Tag: professional

How To Handle Difficult People

How To Handle Difficult People

I almost titled this as “how to handle difficult clients”, but I thought for a minute and realized the techniques aren’t so different. Also, the differences between “difficult clients” and “difficult editors” (you can replace it with publisher, beta reader, coworker…) are minimal.

In your career you will run into difficult people. I would even say that you will run into more of them as a creative professional because creative folk run on a different wavelength than most people. This is both a good thing and a bad thing for all of us because we creatives are passionate, excitable, often hardworking, and in touch with our emotions. It’s great. Until it isn’t.

The dark side of creativity means we are moody, protective, irritable, and often live in a world where practicality falls a bit by the wayside. We also typically want to go our own way which results in stress and headaches for everyone involved because “go our own way” sometimes means charging headlong over a cliff everyone else saw coming.

So how do we handle it when a fellow creative is being less-than-helpful with what we are doing? There are a lot of ways, but I’ve found this approach often results in fruit.

I always start with listening. Sometimes these folks have something valid to say and are having trouble spitting it out. They may not even understand the core of the problem, themselves. However, listening to someone – and genuinely listening – sometimes is enough to help them feel as if they are heard and their feelings matter.

Many creatives are living under a constant barrage of “why don’t you get a real job?” or “your writing sucks, don’t quit your day job (if you have one, burger flipper)” and so on. It’s a bad world out there for us because the arts are so under-appreciated these days. It’s a pretty terrible place to be. Not only that, but as I have said many times… there are sharks in our waters. People who prey on creatives’ hopes and dreams to turn a profit.

This all builds up into an explosive mixture for some folks. Letting them rant and rave (at least for a short time) is sometimes all it takes for them to calm down and realize that they are being a dummy. Or, at least, they will appreciate that someone took the time to hear what they are upset about.

This is tough. I’ve had clients with whom I had to be extremely patient because they just couldn’t grasp something. Or they were being bullheaded. It happens to all of us, and I have been that bullheaded client before, so I’m not pointing fingers.

We creatives all communicate a little differently. Some people are Hemmingway blunt. They say what they mean and to hell with the consequences. Others are far more flowery and require some digging to get into what they mean. They also tend to talk around a subject rather than address it. Both of these methods of communication have issues.

When interacting with other people in this world, we have to recognize the differences in style because what may come across as “mean” might just be the Hemmingway type. They don’t intend hurt or pain, but they would rather be honest with you than blow smoke. Or someone who seems “wishy washy” might well be rock solid and just be trying to be diplomatic. It can be hard to sort out the differences if you let your emotions get the better of you. Particularly if you’re talking to them online.

After listening to the person, I give serious consideration to what I’ve just heard. Is what they are saying accurate? Are they trying to be hurtful? Are they just not good at talking to people? This kind of discernment is important because it will allow you to see what is happening from a more complete perspective.

At this point, I try not to let my emotions get the better of me. If I’m upset by what they said or how they said it, I try and step away for awhile and calm down. That allows me to be more logical when I approach the conversation the second time and gives me the opportunity to focus myself and formulate my reply.

Once I understand what they are really saying and what their intent is, I can respond appropriately.

Finally, I treat as many situations as possible with professionalism. This is tough. Particularly when we are overcome with emotion. It’s easy to start creating these folks as friends and even family at times, but if this person is a client, or someone we are doing work with in any way, we need to make sure we approach these difficult situations with professionalism. That means we aren’t going to cuss them out or become sarcastic or rude.

In some ways, I find it important to rely on my professionalism when everything else is falling apart. For example, I had a client make a huge number of demands on my time. The client was rude, hurtful, selfish, and just generally a pain to deal with. They sucked up huge amounts of my time with requirements and attempted to overstep the amount they were paying me. Regularly.

I could have cussed them out when I left – after all, they had just sent me a particularly nasty message. I can tell you I was furious. Particularly since they made threats that I’d “never work in the business again” and that I was an idiot who couldn’t “see literary genius” and so on. The usual slew of insults when you tell a particularly crunchy creative “no”. Instead of cussing him out, I sent that client a very polite message and then sent every future message to my spam email folder.

When you behave that way it gives you the upper hand because anyone in the future examining the situation will see one person who is angry and unleashing a flow of invective and one who is behaving in an (at least) cordial manner and acting as a professional. Typically, judgment will lean toward the side of the professional.

