Letter from a Client: How to Define Your Ideal Copyeditor

Molly McCowan Business Storytelling 1 Comment

Sometimes my clients blow me away with their kindness and generosity. One such client, Pete Myers, an incredibly talented photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, did just that last week with his email, below (used here with his permission, of course).

Pete and I have worked together on many different projects, and I’m in love with his art. His photographs have a richness and depth to them that I just haven’t seen anywhere else. He specializes in memorializing the decaying ruins of the American West, and his rich studies, many of which are in velvety black and white, are magnificent.

And, as amazing clients and friends go, you can’t do better than Pete. He and his wife Kathy even sent me and my husband a gorgeous wedding present last year when we got married: a signed print of my favorite photo of Pete’s.

Pete’s email was in response to a recent column I wrote for Copyediting.com, titled “How to Define Your Ideal Client.”

Here’s what Pete wrote:

Hi, Molly!

I enjoyed your article, so I thought for fun I would answer back.
How to Define Your Ideal Copyeditor

A great copyeditor:

1. Knows the technical aspects of copyediting like the back of their hand, in any form, style, or mannerism.

2. Understands that the job is not “the job.” Half the battle is getting the writer to look at the material from a different perspective.

3. Always brings out the best in the writer’s work, even when the writer is feeling uneasy about the project or the stage of the project at that moment. It’s an art form to write, not a technical exercise. But in the end, it has to be technically correct and flow well, the logistics of which are the job of the copyeditor.

4. Always answers with a genuine smile and kindness, even when the client is being a grump-bucket. Projects are non-linear, and oftentimes the writer has lost sight of the beginning and end while stuck in the middle, and that is a miserable place to be. Copyeditor as Writer Therapist may not be the job either, but a little of it is endearing. A good laugh, even better.

5. Builds trust through the work, not just a single project. It is a dance between writer and copyeditor, and it takes a long time to learn to tango!

6. Knows when to pause. Sometimes both the page, the chapter, and indeed the book may need a “working rest” for the writer and copyeditor to gain perspective. It’s easy to get into a panic and overwork the piece.

7. Allows the writer’s voice to be heard through the written word. Language is fluid, and to kill off feeling in favor of language structure is an act of sterility—and a great way to get nowhere in a hurry. Sometimes there is a new use of language, and even if it only lasts an instant, it should be played out.

8. Understands more then just the work of the writer. Life is what fuels the page, and the more one knows the client (within reason), the better one can interrupt or fill the gaps when the unspoken aspects on the page still need a voice.

This is how I see you, Molly! Thank you so much for all of your hard work on my behalf, and your kind interest. You have a rare mix of talents. I feel very lucky to be able to work with you.


Pete Myers

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Pete’s letter made my day, and he brings up some great points about the writer–editor relationship, from a writer’s point of view. What else would you add to this list?

Photo by Pete Myers, 2016.

Molly McCowan
Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the Lead Word Nerd at Inkbot Editing, it's her job to make you look good.