An interview with Copyblogger Media’s Chief Content Writer, Demian Farnworth: How the art of editing complements the art of writing.
An editor’s job could be viewed as a writer’s safety net — an opportunity to catch and correct mistakes before the general public views a writer’s work.
But what if an editor regards a section of text as a mistake and the writer regards that same section as an integral part of his work of art?
Right before we launched Rainmaker.FM, I got the chance to talk to my co-worker, Copyblogger Media’s Chief Content Writer Demian Farnworth, about the fragile nature of writer-editor relationships.
In this 65-minute episode, Demian Farnworth and I discuss:
- What bores Demian
- A branding lesson Demian learned when he created his website The Copybot
- How to incorporate your interests into a content strategy
- Why Demian is also an Editor-in-Chief
- Why Demian needs to know other factors before he decides which dress to wear to the ball
- The difference between an amateur and professional writer
- The difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur
- Why it’s important to assume an Editor-in-Chief mindset even if you’re a full-time employee and not self-employed yet
- How to develop a healthy writer-editor relationship
- Why editing is an art
- My goals as an editor
- What editors dream about
Listen to Editor-in-Chief below ...
The Show Notes
- Become the Editor-in-Chief of Your Own Digital Media Platform
- Execute a Practical Editorial Strategy With the ‘Prepare; Don’t Plan’ Philosophy
- Rough Draft
- What Exactly Is the Plight of the Average Blogger?
- 13 Simple Questions to Help You Draft a Winning Content Strategy [Free Worksheet]
- How to Conduct a Content Audit for Quality and Audience Experience
- Here’s How to Answer the Most Important Question in Life (and Make a Living from It)
- Announcing The 2015 Cost of Online Business Report [Infographic]
- The Plight Of The Intrapreneur, Or How To Be An Innovator From Within
- Sally Hogshead on How You Can Unlock Your Natural Ability to Fascinate
Can You Be a Writer and an Editor-in-Chief?
Stefanie Flaxman: Editor-in-Chief is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker. It’s not your typical online marketing conference. The event is a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.
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On the first episode of Editor-in-Chief, I talked about how we don’t like our creations altered, and we don’t like mistakes pointed out. Writers might be nervous about working with editors. Even though it’s not fun to have your mistakes pointed out and a bit of a blow to your ego, an editor is actually your behind-the-scenes ally because it’s better to have mistakes pointed out and corrected before your writing is released to the general public. It’s a safety net.
But what if an editor regards a section of text as a mistake and the writer regards that same section as an integral part of his work of art? Right before we launched Rainmaker.FM, I got the chance to talk to my co-worker, Copyblogger Media’s Chief Content Writer Demian Farnworth about the fragile nature of writer-editor relationships. Let’s now listen to our conversation.
Demian, thank you for joining me today.
Demian Farnworth: Thank you for having me on the show, Stefanie. I am so excited.
Stefanie Flaxman: I am so excited that we’re talking because I nicknamed you Vitamin D and we have a work meeting later, but I get an extra dose of vitamin D.
Demian Farnworth: I love that.
Stefanie Flaxman: It’s good for my health as well.
Demian Farnworth: There you go. That’s good. That’s completely new to me. I’ve never heard that before, but I love it. So it’s awesome.
Stefanie Flaxman: No one has nicknamed you that?
Demian Farnworth: No, never.
Stefanie Flaxman: I’m happy that I get to share that fun little bond with you. Thank you, thank you. How are you doing today?
Demian Farnworth: I’m doing well. It’s been a good day. I’ve been getting some good projects done talking to a few people and moving along. Especially as we’re coming over the hump of getting this podcast network off the ground, I had a lot of work yesterday that I got done by 5 o’clock what I did, so taking a little breather today. I’m still working, but just not working nearly as hard, so this is a nice little treat to go to do today.
Stefanie Flaxman: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time. We are coming to the end of the hump of the launch. I know that workflow thing too because sometimes when you’re in it you just have to ride the momentum, and you’re like, “I’m not tired yet even though I should be, but I just have to keep going.”
Then, you catch up later when all of that, when you can get that big push. I know. I have the same thing too because the learning curve of all of the new podcast stuff we’re incorporating it into our schedules and everything and figuring out the best way, the best time and to do what we need.
Demian Farnworth: I don’t know if you like me though, but I get anxious when I have to — especially new technology because I just have this fear it’s always just going to blow up on me, and learning things from experience that it’s always going to be a torrential warfare just getting things off the ground. Once you get through that part, that’s like you understand it, you have a skill you’ve just developed and you can go and turn around and help other people with that particular skill.
That’s how I justify going through that hard work of figuring all that stuff out, a new territory to me because, I mean, I’m a writer. I like to sit behind my laptop and create words on the screen versus actually talking to people. That, in itself, I have to learn how to do that better, too. It’s one of those things that’s just helping — I think it’s another life skill. The way I just hone the ultimate craft would be to communicate better.
Stefanie Flaxman: Definitely. It really is a learning experience. I have the same exact feeling like you said. It takes experience to get to the point where you’re doing something new and you don’t completely freak out because you can see the end result. When everything’s new to you, then, I guess I’m going back to when you’re younger and you just haven’t had a lot of life experience, work experience.
You don’t know that there is an endpoint yet where everything will be fine and you will be able to almost be an expert on what you learned at the end, and it won’t be so bad. Because that’s where I’m thinking now where with all of the new technology and the new stuff that I’ve been learning, too. I keep thinking, “One day this will all be second nature to me, and I won’t have to look through every single step, ‘Did I do that right? Did I do that right?’”
