What we learn from our mishaps: Tips from editors’ blunders

By Antonia McGuire

Most people would rather not repeat their most embarrassing editorial gaffes, especially in a room full of professionals. But as mortifying or daunting as it may be, sharing these experiences with each other offers an opportunity to learn and grow. Besides, no one’s perfect!

Our last speaker night featured local editors, writers and members themselves, who checked their egos at the door, and chimed in on a lively roundtable discussion. Over 15 brave souls kept the story-telling alive with tales of their biggest blunders and what they learned from them.

Here’s the digest version.

1. Sleep in your clothes. This one is pretty basic but there is something to be said for simply being prepared. Especially when you have a big meeting with clients the next day!

Editor’s tip: To avoid a rushing around frantically in morning, set aside your outfit the night before. Better yet, when travelling for work be sure to pack your work clothes, including undergarments and all those kinds of essentials. Lie them all out on your bed before stuffing everything into a carry-on piece… that way you won’t just have jogging pants to wear to a business meeting. Eeek.

2. Know your weaknesses and arrange your work around them.

Editors’s tip: If you know you have a tendency to be late, set your deadline a week ahead of schedule.

3. Confirm the goods were received. How many times have you submitted the end product to a client or editor on deadline, only to receive nada in return? No hint of, “yup everything is a-okay on this end.” So naturally, panic sets in when you realize your deadline has passed.

Editor’s tip: Ask client to reply, confirming the deliverable was received. Use read receipt feature in Outlook.

4. Proofread every round as if it’s a new draft – with fresh eyes if possible.

Editor’s tip: try reading each paragraph backwards, starting from the end to the beginning.

5. When networking or trying to make a connection, be respectful and professional. There is an acceptable yet strategic way to reach out to potential clients or new editors to pitch… but pointing out their mistakes in x publication, book, article, etc., is not recommended if you actually want to get work or get a call back. Remain courteous, professional and attentive to their needs at all times. Because a real know-it-all is a real turn off.

6. “Tolkien was not a misogynist.” Find out who you are speaking to before offering your opinion to others, especially before going on a rant in an elevator to the editor of that famous book series, for example.

7. Norwegians know their grammar, but write like Yoda. To make a long story short, check your ego at the door and don’t be afraid to use your reference books or dictionaries to look things up. Always fact-check and proofread your work (sort of obvious) but it’s amazing how many “tweaks” one can find after third and fourth reviews.

8. Commentary or feedback that doesn’t improve the text feels insulting. The 360 feedback loop we get from the editorial process is essential to producing the best quality work possible. And … avoiding career-crushing mistakes or factual errors. Professionally speaking, we all need to learn how to take feedback – the good with the bad. Novice writers especially tend to struggle with this. To survive and thrive in this business, you develop thicker skin and a sense of humour. For editors, reviewers and writers alike, there is a way to give constructive feedback. Ranting and raving is not one of them. If you’re being defensive and difficult to work with, chances are it will be your last chance with that publication.

9. Adjective pile-ups make for translation problems. When working with bilingual documents, it is common to discover the occasional awkward English sentence that is difficult to translate. Editing is an iterative process. Practice doing text concordances by comparing English to French. If your language skills aren’t up to snuff, ask a colleague to help you look it over.

10. Double negatives can stymie readers in both languages. Whether it’s due to poor grammar, false punctuation or simply that the writer failed to explain something clearly, double negatives only confuse the reader. Editors shine in this respect by adding clarity, consistency and polishing to pieces when necessary.

11. Know your terminology limits. Use this rhyme to remember: when in doubt, check it out. Some editors and writers who specialize in technical, medical or financial writing will have acquired this in-depth knowledge and terminology from their studies or years of experience in the field. However, most of us don’t, so acknowledge that limitation and compensate accordingly by using back-up resources, contractors or by reading up!

12. Google before you diss. Or, just don’t throw insults out into the public via your Twitter or Facebook account – ever. It’s a small industry once you’ve been in it for awhile. You never know who will be listening or watching.

13. Rigorous checking of dictionary is a must.

14. Extra-rigorous checking of dictionary. Did I mention that?

Okay, now it’s your turn! What did you learn from an editorial mistake? Did you find this post helpful?
Share your thoughts or suggest a blog topic.

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