by Sue A. Fairchild

Recently, I lost a job judging entries for an online writing contest. Although the job didn’t pay much, I enjoyed the work (mainly because I got the opportunity to read the beginnings of many good novels) and it connected me with new people. The coordinator of the contest said she hated to let me go because she could tell I was offering concise and helpful editing advice, but the entrants didn’t seem to be connecting to me as a judge.

I sought the advice of several other judges and looked over some of their comments, comparing them to my own. Many were similar, but their tone was often lighter and less strict. I wondered if that could be the only difference.

Then, a few weeks ago, I took The Pen Institute’s Nonfiction Copyediting & Proofreading Boot Camp 401 course. Taking this course was a true challenge to step out of my comfort zone. Opening myself up to possible criticism could further hurt my already damaged self-esteem from losing the judging job. I felt I would either: a) feel better about myself as an editor; or b) feel like I should give up the profession for good. Still, I reasoned, if I was going to grow as an editor, I needed to make this step.

As the course began, I discovered that I seemed to be a decent editor and sometimes caught items that others missed. My initial feedback was positive and gave me back some of my lost confidence. However, I also determined that I still have a lot to learn in some areas and need to really study my CMOS more. Most importantly, I realized that not connecting to my clients might be my true downfall.

I noticed many of the other editors in the course included a lot of positive feedback and encouragement among their editing comments. Even our instructor gave us feedback that proved to be both positive and constructive, which helped soften the blow of some of her harsher comments. In addition, she purposely pointed out to me that I was lacking in positive comments. Although I try to be friendly and encouraging with each of my clients, I typically do so in my emails back to them—not in the actual edited document. I can see now that this approach could have been misconstrued as condescending and critical as opposed to helpful and motivating.

Although it is important for editors to provide consistent and accurate writing and editing feedback to their clients, it’s also almost as important to create a relationship of trust and even friendship with each one. As I move forward through 2018, I will take these lessons to heart as I approach new and existing clients.

Sue A. Fairchild is a freelance editor who specializes in full-length novel edits and Christian writing. Her clients include a USA Today Bestselling author, a suspense/thriller series, and a fantasy series. In addition, Sue has been published in Christian devotion magazines, two Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and has self-published two novels currently available on Amazon (“What You Think You Know” and “Summer’s Refrain”). Find out more about her by following her on Twitter and Instagram or signing up for her newsletter.