while missing opportunities that could make a good writing effort truly great.

Nobody’s Perfect, Not Even Shakespeare

I’ve known copywriters who take offense at having their work edited, but it should not be seen as an insult; after all, Shakespeare himself had a copy editor. (Okay, I made that up, but I can’t find anything to dispute it so I’m sticking with it.)

I do know, however, that some of today’s most popular writers do have their work mulled over by an editor. Stephen King has said that one of his editors, John Gould, taught him everything he knows about writing.

While reviewing some of King’s work, Gould said, "I only took out the bad parts…most of it's pretty good." Pretty good? It’s Stephen f**king King! If he can take it, so can you and I.

All this said, there are good and bad ways to go about copy editing. There is a world of difference between constructive criticism and counterproductive criticism; bettering and belittling; refining and rewriting. How the writer reacts is certain to hinge upon the method taken by the editor.

Of course, it can also depend on whether it’s a friendly in-house recommendation or a blood-boiling directive from an outsider who just doesn’t get the vision. In any scenario, however, one thing should always hold true:

Copy editing should be about improving content, not simply leaving a mark.

I appreciate good edits; my writing has been greatly improved because of them. But like most writers, I have also been on the receiving end of some truly stupid editing.

You know that type of edit; it’s those subjective remarks made by someone struggling to find some way to mark their territory.

For those still scratching their head, here’s an example. (The topic and location have been changed to protect the innocent...and, well, my job.)

ME:

“Paris is a great vacation destination. The Eiffel Tower is a must-see of course, but more adventurous tourists will want to visit the catacombs beneath the city too.”

EDIT:

Paris is a A great vacation destination is Paris. Of course you must visit The Eiffel Tower is a must-see, of course, but more adventurous tourists who are adventurous will want to visit see the catacombs beneath underneath the city too as well.”

Sentence-switching, word-swapping; it’s just unnecessary. None of the edits above did anything to improve or further the story. These sorts of edits are the reason sentiments like this exist:

“You have to give an editor something to change, or he gets frustrated. After he pees in it himself, he likes the flavor much better, so he buys it.” -- Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Look, if the copy is good as-is with no room for improvement, don’t edit it just for the sake of editing it. Rather, dish out some well-deserved kudos. Everyone loves a kudo.

Make Yourself at Home, In-House

If you’re surrounded by colleagues, consider taking your copy to the team before you go in front of the client. Unless you’re up against a deadline, it’s better to take an extra day in order to deliver greatness instead of delivering okayness a day early.

So, time permitting, look to have a fellow writer or internal peer perform each of the following tasks to better evaluate your work:

  • Gauge. Ask that they briefly familiarize themselves with your client’s website content and/or collateral to identify whether your copy is in line; if you’re intentionally pushing boundaries, explaining the rationale to a colleague first can prepare you for the inevitable client discussion.
  • Track. Encourage edits in tracking mode. This gives you the ability to re-review what you wrote alongside any edits or suggestions they may offer.
  • Fix. If there’s an obvious typo or error that doesn’t warrant discussion or attention, ask them to just fix it and save yourself some review time.
  • Check. Links, that is. It’s easy to accidentally hyperlink an article title instead of its address, and when checking them on our own, we’re liable to miss one.
  • Optimize. What other stories covering the same topic are ranking high? This is a big ask, but if they have time, using tools provided by HubSpot and Moz to find ways to boost visibility through SEO or other means is huge.
  • Strategize. Certainly not a must, but if getting in tune with your client and reviewing materials has inspired your co-worker to come up with some new ideas, be open to them. Who knows, you might want to present one at the next client meeting and could come off looking like a forward-thinking content master. Just be sure to give credit where it’s due!

When done right, copy editing isn’t an easy job. Editors are often in the unenviable position of trying to honor the work of the copywriter, while doing everything they can to improve upon it for the clients’ benefit.

When possible, get together with your copy editor to build rapport and get a sense of each others’ style. And above all else, try not to get too offended when cuts or suggestions are made.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what my editor cuts from this story. Waiter!

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