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Inside the Mind of an Editor

Editors do more than correct grammar. They also do more than cut, cut, cut. These common misconceptions lead writers to fear editors.

That’s not the case at Content Marketing Institute. Ann Gynn serves as editor, and we love her. She takes a story and makes more powerful. On the latest episode of Ask the CMI Team, Ann grabbed her red pen and sat down with Amanda Subler.

Key takeaways from the interview

  • Editing and proofing are not the same thing.
  • Don’t have access to an editor? Ask your kids! (No really, ask them.)
  • You don’t just marinate chicken.

Amanda Subler: I’m so super excited today to have Ann Gynn, who edits our Content Marketing Institute articles. She is the owner of G Force Communication. In fact, her nickname is Editor Ann. So I think it’s very fitting that she is joining us today. Hi Ann!

Ann Gynn: Hey Amanda! Yes, I got the nickname in high school so I was destined, I guess, for the whole career.

AS: They just knew. Maybe you didn’t. But they just knew.

AG: I’m a geek. It was just destined. Fortunately, I was actually editing, and it wasn’t just some weird thing in high school.

AS: So if you’re just joining us, we’re talking today about editing. Our question of the day is: What are the benefits of working with an editor? Why do you think it’s important? Or maybe why you don’t think it’s important. Please share that in the comments.

Let’s start here with a couple of questions before we get into the super fun part we’re going to do. So why do you think – I’ve asked people in the questions if they think editing is important – why do you think editing is so important?

AG: I’ll be interested to read some of the answers from that. So I think editing is important for a variety of reasons. And obviously I’m also a writer, so I’ve had the experience of an editor. And the whole goal of an editor is to make the piece better in the end for the reader or the viewer if you’re doing scripts or something like that. And I think that’s where the ultimate goal is. In content marketing, you’ve got two different audiences. You have the business audience and you have the general readership so to speak from it.

But the editor’s job is to polish the piece and make sure that it serves the audience. And as writers, sometimes we can get into our own heads, and I often do this where I’m like, “I’ve answered all the questions. I’ve answered everything!” And then, my editor will have a question. I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I thought I’d put everything in there. But I know what I’m writing about. That’s the key. I know what I’m writing about, but an editor doesn’t know what I’m thinking as I’m writing it. So it’s helpful to just get that additional perspective in it on a basic level from that and then to take your ideas in writing to that next level to go through from it. So that’s kind of the basic thing that I get into.

And I actually have a story from when I was working as an editor at the newspaper. I saw a writer’s portfolio, one of the reporters portfolios. There were the days of clips, and she had it in her hatchback trunk. When I was going out to lunch and I saw that she was putting it together and I was thankful actually that she was putting her portfolio together because she wasn’t that great of a writer. And when I looked at it was the clips that you wrote were where we had spent – this is daily newspaper – we spent hours editing that stuff. So that’s why I always love writing tests because the final product, you don’t know, it may be the writers byline but you don’t know how much it’s been edited. And so, that’s where it comes in and she did get a job and leave and I always wondered if later they thought, “Hmmm, that wasn’t who we thought we were getting.”

AS: So is there any situation you think where it’s not necessary to work with an editor?

AG: I think there are situations where you’re forced not to work with an editor because of timing, because of short staffed. I don’t advocate for anytime and that’s just because I’m an editor.

I think it’s always helpful even if you don’t call the person an editor, even if that’s not their role, to have someone else read it to make sure that it just makes sense from that. Not trying to get into how many to be verbs are used as an active or passive that an editor might be able to help with. But just have somebody look at it before you hit publish. And that could be a social media post where you think, “OK, I’ve got everything.” And then if it’s Twitter, you’re just going to delete it or you’re going to have your mistakes up there. So at a basic level to have somebody else look at it, even if it’s your spouse, your partner, your kids. They can read. If your kids can read, they can read the sentence.

AS: Good point. I have a question here from Inga.

As a writer, how do I get better at editing my own work? Resources? Training?

AG: First of all, just knowing that you need to get better and you want to improve is actually your first step. It sounds like that’s obvious, but sometimes writers get too precious about their own work. They think that every word is perfect, and they don’t have learn more. They know how to write. And that’s one of the challenges. We’re taught from elementary school about how to write sentences so everybody thinks that they can write. So I commend you on wanting to learn more about how to do it.

I think, there’s part of it’s the stuff you can do on a normal day as far as looking at what you wrote and then what was published and look at the difference. You can do it track changes version or something, what was different. And if you do that multiple days, you’re going to notice multiple things that are published. You’re going to notice patterns in your own writing, words that you use too frequently or that you don’t use active voice enough or something like that to come through.

Then there’s trainings that you can go through. Obviously Content Marketing University has some work on that. And there’s some other programs out there. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or formal from that. You can take some steps right now.

AS: Michelle comments: “You definitely need to put time between finishing writing and reading your own content to edit it. Maybe a day or two if you can.”

