What Can I Expect from an Editor?

Closeup of copy with hovering red pencil and

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / bradcalkins

Editors come in two flavors: a content editor who – surprise, surprise – edits for content and a copy editor who edits for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

If you’re hiring an editor for a full-length book, you may want to hire two separate editors. If your editing needs are less than a full-length book, you can hire a 2-in-1 editor, one who can provide both content and copy editing.

Either way, here’s what to expect from content and copy editors.

A 2-in-1 editor will first edit for content and second for copy. Likewise, if you are hiring the editors separately, first your content editor will review your work, followed by the copy editor.

Content editors find and fill the holes in your writing. As a content editor reads, he asks: Does the piece grab the reader? Do the ideas flow in logical sequence? Are they comprehensive and comprehensible? Is there a beginning, middle, and end in a storytelling narrative? Does it answer the “who, what, when, where, and why” questions in a news release or business letter? Is it written in inverted pyramid style for a media release or news story? Will the target audience understand it or does it contain language that needs to be explained? Is it funny – intentionally? In fiction, do the characters maintain a consistent point of view and act within their characterization?

A thorough content edit may take three, four, five, or more edits to ready a piece for publication, depending on the length of the piece and the skill of the writer.

Content editing is followed by copy editing. A copy editor reads the copy line by line in search of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, ensuring the correct “there,” “their,” or “they’re” is used, that “it’s” is used in place of “it is” and not the possessive “its,” that the semicolon is not misused, and that the Oxford comma is used or not used consistently. A copy editor may also note content inconsistencies, but that is not his primary objective.

Once an editor is satisfied that the piece has reached perfection, a good editor will print it and read it out loud. Humans first communicated through the spoken word and good writing must stand up to an oral reading. Editors catch more mistakes when speaking it aloud and studies have shown that more mistakes are caught when reading a printed page as opposed to an electronic page. Good editing cannot be a completely green process.

But it is always a two-step process, a process that ensures your copy is comprehensible and grammatically correct.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

If— By Rudyard Kipling

Since I was a teenager, I have carried a copy of this poem in my wallet. I pull it out to share with you today.

If—Kipling in Vermont

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

3 Elements to Writing an Attention-Grabbing Press Release

Photo of a pyramid that has been flipped to be inverted.

© Can Stock Photo Inc./ANZAV

According to one public relations blogger, the three largest press release distribution companies issue a combined 1,759 press releases every day. But a 2014 study found that journalists spend less than a minute perusing each one.

To break through the clutter, you must write a compelling press release that grabs an editor’s attention. Press releases have been eulogized by many, but they’re not dead. On the contrary, they remain an essential tool to anyone who wishes to get the media’s attention. Even in today’s climate of blogs, online releases, Facebook, and Twitter marketing, the press release maintains its relevance.

Three elements are essential to writing a compelling press release that grabs the attention of reporters and editors: the inverted pyramid, the lead block, and the headline.

Press releases are written in the inverted pyramid style

Speeches, columns, feature stories and most other forms of writing have a beginning, a body, and a conclusion. A press release, however, is written in the inverted pyramid style. Because of that, the lead paragraph(s) and a strong headline are crucial to grabbing an editor’s attention. In the inverted pyramid style, we begin with the conclusion. There are no surprise endings in a press release. You must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the first paragraph. Remember, you only have a few seconds to grab the reporter’s or editor’s attention. If he or she needs to wade through the press release to find the pertinent information, you’ve lost them. The most important information leads your press release, followed by the next most important information, followed by the next most important information, and continues until you end with the least important information. Hence, the inverted pyramid.

The lead paragraphs must give the most pertinent information

Aside from the headline, your first paragraph or two are the most important element in a press release. In PR parlance, it’s called the lead. Remember, you must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the lead. Let’s consider this lead I wrote for a food truck rodeo sponsored by Alexandria, Virginia’s West End Business Association. It’s a two-paragraph lead:

“ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – Everything from Maine lobster to fresh pizza will be offered at this year’s West End Business Association’s 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo as the number of food trucks increases to 10 from the seven offering grand grub last year. In addition, an expanded general store of four mobile merchandise outlets will provide the optimal shopping experience – from plus-size women’s fashions to skateboards.

“Presented by WEBA and the DMV Food Truck Association, the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria. Entry to the event is free. Up to 5,000 buckaroos and cow belles are expected this year.”

