Sound work ethics are the mainstay of a professional’s reputation, including that of an editor.

Professional standing is built on the dual foundations of technical competence and consistently demonstrated work ethics. This is true for all service providers, including editors.

Technical Competence

A thorough grasp of grammar; an almost intuitive sense of language nuance; meticulous vocabulary; fluid imagination to buy into the author’s concept/ story; a sharp eye for typos and errors; are just some of the technical competencies needed to make a great editor.

As in any profession, a client’s trust in the abilities of the professional doesn’t rest only on their technical competence but also on the manner in which these competencies play out when the rubber hits the road. Though much attention is paid to acquiring and evaluating technical competencies, little or none is paid to the character competencies.

Perhaps this is so because technical expertise is quantifiable while character competencies are not.

The number of professional courses the editor has taken can help assess procedural competence. The stature of professional bodies they are members of also indicate technical competence.

Character competencies are not quantifiable. There are no certifying bodies who pronounce a professional dependable. These competencies are measured only by client feedback. The biggest proof of your value as a professional is a client’s desire to work with you again. No other endorsement is as powerful as repeat business.

Your reputation is often your resume.

~ Jaclyn Johnson

Professional Ethics

If these professional ethics were to be summed up, they would best be represented by the phrase Quality of Work.

The quality of work determines the excellence of the professional’s brand. This quality is determined by the editor’s familiarity with their domain and also by the editor’s personal accountability.

How important is it for them to do their best, to BE the best they can be? Is it essential for them to strive for excellence in their work? Are they focused on developing and expanding their skills? The professional who takes the trouble to upgrade themselves will naturally pass on the benefit of that upgrade to their clients!


At my first job, being on time meant being five to ten minutes before time. If you arrived on the dot of time, you were late.

For every three “late” appearances, you lost half a day of leave. There was no arguing with the lady in whose possession the attendance register reposed. She would be breathing down your neck while you sign in your reporting time. You dared not cheat or there would be that sardonically lifted eyebrow to annihilate you on the spot! That lady was dynamite!

Over three years, the insistence on punctuality became second nature. The sardonic eyebrow-wielding lady is not in touch with me anymore, but her spirit lives on in me.

I dared not arrive late unless there was a valid reason for the delay — something like… I’m sorry but I had a road accident and I died on the spot! Broken machinery/bones were, naturally, not worthy enough to be considered. It was a little harsh, but it was excellent training.

As an editor, I have gone one step further. I am never on time with my deliverables; I’m always ahead of time. There have been projects I have delivered nearly six weeks before they were due. You can imagine how delighted the client was!


A few days ago while discussing her first book, a friend inadvertently let slip that her editor had taken one full year to edit her manuscript of forty-five thousand words. One full year! I was flabbergasted not only because of the time the editor had taken but also because when I read the book, I was dismayed to see what a shoddy job had been done! The only recipient of editorial attention was the punctuation. That was impeccable. I may not notice my own punctuation goofs, but other people’s errors stand out sorely to me.

The friend had engaged the editor for copyediting her manuscript. In the edited manuscript which she sent to me for beta reading, the grammar had not been touched. There were run-on sentences galore. Paragraph length complex and snarled sentences laid ambush to trap the reader at every turn. Misused word usage was rampant, unchecked by the editorial pen.

I could not imagine how an editor could only focus on the punctuation and consider their job done! Had it been someone else, I would have told myself that there might have been even more grammatical and structural errors before the document was edited and some were corrected. But my friend is a fine writer.

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, “Certainly, I can!” Then get busy and find out how to do it.

~Theodore Roosevelt

Painstaking Attention

I have come across other shoddily edited manuscripts. They look piteous. Their authors are frantic because not only have they spent a bomb on the poorly done job, they are also impossibly detained in their project because it must be done all over again—starting with looking for another editor with even greater fear than the first time around.

While I too belong to the editorial side of the table, such indifference on the part of fellow professionals has pained me beyond measure. It gives the whole fraternity a bad name.

A singed client would naturally be reluctant to trust the next editor. They would keep breathing down your neck and be endlessly fussy—both absolutely understandable. Yet, it makes for a strained relationship when your client suspects you of shoddiness when you aren’t the one who gave them a reason to doubt your competence!

Even more unfortunate is when the authors feel so betrayed and fed up, that they give up on their manuscript entirely.

Predicting Scope Creep

Editing is a professional domain in which the quantum and scope of work defy precise description. It is natural for the scope to creep larger. Often the client is a debut author, unfamiliar with the terrain. As experienced editors, our job is not only to deliver service but sometimes also to guide.

Since you are familiar with the domain, you also know where you might encounter scope-creep. When I quote my fee and the time, I try my best to take scope overrun into account. I would hardly look competent or knowledgeable if I was as surprised as the client when a few minor extras pop up in a project.

An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.

~ Werner Heisenberg


I have been deeply influenced by an essay I read nearly twenty years ago. Until I read it, I had not realized that to be known as a competent, accountable, and ethical professional was vital to me. The essay is called A Message to Garcia.

It has always been my endeavour to emulate the irrepressible and admirable Rowan and never the hapless clerk. Rowan provided an effective road map to become the kind of professional one would want to be. It is much easier to follow in the footsteps of a role model than to figure out the path for yourself. Especially when the path is so well-trodden and illuminated.

What steps do you take to ensure that your professional brand commands a high value? Care to share some of your tips?