To wrap this up, the three principals I have outlined here, listening, careful consideration, and  professionalism have saved my bacon more than once. This is just as true for an author as it is for an editor, publisher, cover artist, etc. The reason being is that we are all in this surprisingly small pool together, rubbing elbows. If you develop a reputation for lacking in the above traits it will spread. Regardless of what side of the industry you’re on, if you develop a reputation for being a dunderheaded, kneejerking, unprofessional individual it will haunt you. Trying to shake off that reputation is extremely difficult, too, because once people are wary of you it tends to stay that way for years.

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What Is An Editor’s Job?

What Is An Editor’s Job?

I have worked with many clients over the years who weren’t clear on this subject, and it led to frustration for everyone involved. As such I decided to write this out as a way to explain what it is we do for you.

Let’s start by discussing the three different types of editing. When you contract an editor you will talk with them about which type or types of editing you are asking them to perform. While the different types of editing are often interchanged and the definitions argued, I will give you the ones I use, and you can go from there. Also, be aware that I am approaching this from a fiction editor’s standpoint. I have not worked on nonfiction much, so I will only be giving a passing commentary on what it might mean for that type of work.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing means the editor is going to dig deep into your story to examine and work with all the elements thereof. They are going to work with you to iron out major plot holes (or, with a nonfiction work, examine your premis). If you look at your story as a dish at a restaurant, this is where you look at each element of the dish. Are the sides well-prepared? Is the meat cooked to the proper temperature? They then provide feedback on these elements and give you information on the overall construction of the piece.

At this stage, an editor might excise or have you add whole scenes or chapters to clarify points and improve pacing. It deals with the macro of the whole book rather than the nitty-gritty details. It also will examine long-term things like characters’ importance and use in the story.

Were I to boil this down into a single principal, this type of editing is dealing with the plot and story as a whole and viewing it in that light. It isn’t concerned with sentences or grammar, it is concerned with the piece in its totality.

Substantive Editing

Continuing the trend of comparing writing to food (I must be hungry), this is where the editor examines each part of the dish closely. Did you use just the right seasoning on the potatoes? Editors at this stage examine things like word choice and dialog. It nitpicks each scene to ensure it is written in the best possible way to get across your point.

During this phase editors also often do things like cull passive voice, adverbs, adjectives, and other unnecessary fluff to streamline your novel’s pacing and improve readability. If it sounds scary you’re right, it is in some ways. Having another person go through your book and pick it apart like this is intimidating, but well worth it if you have a quality editor.

This phase of editing is largely concerned with sentences as a whole. Do they flow well? Do they roll off the tongue? Do they feel right and benefit the book as a whole?

Copy Editing

The final and most focused phase of editing. This would be examining the dish’s plating technique and looking at the trimmings to ensure they are visually appealing. At this point, the editor is reviewing grammar and spelling for clarity. They will fix punctuation and syntax to ensure technical accuracy and consistency in things like dates and spelling of names, acronyms, or other words unique to the text.

During this part of the editing process, the editor is mostly focused on the punctuation marks and technical aspects of the language. They will not fix or touch your text in any other way, though they might make notes.

So what is an editor’s job, really?

Now that we know the three different types and styles of editing, we can dig into the meat of an editor’s job. I’ve waxed on about this particular subject before, and I’m going to do it again, so bear with me. I also warn you that we are now venturing into the territory of mixed opinion and fact.

I firmly believe that an editor’s primary job is to provide an author with the highest quality manuscript they can. While they must work within the bounds of the contract they created with the author, they should do everything in their power to augment the author’s ability and potential to the best of their ability. That’s fact, and good business practices.

Here’s where we hit opinion. I also believe an editor’s job is to teach authors and guide them through the publishing process if they know it. While not all authors want this advice, if an editor is able to give insight into the publishing industry as well as instruct authors on how to improve their writing on their own then they should do so.

Now, the reason I’m going into this territory is because many first-time or even not-so-first-time authors don’t know much about how the industry works. It’s a complex monstrosity that takes years and a great deal of research to fully understand. That’s just reality. Don’t be discouraged by that fact because you have guides to help you out.

To be honest, I view my job as almost teacher first and book triage second. While I can make a lot of money providing first-aid services to authors whose books need a lot of work, I sleep better at night if I teach them how to improve their books on their own so they don’t need to rely on me as much the next time around. It creates better relations with my client and provides them the best possible service, in my opinion.

What isn’t an editor’s job?

Now that you know what an editor’s job is, I am going to highlight a few things that are not included in the job description.

