Not everyone has worked with a professional writer. Some small businesses are used to handling everything themselves; some subject matter experts haven’t been involved in developing marketing materials or writing byline articles. If you’re new to working with a writer, here are some ways to make the most of your writer’s time and skill, stretch your budget, and ultimately create a polished, professional finished product.
1. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. “I’m not sure how this works,” some of my new clients confess. “What do you need from me? Where do we start?”
I almost always start in the same place, whether the goal is to write a fact sheet about a product, develop a brochure or Web site, ghost-write an article, or create a presentation: I start by asking a lot of questions. If I had a dollar for every time a client told me “That’s a great question,” I’d probably have…I dunno….a thousand dollars? (I once worked with a client who was a former Navy fighter pilot — he told me I could have had a great career in Naval Intelligence interrogating people. I was highly flattered.) The goal is to get what’s in your head about the topic into your writer’s head. He or she will likely never have the knowledge you do about the subject, but needs to absorb enough to put together a credible draft.
If your writer isn’t asking enough questions or the right questions, take charge and cover the points you feel are important.
2. Gather source material in advance. Source material is gold to a writer, and you can save time (time = money) by pulling it together for your first meeting. What, if anything, have you already written about the topic? What have others (colleagues, competitors, the media) written? What do you like or dislike about what’s been done? Do you have samples of other pieces you like, even on unrelated topics? Is there a template or “house style” the writer should follow? Writers appreciate any and all such information as we take a crash course in the topic and gauge your needs and preferences.
3. Follow up on to-do’s. Often the first meeting will result in some assignments. You might need to let a colleague know the writer will be calling to gather info, or you might have to track down answers to questions that came up. Your prompt follow-through will again save time and money.
4. Review with care. Depending on how involved the project is, your writer may come back to you with an outline, or move directly to a first draft. Your keen eye and subject matter knowledge is critical to see if the work is on track and to offer your insights. It’s quite a time-waster (and I’ve had this happen) to approve an outline you haven’t really read and then find the draft isn’t organized the way you want.
Direct, specific feedback is most helpful (think, “I’d like to include more product features here and discuss maintenance tasks before service procedures.” rather than “I don’t really like how this flows.”) I also like it when my clients dive in and use Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature to make edits.
In many cases, a first draft will have gaps where further information is needed, or might include questions from the writer. Obviously, you’ll need to address these. If multiple people are reviewing, appoint one person to be the gatekeeper who will consolidate feedback and make the call on conflicting requests.
5. Share drafts as early as appropriate. You may not want to share a first draft with your boss or another higher-up approver, but it’s important not to wait too long before gaining that person’s input and buy-in. Waiting until you feel the piece is “done” can backfire into considerable rework if the power-that-be doesn’t agree with the direction or content.
6. Be persistent. You deserve to be satisfied with the finished product, so don’t hesitate to question areas of concern or to ask for rewrites when something doesn’t suit. A certain amount of back-and-forth is expected and should have been factored (and preferably specified) in the writer’s estimate.
7. Be open. At the same time, take advantage of the fresh perspective your writer brings to the topic as well as his or her experience writing for various audiences. While something might not be worded “the way we always say it” (or even the way you’d say it), that might be a good thing.
6. Close the loop. When the draft is final, it’s time for your graphic or Web designer to take over and turn the raw copy into a finished piece. (Unless, of course, you are simply submitting an article for publication.) It may be tempting to take your writer out of the loop at this point. But keeping your writer involved in reviewing the layout helps assure the information is presented to best advantage and heads off general proofreading and typographical issues.
I’m sorry to say I’ve written many pieces that I will not include in my portfolio (no matter how much I like the writing) because layout or proofreading problems weren’t corrected before the piece was published. I don’t like sloppy work, and I’m always surprised when clients are willing to accept it for their business. A thorough review and proofing — if not by the writer, then at least by someone with good editorial skills and fresh eyes — is a small but crucial step to presenting the polished, professional image your business deserves. And isn’t that why you hired a writer in the first place?
When something can be read without effort,
great effort has gone into its writing.
~ Enrique Jardiel Poncela