Demian Farnworth: Well it’s that repetition, right? It’s that repetition of doing it and going through it. Then eventually it won’t be so overwhelming. Like you said, it will be second nature.
Stefanie Flaxman: I’m looking forward to that. I am enjoying the process, but it definitely puts a little bit on edge. If you can have that bigger perspective of, “Okay, I’m just going to do this like it’s the most natural normal thing to mem” It’s just part of my workflow, then. That’s where I’m looking.
Demian Farnworth: Is this your first episode, then?
Stefanie Flaxman: This is my third episode. We’ve had a little buildup to this interview.
Demian Farnworth: Did you interview two people before this?
Stefanie Flaxman: I didn’t. The last two were monologues.
Demian Farnworth: Great, I’m looking forward to that. That would be nice.
Stefanie Flaxman: I’m doing both for this podcast. To give you a little background of my overall theme of what we’re doing. The reason why I’m doing both is because I’m really big on this editor-in-chief model or mindset. To break it down a little bit, in the role of an editor-in-chief, you have to think big picture and you have to think very detail oriented in order to do your job.
You’re looking three months down the line, but you’re also looking out what needs to happen tomorrow, and you’re making sure it’s the best it can be. So the podcast is mimicking that a little bit in style, where I’m having conversations with you about editing and writing, and then I’m doing other monologues where I break down specific editing topics.
Demian Farnworth: That’s neat. I like that. That’s a great philosophy. Would you give up one of those, or is it because both of those roles are in the job that you like being the editor-in-chief?
Stefanie Flaxman: I like both of those roles, yes. That is what I think is so special about the job and other people who have roles like that. I actually am making the argument that anyone who does create media online should assume this editor-in-chief mindset.
Actually, I have so much to ask you about your own writing and your own experience. I do make a case for that being a focused mindset to have. But I really do like both. It’s part of my personality. I don’t think I’ve trained myself to have a job like that. I like to think ahead, but then you also have to balance that with the details of the day to day.
What Bores Demian
Demian Farnworth: I think that’s a special gift because I would give up the details any day because I am the big thinker, the visionary. The routine and the minute bore me and put me to sleep and irritate the daylights out of me. There are certain things about what I do. I have to pay attention to the details. For the most part, if that was part of my daily routine, I’d shoot myself.
Stefanie Flaxman: That is why editors and writers balance each other.
Demian Farnworth: I agree.
Stefanie Flaxman: We work together. You are Copyblogger’s chief copywriter, and I edit Copyblogger.com, the blog there. We do balance each other out. I do think writer and editor relationships are very delicate – or they can be — and we obviously sound like we’re getting along. We do get along. I mean, that’s not always the case.
We can talk more about that later of why that is a very, like I said, delicate relationship. I found out something recently that I am very interested in asking about when I was listening to your other podcast. We can talk about your new podcast. It’s called Rough Draft, correct?
Demian Farnworth: Yes, it is.
Stefanie Flaxman: Very cool. So what I meant by other podcast is the podcast that you have been doing with Jerod, The Lede. I found out that for a previous job that you had, you were actually a managing editor, and you had editors working below you and proofreaders as well.
Obviously, now, you work Copyblogger, and you’re a writer. Like we said, you don’t work day in and day out with the editing because that’s other people’s jobs in our company. I would love to hear more about that experience and how that has influenced your work now since you get to live in the space of a writer, and if you are more comfortable being a writer.
Demian Farnworth: I love that time that I spent as a managing editor because I got the opportunity to mentor because I had a table of six writers and I think it was three proofreaders who are underneath me. So the proofreaders were my saviors since they did the details. They took care of the ground work, or the Lord’s work in that sense.
My vision and goal for that group of people, and really I discovered about myself that I love to teach, and I love to grow people up as writers because one of the very first things I thought about was that I was put in that position, I had three proofreaders and six writers. If I was in their positions, I would want to be, in two years, the best darn writer I could be as a writer. Then, if I was a proofreader, I would want to come up in the ranks and become a writer.
I just asked them. I was, “Do you want to be better writers, and do you proofreaders eventually want to be writers?” They’re all like, “Yeah, great.” I set this goal of, “In two years, I want to develop you guys so the writers can walk out of the door here, and go work anywhere that they wanted. Go work for National Geographic, go work for Vanity Fair.” Then proofreaders come up behind them and take their place.
Then just make it like a machine, sort of a training house in that sense. I loved the time that I spent and the build that I did. And I did that thing through one on ones with each one, just from critiques of their actual physical work and weekly workshops that I had with them. The other side that I really loved was the long-range planning. This was a print magazine that I was doing, so we were about six months out from print.
So I had to think six months out. I had to coordinate with other departments on products, on events, and make sure that we were all aligned because there was a radio division. There was a television division. I had to make sure the radio shows and TV shows that were going out in November that we were putting out a magazine in November that matched the message they were saying. There was a lot of that and a lot of coordination, so I really loved that.
But it did take me out of the writing role. At heart, I love to write, and it is probably the place that I’m most comfortable, that I love to be in. I enjoy it. Even in that position as a managing editor, I had to work really hard to make sure I was doing some writing. We actually created a column, so I could write monthly for that to have something to do.
I do live comfortably in the role. I like it, but again, I also like the collaboration. Because I realize too that this is really a team effort. I could write something, but it’s not going to get up on blog unless it gets edited, unless it gets approved, unless it gets reviewed, unless it gets designed, and then it actually gets published on there. It’s a team effort. I like the idea of writing, and I’m very comfortable in that role.
