An American Editor

September 24, 2014

The Business of Editing: The Key to Success

Every business has keys that lead to success, but only one is the key to success — all the other keys just open doors on the success pathway; this one key opens the door to success itself.

We all can identify many of these keys already; all we need to do is think about what makes for success. For editors those keys include honed language skills, management skills, computer skills, proper equipment, a library that supports our work, and so on. Every one of these keys is important to carry us along the path to success, but not one alone — or several in combination — is sufficient to bring success.

Of course, there is one problem with the foregoing, and it is a fundamental problem: What is success?

If you gather editors together and ask that question, you will get a variety of answers. But I think the answers, no matter how phrased, basically boil down to these propositions: job satisfaction and sufficient income that the editor can live independently on their own income. In my view, the latter, financial success, subsumes the former, job satisfaction, because if you do not have financial success, it is hard to focus on those elements of the job that bring satisfaction.

Consequently, I define success as financial success. Let me be clear, before the uproar, that financial success is a long continuum: for some it is earning enough to pay the rent and put food on the table; for some it is earning a “professional’s” income; for some it is earning a six-figure income year after year; for some it is earning enough each year to pay for one or two family vacations. In other words, what amounts to financial success is personal; there is no magic number that separates success from nonsuccess except as we each individually draw it. The only commonality is that we are speaking in terms of financial success and not job satisfaction or some other criterion.

So each of the many keys lead down this pathway to success but none of the keys opens the magic door — none are the key to success, except for one not yet mentioned: self-confidence.

I believe firmly that the ultimate key to success is self-confidence. Those of you who have suffered through my presentations at conferences know that I keep repeating throughout my presentations this bit of braggadocio:

Three things I alone am —
— I am the greatest
— I am the smartest
— I am the best

Needless to say, each ends with “editor” or “businessperson” but it could as easily end with proofreader, indexer, mother, father, surveyor, writer, publicist…the list is endless.

In the beginning, participants are annoyed. After all, who am I to proclaim myself the best editor; there are bound to be better editors somewhere in the universe. Eventually, it dawns on some participants that I am making a point: The key to success is self-confidence and you need to think of yourself in these terms.

If, and only if, you think of yourself in these terms can you convey this aura to a client. No client wishes to settle for second best and every client will shop around until they find the editor who convinces them — albeit subconsciously — that she is the greatest, the smartest, and the best editor and there is no need nor logical reason for the client to search further.

Think about repeat business. Why do you think you are getting repeat business or referrals from clients? It isn’t because you dye your hair (assuming you aren’t bald like me) or because you are 30 and I’m in my sixties or because your name begins with R (hmmm, so does mine) or any of the reasons why one wins a beauty contest that focuses on beauty. Clients return because you have convinced them that you are the greatest, the smartest, and the best.

You convince them by the work you turn out and by the air of confidence you display when you communicate with them. You have made an editorial decision and wonder how to convince the client that it is the correct decision and the decision that the client both should and needs to accept. Experienced editors know that simply saying “Chicago says” isn’t sufficient; it also isn’t sufficient to say “because I say so” — unless you have already convinced the client that you are the greatest, smartest, and best. Believing you are adds power to communication.

Essentially you are a salesperson and the product you are selling is yourself.

When you tell a repeat client that this new project will cost three times what previous projects cost, what happens? It depends, doesn’t it, on what the client thinks of you and your services. You may have a ready explanation (e.g., it would require me to work my normal days off or to give up my holiday), but clients have their own constraints and seek the path of least resistance, which in budgeting means looking elsewhere.

Yet when you have that combination of quality services and high confidence, and you send that message to clients, clients first want to try to come to terms with you, not take the path of least resistance. I know this from my own experience; I know this from more than 30 years of running a highly successful business. In not one of those years of freelance editing have I ever had to complain of no business or business that didn’t pay enough for me to be successful. Colleagues who I know who have similar histories all exude that key to success: self-confidence.

Self-confident colleagues, like me, never worry about what will happen if a client stops calling. Why? Because we have sufficient confidence in our abilities and our salesmanship of our abilities and ourselves to know that for every client who stops calling, there are several waiting for the opportunity to hire us. Importantly, they think we are the editors they must hire.

Last week I was offered eight new projects, seven at rates higher than my usual rate. Why? Because clients understand and believe that

— I am the greatest
— I am the smartest
— I am the best

Why do they understand and believe that? Because my work is superior and because I have the self-confidence to tell clients that the three words that best describe me and my services are greatest, smartest, and best.

Self-confidence is the key to success; everything else is just a key on the path to success. Do you have self-confidence? Do you exude it so that your clients believe it?

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

Richard Adin, 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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