One of the more widely disseminated and read essays on An American Editor in recent times was “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor” in which I stated that one sign of an unprofessional editor is inflexibility. As we all are aware, there are other makings, too. Some are more unprofessional than others, but all contribute to making an editor unprofessional.
Today’s makings are not only small signs of unprofessionalism, but they are contrary to fundamental principles of good business. Editing is a business, at least for me. I know that for some editors, editing is a part-time, second income job intended to bring in enough money to pay for next year’s vacation or a new car, but not intended to be the primary source for money to keep the family fed, clothed, and sheltered. But that’s not me.
I run my editing service as if it were Apple or Microsoft or General Motors — to bring in new clients and new projects, to be profitable, to earn for me a generous income. Consequently, I approach decisions that affect my business with all the care and caution that I can.
Fundamental to my “business plan” is to be seen as a professional editor. Clients may not like an editing decision I make, but there is never a doubt that I am professional. I can support my decisions if asked, and if I encounter a problem that will affect schedule, I address it head on and quickly — I do not wait for a manageable problem to become unmanageable before tackling it.
Which brings me to today’s makings of an unprofessional editor: replying to emails and answering the telephone.
Simmering in my thoughts these past few weeks have been my dealings with a couple of colleagues — or perhaps I should say “lack of dealings.” The quickest way to chase away a client is to ignore the client; similarly, the quickest way to lose an opportunity is to not grasp it when offered.
I had inquiries from a couple of potential clients for some good specialty work. By “good” I mean above the usual pay and for reliable clients. But the work was outside what I do; I have been at this long enough (31 years) and I’m old enough (“old” covers it) that I limit what I am willing to do and the types of clients for whom I am willing to work. So when these offers came in, I decided to send the clients elsewhere.
But when I send a client elsewhere, I usually contact the person to whom I want to send the client to make sure she is interested in the job and has the time to do it to meet the client’s schedule. My first contact attempt is by telephone, my second is by email — there is no third attempt.
The First Attempt: Telephone
When I telephone, I call during “normal” business hours; that is, during those hours that most of us consider business hours. I realize that my business hours do not match your business hours, and that is fine, but how about a return telephone call sometime this century? And that’s a sign that maybe I am not contacting a professional.
Every business owner understands, or should understand, that returning a telephone call is important if you want to keep current clients and gain new clients. There are several aspects to this “problem,” but two to focus on are these: (1) the call should be returned within a reasonable time, which in today’s world means no more than a few hours, and the quicker the better, and (2) you don’t return a telephone call by sending a text message or an email.
As for the reasonable time for returning a call, it strikes me that there is something amiss in one’s priorities when, instead of either answering the call or returning it within a short time, you respond to queries that aren’t directed specifically to you or that aren’t directly about either a job you are doing or want to do on lists like LinkedIn or make new posts on Twitter or Facebook. I know that when I call a colleague and leave a message that says I need to talk to her about a job but before I get a response I see her post messages in a forum, I lose interest in sending work to her. I wonder about her priorities.
If I have taken the time to telephone, does it not indicate that I wish to speak with you, not exchange emails or text messages? Explaining about a job or a client goes much faster by telephone than by texting, yet colleagues respond to telephone calls by texting.
I think not answering the telephone, not promptly returning a telephone call, and responding by texting/email rather than calling are all indications of a lack of professionalism. If there is a reason why you could not respond either quickly or by telephone, then an apology-explanation is appropriate.
Remember this: Editing is a person-to-person business that requires people skills. Being a good editor is not sufficient to be successful; interpersonal skills are important. Consequently, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Do you like it when your doctor or your plumber doesn’t return your telephone call? How does it make you feel? Does it make you think they value you as a client?
The Second Attempt: Email
If time passes and I do not get a return call, I attempt contact by email. Sometimes I send an email immediately after leaving a voice message in which I ask the colleague to call me as soon as possible as I have a job to discuss with her. The email specifically asks for a telephone call.
I usually get a response — eventually and by email. By this time, I have decided not to pass the job on to this colleague because she didn’t respond as asked and offered no explanation for failing to do so. (There is also the question of how prompt her response was.)
This, too, is a business fundamental. When a client indicates a response method preference, a good businessperson adheres to that preference. It does not matter whether the client’s reason is silly or for national security — it is fundamental that it is the client who is in charge at this stage and the last thing that should be done is irritate the client.
I think not responding in the manner requested is an indication that the editor believes she is more important than the client, which bodes ill for the future business relationship. As I said earlier, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Ignoring client requests and not responding promptly, in the absence of apology and explanation, is worrisome. How will my manuscript be treated if I’m treated as if my preferences matter naught?
The Professional Editor…
The professional editor cares about the impression she is making. She knows that everything she does communicates to her client (or potential client) her professionalism (or lack thereof). Most of us want to be viewed as professional. Consequently, we need to think about how we handle the mundane aspects of our business — are we communicating professionalism or giving signs of unprofessionalism?
We spend a lot of time and effort creating our presentation to the outside world — making sure our email signature is just right, that our website looks professional, that our forum messages demonstrate professionalism — so it seems foolish to let those efforts be undermined the little things.
Do you agree?
Richard Adin, An American Editor
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