Stefanie Flaxman: So that experience to me seems incredibly valuable for moving your writing career forward because you’re not just an isolated writer in a sense. I don’t want to say directionless because not every isolated writer is directionless, but you got a sense of the bigger production picture and how you could fit, what you wanted to do in that role. Like you said, you created a column so you were able to write, but you saw the bigger picture. It wasn’t just you producing content on your own and hoping something would happen. Did you just work online for yourself after that? Was that the next step?
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. The next step was The Copybot and working for myself for close to two years as a writer, as being hired to write blog posts, write sales letters, write email, auto responder series, PF white papers. I did a great series. It was an email series for company called Emerging Trains who were selling raw undeveloped land out in Latin America, so it was a lot of that sort of writing.
Stefanie Flaxman: On The Copybot, I just realized yesterday when I was making notes that Copybot sounds like Copyblogger. It was a completely different thing in my head before yesterday.
Demian Farnworth: That’s great. That name actually came from my daughter because we sat down when I knew that I was working for myself. I knew that I had to start building an online presence, so I was like, “I need a name for my website, and it needs to be short, and it needs to be about a copy, in some sense.” So we went through a lot of different ones … my son and my daughter and my wife. My daughter picked the winning one to be Copybot.
Stefanie Flaxman: I love it. It really pops or something.
Demian Farnworth: I love it when people ask me, “What is a Copybot?” I’m like, “That’s me. That’s all you need to know.”
Stefanie Flaxman: I know. I really like it, but I didn’t even realize because it kind of has that pop or that kind of catchiness. Even though copy and then B is Copyblogger. It stands on its own without being like, “Oh that sounds like … ” At least for me. Maybe I just realize how similar it was.
A Branding Lesson Demian Learned When He Created His Website, The Copybot
Demian Farnworth: Here’s a branding/naming lesson for people. The challenge with that name, The Copybot, is that Copybot is something that’s part of Second Life which is that online simulation-type thing. If you type in ‘Copybot’, something about Second Life will come up. So I compete with that. That’s something to keep in mind. I didn’t realize it until I actually had the website and it was down the road because when you first start off, you really don’t have any recognition to search engines when you think that. You’re not really Googling your brand name. Once I did, I was, “Oh, oh no.”
Stefanie Flaxman: I know. You can’t think of everything when you’re first starting out too. I’ve had that experience too, like, “Why did I … ?”I had no idea that that was going to be the consequence of that. You have to do it anyways because if you try to get everything perfect, you’re just not going to start. Those are just things you deal with.
Demian Farnworth: I don’t know if you saw this, too, but my tagline, which is at the bottom of the site — and this is why I used The Copybot too — it’s ‘essential web writing advice from a high-strung human,’ and the idea of being a bot is like a machine, so a copy machine, a machine.
Stefanie Flaxman: I did. I got that theme. I like that one. On The Copybot, I believe you have an article — I know we talked about this on Copyblogger too — but I think, if I’m not mistaken that it originally came from something that you were talking about on The Copybot, and that is the plight of the average blogger. Did that start it?
Demian Farnworth: That was, yeah. It was a conversation that started two years ago, I want to say, really on Google+ that I was having with a gentleman named Mike Elgan who is probably one of the most visible people on Google+ and probably one of the most visible advocates of Google+. He and I were just discussing, okay we were debating, what is the average plight of a blogger, and he was saying it was visibility and being an obscurity, which I agree with, but ultimately, what I came down to was that, “Okay, yes, that’s true.”
But it’s also true that the real plight, what it boils down to is that bloggers just don’t know how to make a living online. They build the audience. They get the attention, but they come to a point like, “I want to keep on doing this, so how do I monetize this?” It was an idea that started there. I think I wrote about it on Copybot, and then, just over time, I eventually wrote an article about Copyblogger. That’s an interesting question because you see where the idea germinated and how it evolved over time.
Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. For me, going back to that editor-in-chief mindset, that is my constant theme. The reason why I thought of that was using I guess your own experience as a case study of sorts and also tying that into the two struggles of the average blogger. You first have, “How am I going to break through and get anyone to pay attention to all this content that I’m producing, to provide value and show people that I’m providing value?”
Then, once you get that traction, and you have people paying attention to you, your next obstacle is, “Well, how do I make a living doing this? I have the eyeballs on me. I’m providing value. People like what I do,” but it’s still not then everything comes easily to you. You still have to think very strategically of how you monetize all of the work that you’ve done before you get over one hurdle, and then you still have another hurdle.
Demian Farnworth: Which is hard, too, because I don’t naturally go, “How do I monetize this? How do I make this work?”
Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. To me, it does go back to that thinking long term and then balancing the day to day, where, for my editor-in-chief model, to me, it’s something that positions you to produce content in a meaningful, focused way so that you make something special for your audience and that audience comes to know you as the resource.
Then, you have to tap into like, “I’m a resource for these people. What can I provide for them?” Now that you’ve given away all this stuff for free through your content, what is your next move?
To get to that point, to me, in terms of your work, I would say the first step is an evaluation of all the content that you produce. We talk about content strategy. You just wrote a post about 13 questions that you can use to get your content strategy rolling.
Demian Farnworth: The day-to-day stuff, right?
Stefanie Flaxman: Yes. I’ll take a step back and say that I think it’s amazing if you’re a prolific writer and you can just produce content day and night and just pump it out. I’m not like that because I’m approaching content from an editor’s perspective. But if you’re a prolific writer and can just produce crazy, that is amazing to me. However, though, evaluation stage comes in. I feel because you don’t want to waste your time, you have to have a focus on, “Okay, I’m able to produce all this content, but what am I really trying to achieve with it?”
