May 2, 2009

The Audacious Ink Interview: One Editor’s Thoughts on Writing, Low-Ball Bids, and the Importance of Sweets.

   Below is an interview I gave to Audacious Ink conducted by Donna Jolly in May 2009. Granted this is all just my opinion, but I have found these things to work for me. I enjoy her blog and recommend her posts if you are interested in marketing and public relations communications and writing. — Geri

     If you write for a living, you’ve been edited. If you are lucky enough to stumble across an editor with real skill and passion, you may have learned something about yourself as a writer. I had the good fortune of working, albeit loosely, with Geri Jeter, an editor who loves editing and is passionate about quality writing. Geri is an old-school type of editor, yet she is generous enough to understand that sometimes marketers just have to start a sentence with “And” or “But” because they want to emphasis a point (she and I had had this conversation, obviously). While she is generous enough to understand, she might not necessarily be proud of you. And that’s why she’s a great editor. But she’s much more. (I couldn’t resist.)
    Like most great editors, for the last fifteen years, Geri has had to do double-duty as a writer, as well. She has been responsible for producing written material for publications ranging from a luxury trade quarterly to technical theater magazines, to detailed course material prepared for trade certification. She also is an experienced advertising copywriter and provider of content for websites.
    Currently editor and production manager for La Voce News Magazine, a Nevada regional Italian-American magazine, Geri is also the dance and classical performing arts reviewer for the Las Vegas Weekly. In between deadlines, Geri agreed to an interview with AI to discuss her loves and pet peeves and to impart some words of wisdom for writers struggling to get by in the recession.

   Audacious Ink: Many writers need to be their own proofreader. What advice do you have for them?
    Geri J.: Rule No. 1 in publishing is to never proof your own work. That said, sometimes it is impossible to avoid. In my case, there is no one at the magazine who can function as a proofreader. Although I am a good editor and proofreader, I still find errors in my own work after it is printed.
    If there is time (a big if in some cases), put the work aside for a day or two. Then proofread it again. You will be surprised at how much you see when you look at the work after it rests for awhile. However, tight deadlines often make this difficult.
    The trick is to know your own skill level — are you really detailed and focused enough to attempt it? If not, do you have other options? I would prefer to have another set of eyes on the work, but it is out of the question for us to hire such a person. So I just have to be extra careful.

This is related to the above question, but is there a consistent mistake you see writers make over and over? Their vs. There, it’s vs. its, or is it something else?
    Fortunately, I am blessed with good writers for my magazine. Occasionally, though, I try out a new writer or receive an unsolicited submission. Some are good, but not all.
    The biggest mistake I see is in continuity and flow. Writers often jumble the material. What I mean is that paragraphs are flipped about so the work doesn’t flow in an organized or cohesive manner.
    Another problem is word usage. To sound more intelligent, writers often use words inappropriately. Not that they use words totally opposite to the meaning they are trying to convey — they sometimes will use a word that is very close in meaning, but just far enough off to be wrong. Could be an overuse of a thesaurus or just a misunderstanding, but I see a lot of that.
    In addition, I prefer concise and tight writing for magazine work. Often I get flowery and overwritten material full of redundancies.

It’s a tight job market out there made tighter by the fact that a lot of writers are sitting out the recession by freelancing. What do you think give writers the edge over the competition in bidding for a job?
    Serious and professional writers are used to rejection. This gives them an edge over the wannabes.
    For marketing people, one of the main problems writers face is that a lot of “civilians” are under the false impression that they can actually write. Sometimes this makes it hard to convince them to pay for that part of a marketing presentation or website package. If this is the case, I would approach the job bid from an editing standpoint. (This can actually be more lucrative.)
    The most obvious one is quality work for a reasonable charge. By this, I don’t mean you should give away your work, but do be prepared to negotiate.

How do you educate your non-publisher “civilian” boss regarding the business of publishing?
    Never get artsy and emotional. Show how your suggestions could improve the bottom line.
    For example, I have found that most nonpublishing folk are completely unaware of ad-to-editorial ratios. It is common for them to think that because they have more available material in a certain month, all they need to do to accommodate the material is to add pages — a sure-fire road to imploding the publication. Because this is basically a numbers game, the ad-to-editorial ratio concept can be an easy sell. Once they see a monthly issue containing the correct ratios break even or make a profit, you win that round.
    A more difficult problem: I find that nonpublishers do not understand the necessity for good design and the time it takes to achieve this. Because they don’t understand the process, they often tend to dismiss the value of the work. I’m still working on how to show that it is worthwhile to find a good designer and pay him or her decently for the totality of the time spent on the magazine.

   I have to wear both hats as a marketer and as a writer. When I am on a writing assignment, I take criticism pretty well, though granted, I haven’t gotten the type that would shatter my ego and make me give up words. On the other hand, when I’m wearing the marketing hat, I have to give graphic designers and other creative types feedback. I try to be gentle, but they often seem offended or hurt. I hear this often from other marketers in similar situation, too. How do you handle the more difficult conversations with the artists or other member of the creative team?
    First, it is helpful to remember that designers are not mere technicians; they are artists — therefore, passionate about their work. Without sacrificing quality, you should respect their vision and be open to their interpretation. Sometimes the designer doesn’t give you what you imagined, but gives you something even better. You should be able to recognize this when it happens. Also, even if the design doesn’t totally work for you, find elements that you do like. Complement these before you go into any other feedback.
    In addition, keep in mind that this is a collaborative process. This means that if the designer didn’t produce what you expected, perhaps you did not clearly express what you wanted in your instructions. Find out if this is the case before you start criticizing. Maybe try something like, “I really like [this element] of the design. I feel, though, that we’re missing [this other element]. How can we get there?”
     Homemade cakes, muffins, and brownies work, too.
     The above also applies to the guys in the print shop who execute the designs.

   This is my bugaboo: companies want to pay less these days for experienced writers. I hear it from my friends, and I see it advertised everywhere from Mediabistro on down to the notorious Craigslist (which from the looks of it invented the low-ball bid). What is your advice to writers who want to stick to their fees, but not lose the bid?
    In Hollywood terms, you need “F*** you money.” In other words, keep your day job so you can avoid this trap.
    I blame eLance instead of Craigslist. Americans are hard-pressed to compete with foreign nationals who bid $5 for a 500-word article. Don’t even try. If the job requires an online bidding process, I just bag it because the job will go to the lowest bidder. Besides, most of these don’t give great exposure or even decent clips. And they usually want to trap the writer into agreeing to do 25 articles a week or some other unreasonable workload.
    For clips, a writer is better served by writing for a print publication, even if the pay is somewhat low or even nonexistent. You get more usable clips that way, and you can just accept the gigs you want. However, if you would like online exposure, start a blog rather than work for nothing. That way, you can control overall content and distribution. I know some writers who used their blogs to get paid work, both online and print.
    As to Craigslist, I actually got a decent online gig that paid about $50 per 400-word article and had good Web distribution. The only reason I don’t do more for this group is that I took a full-time editing/writing job, and my time is limited. So the work is out there. You just can’t depend on finding it regularly.
    I wish this were different, but until enough people get burned by the offshore, non-native-English-speaking crowd, it won’t turn around. Recently, I have seen posts that say, “Native English speaker essential” or “No offshore candidates, please.” But that is still a small representation. Hopefully, it will get better.

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