The writer-editor relationship: building trust and making great content together

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The writer-editor relationship can make or break the content production process. For those of us that actually have editors that is. And while some create and publish content without editors, having somebody who reviews, edits and makes suggestions can really set up content to perform. But, those editors have to be good a several things, something I discussed with Patricia Chui on episode 660 of “The Business Storytelling Show.”

Editors do a lot more than fix typos

Some people think editors just correct grammar and spelling mistakes. But a good editor does much more. Patricia says editors are “really the ones who oversee quality control. Not just make sure that things sound good, but also help you become your better self, help you become a better writer, help you see things you couldn’t see before.” It’s all part of the writer-editor relationship.

Editors think about the big picture, like:

  • Is the structure and flow of the writing clear?
  • Does it make a strong, unique point?
  • Is it written in a way that works well for the format and audience?

A great editor collaborates with the writer to bring out their best work. They ask questions, give suggestions, and help the writer see their draft from a fresh perspective.

Read next: What is a style guide? A guide to consistency starts here.

Why a human editor still matters in a world of AI

These days, AI grammar tools are everywhere. It’s easy to think you can get by without a human editor. But Patricia emphasizes that editing is about a lot more than just grammar. “A great editor won’t just correct your spelling and grammar, but will help you make sure that you know their narrative is structured well, that you have a unique and strongly expressed point.”

Plus, a human editor understands things AI might not, like:

  • The voice and style that’s right for a brand
  • What works for different audiences and content types
  • How to give helpful feedback while being sensitive to the writer’s feelings

Writing is personal. When an editor rewrites your draft or gives a lot of critical notes, it’s normal to feel a bit stung at first. A good editor knows this and aims to have a respectful dialogue with the writer. As Patricia puts it, “I want you to understand why I changed what I did and I have some questions for you. And let me help you make it better.” AI can’t navigate those human feelings.

Read next: The Future of Business Communication: AI, CommTech, and CCOs

Keeping a consistent voice across content types

Another key role editors play is making sure a brand’s content sounds consistent, even when different people are writing it. Think about a website where the homepage sounds totally different from the “About” page. It’s jarring, right? The writing doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the same place.

“If you have different people writing those pages, they are all going to come out sounding different unless you act as an editor or hire an editor to make sure that they are all consistent in tone of voice,” Patricia explains.

Editors are experts at understanding a brand’s unique voice and helping every writer nail it in their own way. They know the writing style and content format that works best for blogs versus videos versus social posts. And they ensure it all ties together.

Giving feedback with empathy and tact

Giving and getting feedback is one of the trickiest parts of the writer-editor relationship. Writing is such a personal, vulnerable thing – even when done for clients or on behalf of a company. It’s easy to feel crushed by criticism, even when it’s meant constructively.

“When I’m a writer, and I get edited, somebody says, you know, changes something, or has advice, whatever, I sometimes take it personally as well,” says Patricia.

The best editors approach feedback carefully and kindly. They see it as the start of a conversation, not a list of demands. Patricia likes to “make some notes. And then you talk to the writer and say, Hey, let’s talk about this. I want you to understand why I changed what I did.”

Ideally, the editor and writer talk openly about what’s working and what could be better. The writer feels comfortable asking questions. And the editor balances helpful critique with enthusiasm for the writer’s ideas and voice.

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Building a real partnership

Great content comes from editors and writers who trust and respect each other. They see each other as partners, not adversaries. Each person knows the unique skills and viewpoints they bring.

“The best-performing teams involve a level of collaboration,” says Patricia.

The editor isn’t there to overrule the writer. And the writer isn’t just there to churn out whatever the editor dictates. They put their heads together to make something awesome.

If you’re an editor, some ways to build that partnership are:

  • Set clear expectations upfront about process, deadlines, and goals
  • Ask the writer questions to understand their vision before jumping in with changes
  • Frame feedback as a dialogue focused on making the work stronger, not a personal attack
  • Recognize and praise what the writer did well, not just what needs fixing
  • Be open to the writer’s pushback and ideas

And if you’re a writer:

  • Choose editors you trust to “get” you and make your work better
  • Ask your editor questions so you understand their feedback
  • Receive editorial notes graciously, not defensively, knowing they want you to succeed
  • Push back respectfully when you disagree
  • Tell your editor what kind of feedback and communication style works for you
  • Thank your editor for making you look good!

The writer-editor relationship takes work, like any human relationship. But when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s electric. You’re in sync, making each other better, and pumped to share what you created with the world.

In the wise words of Patricia: “Editors are on your side.” Believe it, writers. Treat your editor as a thought partner and sounding board. Amazing things will happen.

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