How to Incorporate Your Interests into a Content Strategy
Demian Farnworth: Exactly. There’s this young man that I’m mentoring, and he shared with me all this content that he’s creating, all these websites that he has — and that’s a problem, because you’re not doing anything well. You have all these ideas rolling, but they’re not substantial or useful ideas because you can’t focus on eight different things. Sometimes I hear people talk about if you jump into the authority community forums people say, “Well, I’m writing about this, this, this.” And you’re like, “Okay, you need to pick two of those and just focus on that.”
I think that’s natural, though, because we have a lot of interest, and especially in starting a blog, part of it is just to get started. You need a strategy, but if it helps to just get in there and start rolling, and then stop and say, “What is working and what is not working?” And then you can start focusing and evolving. I tell people all the time, “Listen, your tagline, your mission, it’s going to evolve over time because as you just work, as you see what’s working, if you find things that you like and you don’t like, you’ll start to trim what you’re doing and course correct as you’re heading down that path.”
We won’t have anything fixed. What you’re saying though, being strategic about it is very helpful because you can avoid a lot of those dead ends that you come to or pinning yourself into a corner. You’re like, “Okay, I don’t know how to get out here. I need to start from scratch.”
Stefanie Flaxman: Right. Of course, you do have to just get started, and then you can re-evaluate. It’s so hard because advice can seem a little bit contradictory because you want to be focused. Then, it’s if you don’t have anything to work with. Your strategy needs to come from evaluating what you’ve been doing so far and what’s working and what isn’t working.
Demian Farnworth: I mean, at some point you need to decide. I remember Chris Brogan. I’m remember following him a long, long time ago. His blog, not the one that he has now, had a post on there about what he just did at the gym, and then he’d have stuff about some business advice.
Then he had some advice about yoga, and then eating rice and stuff. He was all over the map, but he was just trying to build that presence, and that’s part of who he is. Eventually, he just started to narrow and narrow his focus, so he developed that sense, that direction he needed to go and honed that voice that he had.
Why Demian Is Also an Editor-in-Chief
Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. You dive in, and then you fine tune as you go. Creating that awareness after you’ve been producing some content and you see your body of work — about auditing your body of work. We’ve been talking about content audits a lot too, and then going back and seeing what you should maybe be focused on going forward after that evaluation process.
The second editor-in-chief mindset I would say is the critical examination of each piece of content that you’re producing because, to me, again, creating something just really special, over time, is what attracts a very specific audience to you. Those people are going to be loyal to you and want to find out everything that you’re doing.
They subscribe. They don’t want to lose touch with anything you’re producing because it is valuable to them. Really just fine-tuning in a way where you’re producing in a way that audience thinks, “Wow, this person gets me.” You’re not just making more junk to put on the Internet. It’s a carefully-crafted creation.
Going back to your evolution of your career — correct me if I’m wrong — I feel like a lot of your breakthrough as a copywriter and as a writer did come from the standpoint of this editor-in-chief model.
Even if you don’t consider yourself that, I would say that you had this distinction in your mind that you were really taking responsibility for the content that you put out. That it wasn’t just because you felt like it. It was a very intentional creation. Do you feel that taking that responsibility led to — now, like you said, you do like to be a writer, you’re comfortable as a writer and you have a career as that now. Did that come from your personal philosophy of how you approached your content?
Demian Farnworth: Yes. I’ve always said that as a copywriter, it helps to know more than just the discipline of being a copywriter. It helps to understand marketing in general. It helps to understand advertising, and it helps to understand psychology. It helps to understand business strategy. It helps to understand distribution and all the different functions of a business in a society because you have that larger picture because I’ve always felt that makes you a more valuable writer.
Because if you’re talking to somebody and they’ve decided to be a copywriter, how much more valuable you are then if you tell them, “Well, tell me about your strategy and how you’re going to get there.” That’s who I am, though.
Why Demian Needs to Know Other Factors Before He Decides Which Dress to Wear to the Ball
Demian Farnworth: If I’m going to do something, I love to know why. Why are they doing that? Not because I have a better idea, but because I’m just curious. I do think that I can tinker with it and make it better, and I’ll at least provide my opinion. I have that view to helping things and just knowing the full picture of things — because also what it helps do I to make those associations that are wildly different, but it brings an old meaning dressed up in a new skirt, that it’s different and it’s a new way of seeing something or a new way of tackling a problem.
Having that broad sense — I wouldn’t necessarily say it as an editor-in-chief, not always because it is strategy. I’m looking ahead. I’m that visionary because I’m looking for what is the big picture and how is this fitting into it and how will what I’m doing fit into the larger picture because I want to know those things. I think it’s just a better approach.
It’s like if you’re going to go out to a ball on Saturday, you have to wear a dress, but it really helps to know what kind of dress and what kind of people are going to be there, what time of the night it is, and what is it for. It’s all these questions that you have to answer in order to just show up in a dress. Then you’re just missing half of the equation.
Stefanie Flaxman: I love that. I’ve never heard that or thought about it before, but that is a really great comparison. It goes back to what you’re talking about with the young man that you are mentoring. It’s great if you can produce a lot of stuff and you have a lot of different interests and you’re doing multiple websites. What is that leading towards? That is great to get you off the ground, but it’s not sustainable.