AG: That’s great advice. Fresh eyes. I worked with an editor at a newspaper and sometimes we had a chance to sit side-by-side on the screen as they edited my work. And they hated me, because I was always touching the screen and saying “well this could change here,” and “this could change here.” Because I really hadn’t had the time to look it over again. And some people didn’t really appreciate my fingerprints all over their screen.

AS: I always say marinating. Like I have to write something, then I let it marinate for a little bit. And then go back with fresh eyes after a day or two and take a look at it. As an editor, it’s kind of like a balancing act. You have the responsibility of an editor but you also want to respect the voice of the writer. You don’t want to just inject yourself into it. So how do you kind of balance that?

AG: I think it’s actually something that I continually work towards. So there’s editing for understanding and improving from that viewpoint, but it’s also important to remember that this is somebody’s writing.

In content marketing, you got to make sure it’s the voice of the brand and that it’s consistent with whatever voice. If you have somebody who’s a solo writer and they have their own column so to speak, you’ve got to make sure that it stays within their voice and that requires less editing. You have to think about it. And even if it’s not the way you’d phrase it, you need to have a reason to edit it from that. And then from a brand standpoint you need to make sure it fits the brand.

One of the things that I always say when I’m editing is there’s two questions I ask when I work with the writer. And one, as an editor, I should always be able to explain to you why I made a cut or a change in the piece. And as a writer, you should always be able to explain to me why it should be kept in. It doesn’t mean that everybody is going to agree, but we need to have explanations and reasoning. And if you understand why I cut something or why I rephrase something, you’re more likely to at least understand my reasoning. And if you as a writer says, “well this is why I had it in there,” OK let’s keep it in there but let’s emphasize it more or let’s do this different. That conversation, which doesn’t happen a lot these days for an editor and writer working even virtually side-by-side, has you thinking:

Is there a reason I’m making this change? Is it because I’m an editor and I can make that change?

If that’s your reason, it’s like the same reason is saying “because” to somebody. If that’s your reason, you better go back and rethink it.

AS: I think it is so important to have that conversation. And you’re right, everyone is so busy, and I’m sure it does not happen nearly enough. Someone is asking:

Does your editing approach differ depending on the format type or length of content?

AG: Yes and no. From that, so format, you’re editing for the format. So if it’s social media, making sure that it’s hitting whatever that audience is. So I guess what I’m saying is that it differs depending on who the audience is in the channel and how they consume content on whatever distribution channel it is to come through.

The length of the content? That’s actually more personal for me in that if I see something that’s really long, chances are I’ve got to A) think about how I’m going to do it. And I take it more in stages. So I’ve been doing this awhile so you should read through for context at one time and then you should read through for this and there’s various levels. But to be honest, I don’t do that all the time.

But with a longer piece I do. I read through it. Does this piece make sense? Is it hitting the point? What’s the point of it? Are there 10 points to it? (Which is sometimes the case and trying to figure that out.) Then I work on the subheads to go through, kind of similar to an outline. If there aren’t subheads, what subheads can I go in there and write to tell the story through the subheads not just through the paragraphs from that. That’s the quick version.

AS: People are saying communication is key between a successful partnership between a writer and editor. Michelle says if there’s a significant cut, she always explains why she thinks that should be left out. It just can’t be, “because I’m the editor.”

AG: It’s like “because I’m the parent” right? Hopefully you have a reason behind it to be able to explain it and educate to go through.

The other thing I’d suggest is writers ask your editors, even if something got published. I edit a lot for Content Marketing Institute, and we rarely get a question from a writer or to try to understand the edit, and we’re happy to explain it. There’s a reason we did, but in that process, I’m not working directly with the writer through most of the time. So feel free to ask the question of your editor of why. Not accusatory. “How dare you change this word that I wrote and took 10 hours to find in the dictionary!” But have a conversation.

AS: That will just help you improve your writing for next time.

AG: I love to tighten and cut. Just so you know that those are my two of my favorite things in editing, not because I want to cut what the writer said. It’s actually when I’m going through stuff, when I’m going through my own writing, I will go back and cut. I find that’s helpful. I write everything in there. I was just advising my nephew who’s writing college essays. Just write everything down and then go back. It’s easier to pull back than to add back into it from that .

AS: A tip someone shared earlier which is something they tell you to do… I used to work in TV news as a producer and writer… So is reading it out loud, like I think for any writing whatever it is, you don’t have an editor, at least read it out loud so you know what it sounds like. Sometimes we all get inside of our heads. Just reading it out loud, and you will catch all kinds of stuff doing it that way.

If you’d like more editing tips, Ann says editing and proofing are not the same thing. You can check out a blog post Ann put together.

Thank you everyone for your comments. It really makes it when you engage with us and ask questions. Hopefully you found this helpful. Thank you to Ann for sharing her wonderful knowledge with us. She edits our blog but also has G Force Communications, if you want to learn more about what Ann does.

This is a brief transcript. To hear specific feedback on a written draft, watch a replay of the livestream.

Hoping Ann will give your writing a look? Learn how you can submit an article to the CMI blog. On a recent episode of Ask the CMI Team, our Vice President of Content gives you the inside scoop!