When you’re starting out as an editor, it’s important to find a way to show a prospective client exactly how good you are. What’s the best way to do that? One possible way, which I’ve often heard aspiring editors talk about, is sending in unsolicited corrections of a publisher’s material as a way to get a conversation going. It sounds fine in theory, doesn’t it? After all, part of an editor’s job is spotting things that need fixing up. So, maybe you’ve noticed typos on a company’s website or errors of substance or presentation in a book you’ve read. But how well will this approach work?
A publisher’s traditional response to an unsolicited correction went something like this: ‘Thanks, we’ll correct that in the reprint’ or ‘Thanks, we’ll correct that in the next edition’. This allowed them to put minor changes on file and effectively defer the decision to do or not do, since it would only need to be done if and when either a reprint or new edition opportunity arrived. We can probably now add to the range of responses the more e-friendly ‘Thanks, we’ll fix that up next time we’re amending the files’.
The perception of post-publication correction is changing to some extent, as e-publishing enables us to see text as more open, more editable and tweakable, than in its printed incarnation. E-publishing, the argument goes, has liberated text from the sacred ‘first print run’, which represented (as it still does for print titles) the outcome of a publisher’s investment in a book, not the start of an ongoing process of improvement. Publishers have traditionally looked to the modest erratum slip as a cost-effective, short-term fix (the erratum slip is also a boon for bibliophiles and collectors of unusual editions — if that’s you, here’s a nice little meta-commentary on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections). But with e-publishing, there’s no need to sell through the print run before taking in a change. Authors who publish their own work, and anyone else who creates an ebook, can choose a provider that allows free updates, or pay for changes to be made if they feel strongly about them. Publishers, of course, have their own processes for managing e-corrections, too, although someone still has to authorise, manage, and pay for them.
So, if corrections are becoming easier to make than ever before, why not highlight the changes that are clamouring desperately to be made, when you pitch?
1. The person who is hiring you is not necessarily connected to that book. More likely, they are a production editor, editorial manager, or media services controller. This means their focus is not on published product but on what’s coming up in the next few months. They don’t need to be bothered with corrections, and they probably get enough unsolicited email of this kind as it is. It’s better to: be aware of what they are publishing right now and focus on the client’s future needs.
2. The publisher’s frontlist has already passed an internal QA process. In other words, it has already been edited and proofread, and has passed pre-publication checks. This means that when you point out mistakes you’re implicitly criticising what they or their team have achieved. If you’re pointing out a glaring typo on a company website to someone on the management or communications team, you may even make the person feel stupid or neglectful, especially if they authorised the content personally. Of course, it’s not ideal for anyone to leave mistakes uncorrected, but it’s important to be aware of the underlying message you’re sending and not to overstep into busybodyness. It’s better to: focus on demonstrating the quality of your own work.
3. Your editorial skills go beyond fixing errors, and the client needs to know this. Publishers expect excellence from their editors – this is true for in-house and freelance staff. But from a practical point of view, excellence has to be achieved at a certain cost and within a certain schedule. Editors deliver a business service that encompasses so much more than fixing errors – from technical know-how such as coding, to communication skills such as querying, to soft skills such as motivating authors – so, if your message to the client is ‘I can spot any error at 100 paces’, you’re only showing them a portion of what you can really do. It’s better to: present yourself as a well-rounded professional who will be able to handle not only textual mistakes but all the other facets of an edit.
There’s no practical benefit to tying in marketing of editorial services with errors in published material, and doing so can be counterproductive and may not leave a positive impression.
How about you? What aspects of your editorial skills do you emphasise to prospective clients? Have you ever tried the unsolicited corrections approach and did it work? I’d love to hear about your experiences.