The secret behind most good writers is a good editor. An editor has a dual role as both a manager and a wordsmith. He or she will need to explain assignments clearly to writers, guide them to keep their work up to the site’s standards, and show them how to improve their writing over time. In addition, a blog editor may often need to fill in for writers who are unavailable or behind schedule.
Hiring an editor is a long-term decision that will have a much bigger effect on a site’s quality than hiring a part-time writer. With that in mind, there are three important rules to follow when recruiting an editor for your blog:
1. Determine Experience
It’s relatively easy to test a new freelance writer who may or may not work out. But for an editor, you want someone who has already proven they can do the job. In 2011, there are plenty of experienced editors looking for full or part-time work editing blogs. The first thing to look at in a candidate isn’t his or her resume, it’s the existing body of published work for which he or she was responsible.
Ask to see sites the candidate has edited. Ask whether the editing was substantive (meaning, did they direct the editorial voice of the site?) or were they mostly just copy-editing the content? Are they frustrated writers themselves or do they prefer to work with less experienced writers? If they are former writers, ask to see their clips, either print of digital.
Three questions to ask yourself: Does this past work meet your standards for quality? Has the editor proven the ability to publish at the pace you will expect on your own blog? And have they already hired and fired writers?
It’s OK if their past publications are different in content and tone than yours. Gossip blog Gawker’s super-snarky first editor, Elizabeth Spiers, now runs the much more grownup New York Observer. What’s consistent is that she can build and maintain a site people will read obsessively, which she has proven at several sites in between.
Finally, determine how well they understand the role social media plays in growing your blog. A social-media savvy editor is one who knows how to get your best posts out there to a wider audience and generate a “buzz” around your content.
2. Find Out How They Communicate
Editing is about communication; between you and the editor, between the editor and his or her writers. Some editors insist on using the phone to discuss important issues. Others hate phone calls and insist on IM, Skype, or text. Many more experienced journalists want everything important discussed in email, so they have an easily-searched permanent record of all conversations and decisions. Be sure you’ll be comfortable staying in touch all day, every day in a way that works for both of you.
In general, the more experienced and senior an editor is, the less chatty they are. They’ll send short messages that get to the point. It might seem like they’re blowing you off. Truth is, they’re being efficient, focusing on the words being published, and making sure you don’t miss critical issues among a bunch of idle chit-chat.
3. Don’t Scrimp on Compensation
The old adage, “you get what you pay for” stands here. While the conventional wisdom these days is that journalists are desperate for work, so they’ll take lowball salary offers, forego full-time benefits, and pay their own operating expenses (think: emergency computer repair) working at home, that’s a formula for hiring someone who will quit as soon as they find something better. A revolving door for writers might work, but if you end up swapping editors every few months your site will never reach its potential. Readers won’t tell you. They’ll just stop clicking.
Pay for a professional who will stick around and better, take “ownership” of the site. You will see results in more quality content and in increased traffic.