For people of the editorial persuasion, this is a real challenge. For one thing, many editors are naturally introverts. Editing is a good fit for introverts for a number of reasons. The admonition to “market yourself” may come naturally to extraverts, but it’s often hard for introverts to take on board. Combine that with the fact that, for the most part, people associate editing with bad memories of high school English papers coming back with red marks all over them, and you can see the problem.
Today on the copyediting-l mailing list, a colleague posted her plaint that she has never figured out this marketing stuff. I posted a reply, and another colleage, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf asked me to post my little essay here, so she could link to it from the Business Tools section of her Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base. So, for what it’s worth…
Different people figure out how to market themselves at different points in their lives (some when they’re still children, some of us not until we’re laid off in our forties or later). But eventually, someone will provide the right prompt, and the idea will suddenly click for you. The penny will drop, as the saying goes.
Let me try this angle: Forget the phrase “market yourself.” It’s meaningless. Instead, focus on solving problems for people (which is what you do all day). The question a prospective client has is not “Who is Jane Smith and how talented and experienced is she?” The question is “What’s in it for me?” In other words, “What can you do for me?”
This is the reason so many marketing materials (in all fields) begin with a question or series of questions: “Feet hurt?” “Bills piling up?” “Need a vacation?”
For the most part, people do not wake up in the morning thinking, Gee, I need to find an editor. So you have to find the pain point that makes them realize they need an editor. Once someone recognizes a problem, you can pitch a solution and position yourself as that helpful person who can provide it.
I’m getting some long-postponed projects done in our house. I don’t care how much one contractor desperately needs the work versus another contractor. I don’t care whose kids are in college. I don’t care whose truck broke down or who’s in the hospital. I don’t care who has an engineering degree and is doing carpentry to make ends meet versus who dropped out of high school and learned the trade as an apprentice. I care who’s going to show up on time and do the work I need done. People who retain editors are just the same. They don’t care about a list of qualifications, education, and awards. They want to see what you can do and that you can do it on time and for the agreed price. So if you can communicate that—keeping your focus on the customer’s needs rather than your qualifications—perhaps this whole marketing thing will begin to work better for you.