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A few years ago, I had a side job moonlighting as an editor for a fairly successful app review and Apple rumors website. I was one of several editors, and I had about 10 freelance authors assigned to me. The skill levels of the various writers ranged widely, but one particular author stood out. We’ll call him Mike.
The good thing I can say about Mike is that he was consistent. Unfortunately, the thing he was most consistent at was being a terrible writer. As if that wasn’t enough, he was a prolific writer. Sometimes, I’d step away from the computer to return an hour later to 3 or 4 more terrible posts marked as ready for review.
The best way I can describe Mike’s writing is with a word picture. Imagine the awful, awkward wailing sound that would assault your earholes if you were to steamroll a pile of bagpipes. It was like that, but for the eyes. Rules of basic grammar, spelling, logic, punctuation, and even common sense were all left bleeding on the floor with mortal wounds with every post he turned in. I probably would have felt sorry for Mike if I hadn’t felt like he was torturing me.
On your team, you may have your own Mike, but if the truth be told, sometimes we all have our Mike moments. If you’re an editor, you are already well aware of this. So what should you do when someone on your team submits a real stinker? Here are a few tips.
Some authors take their work more seriously than others and may require different handling, but you should always strive to be a gracious editor, slow to dole out a harsh word and quick to patience. If the post is terrible, it is important to ask yourself if this is a pattern with this author. If the answer is “no,” don’t worry about it too much and just follow the advice below.
But if it is a pattern, it may be time to reassess the value that author brings to your team. Is he creating more work for your editors? At one point, 85% of my time each night was spent on Mike. A bad author is like a plane flying with the landing gear down. It’s just extra drag.
Believe me. I know that when a post is bad, it’s hard to focus on much else. But you’re well-served to try to note the things the author did well before you launch into the negative. Note that this is not the same as patronizing or being insincere. In fact, if you genuinely can’t find anything positive about the bad post, it’s better to move on than to make something up.
What did the author do well? Was it an interesting idea that was just poorly put together? Was the intro or ending good, but just weak in the middle? Try to find the silver linings and you may be surprised to find how much more receptive the author is to hear your feedback.
I once heard an analogy about giving criticism. It’s like throwing a brick because criticism is kind of heavy and no one really likes receiving it. Some people go out of their way to throw bricks because they just like to smash people’s feelings. On the other hand, some people hate giving criticism and their “critique” is just too mushy to be useful, which is more like throwing velvet.
The happy medium is to throw the “velvet brick.” You want the criticism to be truthful, but easier to receive.
So just as you should look for the silver linings (the velvet), you must also be honest. After all, as the editor, you are ultimately responsible for the content on your site. If something isn’t working, and especially if it is part of a pattern, you owe it to your readers and even your brand to level with your author to let them know.
I have friends who constantly misuse “then” and “than.” For example, “Red is better then green.” You’ve probably also noticed abuse of the word “your” and “you’re,” as in “Your going to regret that.” The internet is full of these grammar abuses, and there is no shortage of grammar police who feel like these abusers evidently enjoy the word-equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.
But most of the time, these are just honest mistakes. People forget grammar rules they learned in the 5th grade and just need a refresher. Be willing to carefully and constructively educate your authors who make these mistakes, especially the common ones. If they are good team members, they will want to help make your job easier. Educate them to self-edit, and they will do just that.
Even though my mom didn’t like when B.A. Baracus used the word “fool,” I used to love watching the 80’s TV show, The A-Team when I was a kid. I liked the theme music, but I also kind of liked the idea that everyone on the team was a specialist at something. Hannibal was the brains and leader, Face was good with disguise, Murdock, though loopy, was a great pilot, and B.A. was the brute force because sometimes things just needed to be smashed.
I attended a conference a couple of years ago where Dave Ramsey spoke on the importance of hiring a good team. He emphasized the importance of evaluating people thoroughly, even for the seemingly unimportant roles. His point was that everyone has a job to do, and you want to make sure you have the people on your team who have the skills to help get you there and not be a drag.
We kept Mike for far too long. He wrote awful posts, and he came with a lot of drama that sucked down a lot of our time. It wasn’t my call then, but we should have just let him go at the first signs of his resistance to be taught and improve himself.
If you have an author that has a pattern of less-than-excellence, and honest criticism and education have not helped, it’s time to reevaluate. You probably have a C-member on your A-Team.
When your author turns in a stinky post, there’s no doubt you’ll have to deal with it carefully, with some tact, but also with honesty. But the bigger question for some will go beyond merely dealing with a bad post or two. Those will surely be inevitable, and hopefully these tips above will help with that. But if you have an author who continues to turn in stinker after stinker, you will need to decide what to do with your Mike.
Eventually, dealing with Mike was just too much trouble for the team I was on. He meant too much time and too much drama. We let him go, and he went off an started his own tech blog where the rules of the English language are less applied.
And we were fine with that.
October 17, 2013
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