  •  Who: You have the food trucks, the merchandise trucks, WEBA, and the DMV Food Truck Association.
  • What: 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
  • When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, June 5
  • Where: Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria
  • Why and/or How: Not specifically spelled out in the lead, but good grub is why people should attend.

Under that I have a quote from the president of the organization that adds more information to the 5 W’s, followed by information on the specific food trucks. All important information, but not critical to capturing the editor’s attention.

Write a compelling and editor-grabbing headline

The headline is your first chance to grab a reporter or editor. If you’re emailing the press release, it’s in the subject line. If you’re faxing it, it’s bolder and larger to stand out. If you’re posting a link to it from your web site, it needs to cause someone to want to click the link.

A headline should not exceed 15 words. If you need to add information, a drop head – a smaller headline under the main headline – is acceptable. Here’s the headline and drop head I wrote for the food truck rodeo.

10 Food Trucks to Rustle Up Some Great Grub at 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
4 merchandise trucks includes a mobile skateboard boutique

What makes that a compelling headline – aside from the fact that I wrote it? Several ingredients make it so. One, it contains numbers. Humans are attracted to numbers. 10 food trucks, 4 merchandise trucks. Second, it uses verbiage that reflects a rodeo atmosphere. Rustle Up Some Great Grub. It has an action verb. Rustle Up. It has a bit of alliteration. Great Grub. The drop head includes a surprise entry – a mobile skateboard boutique. But mostly it contains Who, What, and Why – three of the five essential questions you need to answer in the lead. (One could argue that 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo is What, Where, and When as written. But it would be presumptuous of me to point that out.) (See the full press release: 052115_WEBA_Food_Trucks_Announced.)

So there you have it: The three most essential elements of an attention-grabbing press release:

  • Inverted pyramid style that has the most important information at top and continues in a hierarchy of importance until it ends with the least important.
  • A lead paragraph or block that not only provides the Who, What When, Where and Why and/or How – but makes it sing. And,
  • A strong headline that quickly and accurately summarizes your release in 15 words or fewer and contains an action verb.

Practice those three elements and you, too, can grab the attention of reporters and editors.

Want to know more? Download your FREE copy of "14 Press Release Best Practices."

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Don’t Parrot. Interpret.

Mother breastfeeding child.Here’s how NBC Washington identified one new Virginia law that takes effect today:

“Breastfeeding: Women can breastfeed anywhere the mother is lawfully present.”

Anywhere the mother is legally present? Where is a mother illegally present, other than in jail?

So I checked the Washington Post story:

“And a new Virginia measure gives mothers the right to breast-feed in public places, expanding current law that allows breast-feeding on state property.”

Ah. Much clearer.

A journalist’s job is to interpret and put in plain English laws, regulations, and other government speak. Score one fail for NBC Washington and one win for the Washington Post.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Anemic economy may be new normal – and that may be OK

Stock photo of paper money to illustrate Anemic economy may be new normal

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / LumaxArt2D

“The economy is moving ahead, but at an uninspiring pace.”

Those words by National Federation of Independent Businesses Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg and broadcast on the big screen summed up the messages from presenters at the Thomas Jefferson Institute‘s Business Leaders Roundtable on Virginia’s Economic Future at George Mason University on Monday.

Anemic economic growth holds true for the nation as a whole, but particularly in Northern Virginia. Despite the stilted improvement, it’s still improvement and the seven speakers did their best to put a positive spin on what all agreed is the new normal. Finding new normals in each economic sector to fit the overall new normal constituted the bulk of their presentations.

Northern Virginia is a company town and the company – the federal government – is not doing too well right now, Terry Clower, director of GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis, told the estimated 150 people in attendance. That accounts for much of Virginia’s flimsy post-recession growth compared with the rest of the country. If Northern Virginia does not diversify its economy, conditions will worsen.

“Our future looks pretty bright if we can change our contractors from B2G to B2B (Business-to-Government to Business-to-Business),” Clower said.

Brett Vassey, president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, noted that Virginia ranks 49 out of the 50 states in job growth. Much of the manufacturing industry in Northern Virginia is defense manufacturing, and between federal budget cuts and sequestration that sector has been severely impacted.

“We need to find a new normal,” he said.

Tech jobs are equally impacted, said Josh Levi, vice president for policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Virginia is shedding tech jobs as 38 of our sister states increase tech employment through incentive programs. In fact, Levi said, Virginia is dead last in tech job creation, having lost 3.1 percent of its tech jobs in 2013-2014.

