An American Editor

January 22, 2014

If You Don’t Believe. . .

When I speak at conferences, I often start my session by saying:

“Three things I alone am —
• I am the greatest!
• I am the smartest!
• I am the best!”

As those who attend my sessions can attest, I repeat that throughout my presentation.

It doesn’t matter whether I truly am the greatest, the smartest, or the best. What matters is that I believe I am — that I have confidence in my abilities and skills and that I communicate my confidence to clients and prospective clients.

At the last conference at which I spoke, I also handed out, at the end of my presentation, a card for each participant to place by their workspace, which read:

If you don’t believe you are the greatest, who will?

A key to success in business is self-confidence. In the absence of self-confidence, we become plagued with doubts about how well we did our work. Those doubts get transmitted to clients on a subconscious level. Clients do not want to believe that they have to review everything you did to make sure you did the job correctly. Instead, clients want to feel confident that they have hired the right person and can have faith that they will receive the quality work that they are paying for.

Consequently, my mantra — I am the greatest! I am the smartest! I am the best! — is intended to maintain my self-confidence and ensure that when I communicate with clients, I communicate that by hiring me (and impliedly, unlike by hiring some other editor) they have nothing to worry about. By hiring me, they have hired the best possible editor, and I will treat their work as if I had birthed it.

Most editors lack self-confidence. They never declare to the world that they are the best. They speak of themselves as being good editors or excellent editors — they compare themselves to themselves, not to their competition. This, I believe, is a mistake.

Each of us must have the strength and confidence to be equal with our clients. When we lack that strength and confidence, we give our clients the upper hand in any negotiations; basically, we accept whatever the client dictates because we fear the consequences of disagreeing with the client.

And if a client expresses dissatisfaction with our work when we are done, we often do not defend our actions vigorously, largely because we lack self-confidence and the strength self-confidence gives us.

If I am the greatest editor, then to whom will a client or potential client turn if the client turns away from me? The only choice is to turn to a second-best editor. Turning to a second-best editor says that the client does not think much of its manuscript. That is the message that we want to communicate: Is your manuscript not worth the attention of the best of the best?

In my early years as an editor, it was not unusual for clients to “argue” with me over editorial decisions. In those days, I lacked the self-confidence to stand by my decisions, unless I could point to a specific passage in a recognized style manual that expressly supported it. Today, it is different. Today, I have the self-confidence to determine for myself what is right and wrong. I point to style manuals and usage guides as supporting authority, if such support is needed.

A successful editor has confidence in the work they produce and in their skills. The successful editor believes that she belongs among the editing elite, and she conveys her belief and her stature to clients. As with most things in life, attitude is important. Believing you have the skills to be the greatest of editors puts you one step closer to being the best (and greatest) available editor on the planet.

We all know shy editors. Many of these shy editors are very highly skilled. They became editors because, among other reasons, they could limit their interaction with other people — their world revolves around the words on a page. But many of these editors also struggle to find work. The reason is that they lack the self-confidence to say to a client, “You need me because I am the best editor on the planet.”

As we have discussed in earlier essays, the Internet has changed our profession. Clients now have the world to search for an editor and often focus their search based on the economics. If you do not stand out from the crowd, what will draw attention to you? If clients have the choice among equal editors, your chances of being asked to undertake a project are no different from your competitors’ chances.

When we lack self-confidence, we become part of the crowd. We do not communicate to clients that we are different and that we are different because we are the best. We are just another editor in the sea of editors. Thus, my mantra. First, you need to convince yourself that you are the best editor in the sea of editors. Once you have convinced yourself, you must exude that confidence so that clients perceive you in the same way. The way to begin is to keep thinking

“Three things I alone am —
• I am the greatest!
• I am the smartest!
• I am the best!”

and to place this reminder in your workplace:

If I don’t believe I am the greatest, who will?

Richard Adin, An American Editor



  1. I recall when I first heard AE say this, I got the same reaction I get now: Wonderful idea, valid point(s) — and no way am I going to do it!

    For two reasons:

    (1) When I hear people boast about being the best of anything, especially as a sell point, I immediately become suspicious and/or offended (depending on how it’s conveyed). As a writer, if I heard a stranger state “You need me because I am the best editor on the planet,” I would run, not walk, to find someone else, because I would expect this editor to rewrite my work rather than help me make it the best it can be.

    Now, if what I wanted was an editor to rewrite my work, then I would be interested in testing the claim. (Although still hesitant, because the claim is so strong that I would need evidence of its veracity before parting with my money for their certain-to-be-high fee.) If I wanted something more subtle or interactive, then I would write them off as overconfident, if not deluded or arrogant, and keep shopping.

    (2) I am a realist, and to think of myself as the best in anything not only isn’t true, because I know other people are better/smarter/faster/whatever, but also because saying I’m the best editor on the planet sets up an expectation of perfection. I can’t get around the fact that I am human, and thus cannot promise perfection without being a liar. One reason I’m successful is that my clients value honesty, and they get it.

    If we all run around proclaiming ourselves the best, then prospective clients have no basis for selection. “If clients have the choice among equal editors, your chances of being asked to undertake a project are no different from your competitors’ chances.” Well, that applies to best-ness as much as anything else! The client still has to focus on some distinguishing factor. That’s why “branding” has become so important.

    IMO, it’s more productive to figure out what you do best and orient your business in that direction than try to wow people with your self-confidence. Confidence comes naturally when you are mentally and emotionally secure in your offerings and get steady positive feedback and repeat business. People who lack self-confidence in the first place generally need more than a mantra to build it, especially something that can be as easily punctured by reality, like “I am the best.”

    It’s a well-known tactic that one can learn a mentality or behavior by practicing it, including and especially confidence. You feel like a phony at first, but eventually it becomes second nature. Editors who are shy and/or un-self-confident should focus on managing that as part of their business plan. If adopting a confidence mantra like “I am the best” works for them, then great! If it doesn’t, then there is vast help out there in how to approach it from different angles.

    So in my opinion, the take-away thought in AE’s article is this one: “A successful editor has confidence in the work they produce and in their skills. The successful editor believes that she belongs among the editing elite, and she conveys her belief and her stature to clients.”

    Believing one ranks among the editing elite is a different perspective than believing one is the best editor. One can land good projects by being the best editor for *that* client or project.


    Comment by Carolyn — January 22, 2014 @ 8:28 am | Reply

  2. One of my favorite sayings is, “Believe in yourself, for it costs you nothing and often leads to great things.” I have it printed out and hanging on my wall, as well as being my computer’s wallpaper. I don’t think I could ever say to anyone I’m the best, but I do believe in myself and my abilities. Great points to ponder.


    Comment by Lorelei Logsdon — January 22, 2014 @ 9:05 am | Reply

  3. Rich, the philosophy you have articulated is perfectly in sync with the book, “Thinking Body, Dancing Mind.” The core element of this approach is the use of visualization and positive affirmations. I’ve been following this program for years to improve my cycling performance (it works, BTW). Henceforth, I will strive to apply it to my editing as well. 🙂


    Comment by Aden Nichols — January 24, 2014 @ 9:20 am | Reply

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