What we found out in our cost of doing business online reports that we did last month is that people are having trouble making a living online. They want to. It is this growing interest that people have of making a living online and working online, but they’re struggling to do that. Like we said, you just got to get started, and you got to get off the ground.
It’s great if you have a lot of different ideas, but you can’t go too far without a constant re-evaluation of your strategy, even after every new piece of content that you put out. It’s helpful. Even if you don’t change it right away because you don’t really see what you’re going to do. It’s just these little internal audits of yourself. This is the editor in me, carefully reviewing.
The Difference between an Amateur and Professional Writer
Stefanie Flaxman: When I first started writing on my website, that was how I got started. I had 10,000 different ideas, and like you mentioned about Chris Brogan, I have articles where I’m like, “Why did I write about that?” You have to. If something happens in line at the grocery store this week and you just started writing on your blog regularly, you’re going to want to talk about what happened in line at the grocery store.
Demian Farnworth: Sure.
Stefanie Flaxman: Also, if you can incorporate that story into an actual lesson for the audience that you want to reach, that is the ideal mode.
Demian Farnworth: Because a great writer, a great editor is self-aware and is also very observant. I think that’s the difference between a professional and amateur. The amateur observes and just writes. The professional observes and thinks, “How can I communicate this in a way to my audience that would bring value and be useful to them?”
Stefanie Flaxman: That is such a great distinction. That is really what I’m getting at with my editor-in-chief model. I actually said in a previous episode, you maintain a severe awareness, and then you weave the story. It’s not just spitting out the story. It’s calculated. You have a calculated purpose for what you’re doing with all these observations.
You talked to Bernadette Jiwa on The Lede recently, too. I’ll put all these links in the show for the other articles and stuff that I was talking about earlier. You said a quote from Flannery O’Connor. Is that right? Did I mess that up?
Demian Farnworth: Right, yes.
Stefanie Flaxman: Now, I will enunciate because that was my train of thought, but that Flannery O’Connor … I’m going to mess it up. Do you know it off the top of your head?
Demian Farnworth: Yes. He said, “If you live to be 21, to your early 20s, you have a lifetime of material to write about.”
The Difference Between and Entrepreneur and an Intrapreneur
Stefanie Flaxman: That is such an interesting idea for that raw concept, but then taking it to the next level of not just mindlessly writing. If you want to make a living online through your content, maintaining that really clear focus. There was something that I wanted to talk to you about in that interview, too. You might have to refresh my memory again of where I’m going with this.
You were talking about, now that you work for Copyblogger, you don’t think of yourself as an entrepreneur. This all happened at the same time. I heard a word for the first time that I don’t think that I had ever heard before and I don’t think I had thought about it before, but I came across it right around the time that I listened to that interview. The word is ‘intrapreneur.’ I’ve never heard it before.
Demian Farnworth: Intrapreneur, right. It’s an entrepreneur who focuses on the Internet. Is that the essence of it?
Stefanie Flaxman: No. Well, maybe it is. Maybe that’s a different version. Even when I looked it up, I couldn’t find that much about it. It made me feel a little bit better because I thought I was completely out of the loop and this is a really old term. Actually, when I looked it up it said it was a pretty new term. I couldn’t find the exact definition that I originally came across when I looked it up because I looked it up on dictionary.com and on Merriam-webster.com, and I didn’t really like those definitions as much as that first definition that I found.
Demian Farnworth: Where was the first time you heard it?
Stefanie Flaxman: I have a screensaver of words. They flow across my screen, and then one of them stops, and it says the definition or it pulls up the definition. So it pulls it from my computer’s dictionary or something. I feel like it’s always reading my mind because, whatever I’m working on or thinking, it pulls up words that are related, and I’m constantly shocked by it. So then I was thinking, is it pulling it from my Google searches? Where is it getting this body of words? Sometimes it pulls up things and I didn’t search for anything even remotely related to that. It’s just like an internal idea I was working on or I was working on with a notebook.
So that’s where I first heard it. I was just like, “Are you kidding me!?” It may be computers are, I don’t know. Going back to the meaning, that’s where I heard it, and I was like, “I’m going to look it up on Merriam Webster. I’m going to find the same exact definition,” and it was different.
Then — this is tying it into what we talked about earlier — I found an article TechCrunch that’s called “The Plight of the Intrapreneur or How to be an Innovator from Within,” which I will put in the show notes, too.
Demian Farnworth: Let me see if I can guess what they’re after. They’re like the entrepreneur within an organization, like a company? Is that the idea?
Stefanie Flaxman: That is the idea. I think my own definition that paraphrases the first one I saw is a self-directive creative person within a company who knows the company’s goals really well and uses their own innovation skills to develop an existing company rather than starting their own from scratch the way an entrepreneur would, right?
Demian Farnworth: Right. Yes. Copyblogger is full of those people because, if you look at everybody on our payroll — Chris Garrett, Sonia Simone, Jerod, you, me, Mike Hale — they either own their own business or we’re freelancers in some sense. Lauren Mancke, our designer, Rafal Tomal — all of those were freelancers in some sense, so they have no problem staying on top of a project and getting things done.
They’re self-disciplined. Lots of just really healthy habits and character traits in them.
That’s why we can function the way we do and have the profitability that we do with such a small team of people because we do the work of three or four of them because we don’t have to be told what to do. Again, it goes back to, again, that I want to give my opinion. I want to know the why of something because I want to help. I can change — it may just be to a degree — but I can change the direction and course of the company in a good way.