Despite those losses, in 2014 Virginia still ranked:

  • First in concentration of IT jobs in non-IT industries
  • Second in concentration of high-tech employees
  • Second in concentration of scientists and engineers

IT also is diversified in Northern Virginia, as is manufacturing despite its overdependence on defense contracting. While Virginia earned mostly C’s and D’s in the 2015 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card, the state earned an A in Sector Diversity and a B in Productivity and Innovation, Vassey noted. Equally important is Virginia’s educational rankings in science and math. Of 16 Southern states surveyed, Virginia ranked first in eighth-grade science proficiency and tied for first with Maryland and Texas in eighth-grade math proficiency.

Stephan Cassaday, president and CEO of Cassaday and Company, was perhaps the most upbeat of the presenters. Two and a half percent growth may well be the new normal, he said, but if it’s steady growth that’s better than a 3 or 4 percent growth rate followed by a 3 or 4 percent drop.

The other presenters and their presentations:

Follow your passion, but act like an entrepreneur

Heads up, freelance writer. You’re an entrepreneur and to succeed you must think and act like one.

That was the takeaway from the 2015 NPC-SPJ Spring Freelance Workshop at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on May 8. Woman reading a newspaper in a newspaper library.

Peter Smith, a business development coach and founder of Smith Impact, drove that point home with his three keys for success:

  • Follow your passion.
  • Get really good at what you do.
  • Learn how to market and sell what you do.

Smith was one of eight panelists composing two panels who discussed the pros and cons and ups and downs of freelance writing. The workshop attracted seasoned professionals, students, and the curious.

But while Smith was blunt in his freelancers-as-entrepreneurs approach, other panelists touched on successful entrepreneurial techniques as well. Networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances are roles all successful entrepreneurs must master.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a full-time freelance writer for the past seven years, was one of several panelists who discussed networking as a key ingredient for success. Why is networking important? Because clients hire people they know and trust. In the entrepreneurial world, that’s as true for selling words as it is for selling shoes. Freelance writers must network where editors gather, such as conventions, Lewis urged. But editors are one part of the mix. She surprised many in the audience when she said “networking with other freelancers is the most productive networking that I do. … I’ve learned that networking with other freelancers and developing really trusted relationships with people who may have complimentary but not exactly the same interests I do is very helpful.”

Networking lands you clients – perhaps even an anchor client. An anchor client is one who gives you steady work over a long period, sometimes years. Anchor clients come with a warning, however. It’s very easy to get comfortable with a steady income. Perhaps so comfortable and so busy that you curtail your networking. That’s a mistake for any entrepreneur. Clients don’t last forever. And if you lose your anchor client, you lose your income. Tam Harbert, who moderated the first panel, is chair of the NPC Freelance Committee and a 10-year, full-time freelancer. Experience has taught her that no one client should comprise more than 20 percent of her income.

So, never stop networking. Keep growing your client base. Next, manage your finances.

The first step in managing your finances is to compute how much you need to earn an hour to make a decent living. Include not only business expenses, but your mortgage, utilities – and vacations and retirement, Lewis said. Then track the time you work on every story or project. That will help you determine which clients pay the most per hour, Harbert said. Can you secure more work from them? Conversely, which clients pay the least? Should you replace them with higher-paying clients?

Many freelancers – and other entrepreneurs – nail the first two points Smith made – follow your passion and get really good at what you do. Successful entrepreneurs also nail point number three – learn to market and sell what you do. And, that includes networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances.

See you on the other side of the notebook.

(Tam Harbert on the entrepreneurial personality.)

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Clear and concise writing: It’s all very civilized

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known  writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit.

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. (© Can Stock Photo Inc. /swisshippo)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a caption gives it context.

Videos are all the rage. But if the script is ineffective, so is the message.

Public speakers do it without notes. But the speech is written first.

To be a terrific tweeter, you must write engaging and effective headlines in 140 characters or less.

Why? Because the foundation for all effective communication is clear and concise writing.

It is also the foundation for civilization itself. So says the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its online essay “The Origins of Writing.” The essay notes that the population of southern Mesopotamia exploded in the 4th century BC. That includes Uruk, (oo-rook) which grew into the world’s first city. It is also here that we find the first examples of a written language. As the ability to communicate in written form spread, so did civilization.

As your writing becomes clearer and more concise, your message will explode too. It’s all very civilized.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.


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