  • Writing your book for you.
    • This is the territory of a ghostwriter. We don’t want to write your book because we have enough work of our own to do. If you are looking for someone to write your book for you (or close enough) make sure you express this in the beginning and engage someone who provides ghostwriting services.
  • Rewriting your book in their voice.
    • Now, I’m going to preface this by saying voice is one of the most often misunderstood parts of writing. Your “voice” is not too many adjectives, passive voice, adverbs, or other writing sins. Your voice is the unique way you put words together that only you have.The only way an editor can damage this is by gutting and rewriting large swaths of your novel in their voice.The best way to handle this is to look at suggested sentences and rewrites and see if you can understand the direction the editor was going. If you like the way they wrote something, then stick with it. If you don’t then see if you can change it around to fit what works for you. This process doesn’t include snark, however. There is no need to be unfriendly to the editor if you decide to re-rewrite or adjust something they have suggested.The only time you might run into trouble with this is if the editor is working for a publisher because at that point they have final say on what makes it into the book.
  • Being a punching bag.
    • While this should go without saying, some authors become very snippy and require a great deal of coddling. This is not our job, and if you are that level of needy it will become a problem for us. Many editors do their best to be gentle to their clients and give them the benefit of the doubt, but we do not have to accept grief given by clients.
  • Being available at all hours for your convenience.
    • Again, this should go without saying, but some clients don’t recognize office hours or business weeks and expect their editor to answer emails or other contact forms instantly. The downfall of freelance is we work from home and often end up unable to pry ourselves away from our work. As such, many of us have specific office hours that we do not violate.These office hours and days off and so on are mandatory for mental and physical health. I can’t tell you how many editors and publishers I know who go to sleep dreaming of emails they haven’t sent or edits they didn’t finish. That said, unless there’s a pressing deadline, we need to disengage from our computers and be human beings every so often. Yes, many of us are crazy cat owners who spend our days watching Netflix, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need time off to recharge.

Working With a Pro. Editor

I want to preface this by saying I’m not a bigwig editor who’s been doing this for thirty years and makes a million dollars a contract. I am a pretty small time editor who has more bills than money, and I’ve been in the industry for about five years now. Of course, I’ve been writing and reading far longer, but when it comes to the business of publishing books it’s been about five years.

However, during that time, I have spent most of my career as an editor of various sizes and flavors. In addition to doing work for Insomnia Publishing I do freelance editing (as you all know!), and during a recent discussion with a prospective client I heard him talking about how most editors he’d worked with were either not aggressive enough, not flexible enough, , or tried to rewrite the story in their own words. Those are all sort of the “deadly sins” of editing, to me. Hearing that got me to thinking. Mileage may vary, as I can only speak for myself and my philosophy, but I’ve known enough other editors to be able to bounce these thoughts off them, too.

The job of an editor is complicated. While we need to ensure the writing is as polished as we are able to make it we cannot insert our voice into the writing. That requires being a chameleon. We must be able to make any things we insert into the writing sound, to the best of our ability, like they belong there. Either that or, my preferred method, is write what we think should be added  then encourage the author to adapt it to their own use however they see fit. That way the author can make tweaks to ensure the work is their own.

We also need to remember to be “aggressive” enough to address everything we think is wrong. If you think a whole chapter belongs in another part of the book or doesn’t work at all? It’s your job to tell the author that! I have no hesitation in saying when something doesn’t work. You are being paid for your opinion, and if you aren’t honest and up-front about what you think then you’ve taken someone’s money and not provided the top-tier feedback they expect from you. It’s disingenuous.

HOWEVER —

You need to separate out your personal taste from whether or not something makes sense. Just because I have personal preferences when it comes to my “style guide” that doesn’t mean that my style guide is superior to someone else’s. If I encountered an author who was deadset against using my precious Oxford comma I wouldn’t attempt to force the issue; that would be disrespectful. But if an author wrote the whole book in passive voice and claimed it was superior to active voice then you have a duty to attempt to reason with them. That said, unless I’m working with someone as part of a publishing contract, I am not going to fight with my clients. That’s just rude.

An editor also needs to be a bit flexible. I have clients who have specific style guides for their writing that needs to be adhered to. It’s important to them to make sure said style is present. As such I need to be prepared to learn and watch for the things in their guide. It’s important particularly if I am working with a client whose work is being overseen by another publisher since they will have their own guidelines.

I’m sure I had some witty way of wrapping this up when I started it, but it’s wandered out of my head. I think I’ve said all I needed to say, though, about editing and what I feel some of the most important attributes of an editor are. These, of course, are not the only things we need to know. We need to be skilled at grammar, multiple styles, and understand the structure of stories as well as having a good head for word usage. It’s a complicated bunch of things we need to know. But when it comes to working with clients I think these are some of the more important PR points we have when handling manuscripts for other people.