Stefanie Flaxman: I remember I was on an Authority Q&A with Sonia a couple of months ago, and someone asked, “How do you actually form a virtual company? How can that happen? And not just happen, be extremely successful and productive?” Communication, obviously, is really important. Constant communication. If I’d known the term at the time, I would have said, “Hire a bunch of intrapreneurs,” because we all don’t need to be told what to do. Everything flows very naturally because we all take responsibility for our work.
No one wants to be the weakest link. No one wants to leave anyone hanging. We know what our jobs are, and we’re happy to do them. It’s not a thing where we constantly have to be reminded. With the constant communication, we do check in on each other, but it’s not in a micromanaging way.
Demian Farnworth: Exactly.
Stefanie Flaxman: I really like that. I was even thinking because we have another podcast that we are doing together with Jerod as well. I don’t know, can I announce it?
Demian Farnworth: Yes. Absolutely.
Stefanie Flaxman: This is going to happen. We’re doing it. The main title is “Unemployable,” and it’s us talking about our different work-from-home experiences and what it is really like to have a completely self-directed job for the most part. I don’t know if that’s exactly the right description there, but I was thinking maybe we could use ‘intrapreneur’ in the sub-description or something. ‘The journey of three intrapreneurs.’
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Exactly.
Why It’s Important to Assume an Editor-in-Chief Mindset Even If You’re a Full-Time Employee and Not Self-Employed Yet
Stefanie Flaxman: Going back to your interview with Bernadette. You’re both talking about that — it’s coming back to me as I’m talking — the idea that you can start where you are. That’s what you were talking about. You were talking about that you don’t have to have an audience of a hundred thousand. You can have an audience of 100 and do meaningful work. You can have an audience of 10 and do meaningful work.
You don’t necessarily have to feel like if you’re not an entrepreneur and started your very own thing from scratch without anything that you can’t make a change and do meaningful work. Even if you do work for a company that maybe you don’t have that much creative control, you can assume that editor-in-chief mindset if you’re an employee at a company and just do your job in a completely superior way, even if you don’t have a lot of creative freedom.
That pushes you forward. Just really assuming that responsibility helps establish great relationships. Then, if you do want to do your own thing down the line or if that’s really your goal if you work for a bigger company, but your goal is to have your own digital media platform where you produce content and into a completely self-employed career and you make a living doing that, that is a big leap to go from A to Z, from working in a company and then doing that on your own. But you can start where you are.
How to Develop a Healthy Writer-Editor Relationship
Demian Farnworth: That fascinates me. You fascinate me because when I heard that you were coming onboard, I thought we were getting a proofreader, and I thought, “We desperately need this.” To begin with, because it was me, Jerod, and Sonia — again, like I said, I’m not a proofreader, and I don’t focus on that — it was in Jerod’s and my court to do the major proofreading, and then Sonia would just come through and do the approval. We were missing things because we had other things to do, and then neither of us had that ferocious examination of the copy.
I’m like, “Yeah. We desperately need that. That’s great.” Then, you’ve just assumed a much larger role in that sense of being that editor-in-chief. Remember we were talking about that because Jerod’s original title for you, was it ‘Manager of Editorial Standards’? We just said, “That’s not it. It’s larger than that. It’s this editor-in-chief.”
Because you manage the calendar, and you do such a good job of managing the calendar. I know we give you a hard time about that, but you do great. What’s wonderful about that in this relationship, having this relationship with you, is I don’t have to worry about those things. I can annoy you with emails saying, “When is my next blog post?” You could probably tell me off the top of your head, so I can focus on what I do really well, and it allows you to do that really well.
Stefanie Flaxman: Aww, well thank you. It is really great working with you. I don’t want an escalating question, but were you on board when Jerod said, “We’re going to hire someone else to join”?
Demian Farnworth: Oh gosh, yes. I think I had been asked, “I think we need to … ” Because there were a number of times where we published something and we’d get an email from Brian saying, “Alter. You meant A-L-T-E-R, not A-L-T-A-R, right?” We’re like, “Yeah. That’s pretty bad.” So I think we were all championing for that to happen because we knew it. It’s just we need somebody who says, “This is my job and this is what I focus on.” Because Jerod, at that time, he was doing a lot of publishing on the calendar, managing a lot of emails and other things, too. It was a very healthy thing to do. We were all on board for that.
Stefanie Flaxman: Well thank you. I maybe misinterpreted it because I was thinking that you might have had a little apprehension towards it, going, “Who is this editor who’s going to come in and mess up my writing?”
Demian Farnworth: No. I mean, yes, there is that apprehension, but it was slight. I had been publishing for Copyblogger by two years at that point, so I don’t think they’re going to hire someone who comes in and says, “You need to change this. This needs to go,” and just cause problems, but you didn’t do that. I knew that ultimately. At the same time, I want to honor your discipline because I don’t want to be that fussy writer who kicks back on everything that is done. There’s one time, it was an opening that I absolutely loved, and I wanted it to be there, but it was changed. So I was like, “No, I need that opening to be that opening,” so I went back and changed it.
For the most part, I look through and think, “Okay, I may not have done it that way,” but what I think, though, is, “Okay, they’re seeing something and viewing something differently than I am, so I’m going to trust them that that’s better than what I had.” That’s how I view the relationship.
Stefanie Flaxman: There has to be some trust there. That’s funny because now I really understand that. I think that’s why I almost assume that any writer would be a little nervous about a new editor looking at their work because when I have my editor hat on, I’m like, “We need to cut this. We need to change the opening.” I’m very deliberate about how to get a piece that I feel is publish-ready.
