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


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