March 02, 2006

A Tale of Two Clients

Most publishers who contemplate some sort of long-term relationship want a test project, which I don't mind doing. Of course, the tests that are strictly copyediting/proofreading can be annoying: particularly the one that was heavy on the foreign words and phrases, but didn't provide a Wester's 10 (the standard paper edition used in most publications right now [online is 11, and also respected]). And the sub-standard dictionary provided didn't contain the particular foreign phrases used. Other than that, it was an open-book test. Want to verify that the accents are right? Well, tough, Girl: you should have majored in French. Not English.

I sometimes wish the industry would just standardize those tests, and license people, so I don't need to go through the motion of acing their tests. Can't someone simply certify me as God's gift to detail?

Mostly these tests take a lot of time, and are graded by people who firmly believe that copyediting is an objective art. It isn't. Even proofreading isn't a completely objective process.

Client #1 sends me a couple of test stories, including one that needs to be cut. This is good thinking, of course: copy-fitting is one of the most delicate tasks an editor needs to perform: it's easy to cut the essentials out by mistake.

So, so far so good.

Then the client's wrangler asks if I have an example of a story I've edited, and I have to say, no: I can't imagine any author agreeing to let one of the line editors take manuscripts of his/her stories home as work samples (or galleys, even). And I've signed a confidentiality agreement for most clients. Even when I haven't, it's never occurred to me to take proprietary information home with me. (Charts with printer's impositions, sure: I do have a reference folder with some industry-wide information. But that's no one's company secret.)

I tell them "no," and hope that the question was an ethics test of some sort. Surely it was a trick question. I invite them to send me another story, something really "tough," to make up for my being too discreet to steal in-house material.

Then client #2 calls, and wants some help with the direction a particularly long project is going in. I read the stuff that is forwarded to me, and of course it's fantastic. I know what's going on: it's hard not to get lost in the woods when you've got a monster project in front of you. And there are times any writer could swear it all sucks, big time.

But one has to keep on going. I tell him it's great material. I can edit it, sure, but it's compelling work and the final project will be something special. And I'm utterly sincere in this.

Never mind that I'm an incredible prose stylist—if I do say so myself. This particular client is a terrific storyteller. I come home and ask my husband, "who the fuck am I to advise so-and-so on such-and-such?"

"He's paying you to do that," points out Attila the Hub. So he is. And I realize that I'm a very lucky woman indeed: working with people whose projects I genuinely believe in—who represent quality—is a privilege.

So, yes: I suspect I'll be acing this test, and working with Client #1. Because they're doing something extraordinary, and I know it. And they'll sense that I know it.

It's not something most people can fake. At least—I can't.

Posted by Attila Girl at March 2, 2006 08:25 PM | TrackBack

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