But then when I’m a writer and someone changes my writing, then I become this big drama queen, where, “No. It was perfect. I spent all this time carefully picking those words, and you destroyed it.” So I understand it, but then I go back to being an editor.
Demian Farnworth: Well, like I said, I view that relationship because I know at some point that I’m the only one looking at this, so, I need somebody else to look at it and tell me. That’s why a lot of times, when I send this off to you and Jerod, I’m like, “Tell me if this is making sense because I’ve rewritten this 22 times, and this is what I’m trying to do … ” That’s what it is usually.
“This is what I’m trying to do. Did I do that?” — having a fresh pair of eyes for it because I try to start my blog post as soon as I know that I have a deadline. It gives me time to write it, then look at it, write it, leave it alone for a couple days, come back to it, and write it. Even that, I know that I need somebody else to look at it and say, “This makes a lot of sense.”
The post that went up yesterday when I turned it in, Jerod’s like, “Okay, think about this, this, this, and this.” It was just enormously helpful because it’s a healthy relationship to have someone else, like an editor, say, “This is what I like about it. This is what I don’t like, but this is how it can be better.” That it’s ultimately what we’re after because it’s about giving the audience a better product. So I oftentimes am like, “Okay, that’s not how I would have done it. That’s not the way I gave it to you. However, I’m going to trust you that you’re seeing something that I don’t see.” I’m being honest with you.
Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah, I go through the same thing where sometimes I ask you for help. I ask Jerod for help, because if you’re just so close to it and the benefit of working with the editor is seeing how other people are going to view your work and not just you before it is actually published. It’s the safety net before something actually gets published.
We’ve been talking about Sally Hogshead’s Fascination assessment that we all took, and it’s how the world sees you, which is a really interesting concept. She’s going to be talking at Authority Rainmaker this May. I’m very, very interested in hearing more about that.
Because how the world sees you is that same perspective that the editor has when she is reviewing your writing. It’s how the world sees your writing, not “I’m not sure if this is being communicated clearly,” and it has to be cleaned up. Do you have a review process of, say, after we publish something after I’ve edited, that you go back where you look for the changes that I made to maybe change your writing in the future?
Demian Farnworth: Yes, I absolutely do. I have always had this process — and this is one of the things that I liked about blogging — what I’ve always done, whether it was my blog, is publish something on one day or in this case with Copyblogger, be handed over on one day and actually see it come live the next day. On The Copybot, I was always in the practice of publishing something on say Monday, but I didn’t send the email till the next day because I wanted to be able to be caught by surprise by it like in my email inbox, and then read it with fresh eyes and then review it.
The same thing with Copyblogger is that when I publish something that’s come through you guys and then it’s actually live. I would then read through it. One, just because I want to see what I would do differently just having written it, but also to see what changed and how do they change it and try to think through why it they changed it, so I can adjust.
The headline and the word ‘winning,’ Brian Clark changed one of my headlines to ‘winning,’ and he did it to something else. So I’d think, “Okay, so clearly that’s something that I need to do down the road and it worked out with one of the last ones that I did. That process of reviewing everything that I publish, that is out there the day after or something like that, I got that idea from one of the most successful soap opera film producer guys. A soap opera’s a daily show, so he would film the day.
Then the next day, he would review it with fresh eyes, “What would I … ?” Try to make notes and think about how because it’s always pushing — writing is my art, I look at it as art even though it’s an article about content strategy or it’s an article about pruning and cleaning up expired content. I look at that as how could I improve this? How can I get better? What would I do next time to make it better? Always striving to improve the craft and looking at it as, “How can I get better at this?”
Stefanie Flaxman: It’s okay even if it is published. It’s not like the show’s over just because a piece of text is …
Demian Farnworth: I think that’s lazy. It’s irresponsible, I should say. I think it’s irresponsible to say, “I’ve done it and got it.” And trust me, I’ve done stuff like that before where some people, whether they ask me something, and I’ve done it — that’s another aside. I really don’t do a lot of those. I want to care about what I do, and I want to be able to say, “This is what I do, and this is something you can read. You may not be interested in it, but you’ll be able to read it, and it’ll be engaging, and it will be readable. And it will be fun reading.”
Stefanie Flaxman: It comes from that severe awareness and review place also. That pushes you forward, constantly evaluating your work, just not lazy — it’s a strong word, but it’s beneficial to you and your goals. If you publish and then you aren’t severely aware of what you could have been doing better or what you want you do differently, you’re not going to move forward as much into a place where you can maybe make a living doing this if you are struggling to make a living through the content you produce right now.
Sometimes there are changes that are helpful and sometimes you’re just like, “That was changed. It’s not going to … ” Or picking up on words that you should use differently. I like text-compare.com where it highlights the differences between two versions of text. It’s an editor check if someone gives you changes to something you’re already working on and you don’t know where they are, if they’re not highlighted.
Demian Farnworth: I like that.
Stefanie Flaxman: You’re like, “How am I ever going to find what changes you made?” I do not recommend that. Actually, in my business, I had a disclaimer about you had to submit your final version to me. Otherwise, there was a financial penalty.
Demian Farnworth: You’re tough.
Why Editing Is an Art
Stefanie Flaxman: I was tough because once you started editing things and then you get a new version, you need to be compensated for that time that you’d spent. But you pick up tricks for how to recover if that does happen. It is also helpful with reviewing your work after someone else edited it because there are going to be times where you’re like, “Well, that change didn’t mean anything to me.” There will be other times you’re like, “I used the passive voice five times, and maybe if I don’t do that in the future, the piece will have a little more punch to it in that active voice.”
You said writing is your art. Editing is my art really. I love working with writers, and it’s such a pleasure to work with you. Even if you do like editing, I think all editors know that there are preferable circumstances, like any job, and there are other less preferable circumstances to work. It’s really great working with you and that I get to really execute my art.
Demian Farnworth: Change my stuff?
Stefanie Flaxman: Yes. Change your stuff.
Demian Farnworth: When you say “art,” in what why? How is it an art? As a writer, I think I can clearly say that a writer because, like a sculptor, he shapes the marble. What is the appropriate metaphor for the editor?
My Goals as an Editor
Stefanie Flaxman: I think it is similar. I really like reviewing writing and seeing what a writer meant to say. I love extracting what the true meaning was and then making that more clear. To me that is just very artistic, where if I read a paragraph, and I’m staring at it, I’m like, “I know what they’re trying to say, but I just know if another reader comes along it’s going to trip them up.”
My goal is to have a reader just effortlessly go through text like it was the easiest thing in the world and not have to think, “What were they trying to say there?” Or, “That’s a little convoluted.” If you lose the reader for a second, especially with online content, they’re clicking off on other things. Why I do consider it artistic is my goal is to just make this completely easy thing to read, no matter what it looked like when I get a draft. It is that sculpting.
Demian Farnworth: It’s like that final polish. That makes sense.
Stefanie Flaxman: It’s a creation for me. Even though they aren’t my original thoughts or my original words, I take such ownership of it.
Demian Farnworth: Having said that, what do you do with the fussy writers who are like, “I don’t need it sculpted anymore. I don’t need you shaping it?”
Stefanie Flaxman: That’s a really good question. It depends. If I’m working with someone they know that that’s my job.
Demian Farnworth: That’s your job.
Stefanie Flaxman: But there are people that don’t want that feedback. I’ve learned to have to let things go — which is hard for a control freak, but at some point, you learn. It’s also artistic for me because every new piece of writing is a completely new project. There’s no mechanical process that I do. I mean, there are certain things that I check for. There are tricks to make that I do to make sure that everything’s in place, and I have a checklist of things that I need to look at.
But every new piece of writing is a new project. The degree of how much I’m editing, so sometimes there are those. For some reason, if it is a situation where the writer is very particular about the text, I don’t overdo it. I’ve learned to let it go and say, “This isn’t how I would do it, but I’m not going to overstep,” because I think a big fear that writers have with working with editors is that that editor is just going to completely change their intention.
The editor really has to bring out the best in the writer and not overstep and over manipulate, because you definitely can, and editors like doing that. I’ve learned a lot about you want to keep that voice. You don’t want to rewrite it the way that I would write something.
Demian Farnworth: In essence, it is an art, because it’s how do you polish it, but at the same time polish it so it doesn’t lose the shine of the original voice. Right?
Stefanie Flaxman: Exactly. It’s a balance — everything. I love this balance theme that I keep talking about with the long term and the short term and then getting really micro into an actual piece of writing. You’re balancing, making this very clear for a reader, and maintaining the writer’s original voice and intentions, and just making it the best that it could be.
What Editors Dream About
Demian Farnworth: I know what writers dream about. What do editors dream about? In your dreams when you’re sleeping, what do editors dream about?
Stefanie Flaxman: I actually wake up with ideas of how to make things work. Say I’m looking at a piece of writing and I know I need to edit it the next day. And it needs a lot of work because, right now, the draft is just not publishable, let’s say. I’ll go to sleep with how the draft looks in my head, and I will wake up with these breakthroughs of, “Oh my gosh, I know how to fix that. I know what I need to cut. I know what I need to re-arrange to make it a cohesive piece.”
I love sleeping for that. Sleeping is so beneficial for me. I think it’s for my editing. It really benefits my editing because if I’m just staring at something the day before, I’m like, “How am I going to make this work?” Then I have these just light bulb moments of, “That’s what I need to do, and it’s going to be great.” Then I really value the writer’s original intentions because I get to bring that out where what I originally looked at didn’t have that. That’s beneficial for the writer. Not that I do everything, but I want the writer’s original ideas to really shine and not be bogged down with, “Oh they wrote their main point at the end,” burying the lead, as we say.
Demian Farnworth: That’s good.
Stefanie Flaxman: Yep, that is good. Demian, thank you so much for talking with me. This has been really fun.
Demian Farnworth: You bet. I enjoyed this a lot. I’m sure we could go on.
Stefanie Flaxman: We could go on. I know there is more. Maybe we could do a follow-up, a different interview later down the line after we’ve had more experience, after our podcasts have been out there more, and we have more to talk about. I really appreciate it, and I really enjoyed our conversation.
Demian Farnworth: Thanks for the great questions. You did a great job.
Stefanie Flaxman: Thank you for all the explanations. We have a meeting later, so I will see you then.
Demian Farnworth: Yes. Take care.
Stefanie Flaxman: Thanks so much, you too.
I am very honored to work with Demian. He’s really something special who has many fascinating experiences as a writer and editor. What about you? Do you consider yourself more of a writer or an editor, or perhaps both? Do you feel you need an editor to review your work, or are you better off writing alone?
Let me know in the comment section of this episode’s corresponding blog post.
If you would like to rate or review Editor-in-Chief over on iTunes, I would greatly appreciate your feedback, so thank you in advance. I hope you will spend some time with me next week as well.
Until then, I’m Stefanie Flaxman. Thank you for listening to Editor-in-Chief. Now, go become one.
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