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Gael Spivak

Client Relationships for the In-house Editor

This post is part of a new series of case studies by and for in-house editors. The focus of this series is on the personal experiences and various roles of in-house editors. A post will appear on the Editors’ Weekly every other month. If you’re interested in writing a post for this series, please email the Member Services Committee. 

Business conversation. Man and woman at the table
onyxprj ©

Every editor manages relationships. Even if you don’t meet the people whose work you edit, you interact with them. As an in-house editor, I work with the same clients, over and over. These clients are my colleagues, people I see every day or every week.

I develop and maintain friendly relations with all of them because I’ll be interacting with them for years to come. Some of them could end up being my manager, director or director general.

Freelance editors want repeat clients. I have repeat clients, whether I like them or not. So I do what I can to make every one of those relationships good ones. I’ve done this instinctually, but I can certainly describe what I do, if asked.

Be kind

The first thing I keep in mind when editing is to always be kind. No one will ask me to edit their text, or even listen to me, if I am not kind to them.

I am careful with how I word my queries. I don’t allow any irritation or impatience in them.

I don’t expect my colleagues to know things that I know about grammar, style or other details of editing (and I don’t show off my knowledge when I do know things they don’t).

And I never correct people when they haven’t asked me to edit something.

Be credible

I make sure my colleagues know that I belong to a profession that has standards and expectations.

I mention Editors Canada and my involvement with the association. I talk about the Professional Editorial Standards. I refer to the international communities of practice that I participate in.

These things show my colleagues that I belong to something bigger than me and that there’s more going on than just what they learned in high school English classes.

Be helpful

I know many editors don’t justify the changes they make when editing. The first time I edit for a colleague, though, I explain almost everything I change, right down to small details, such as Canadian punctuation conventions (or our in-house ones).

This allows my colleagues to feel like they are consulting me (rather than me telling them what to do) and that I’m applying objective style conventions, rather than imposing my own preferences on them.

And because I always cite books or other resources, they start to see that there’s a vast body of work behind what I am doing, and this helps gain trust.

This is a lot of work for me upfront. But usually after two or three times, they tell me to just go ahead and edit their text.

The editor is always In

One of the things I love most about my job is the people who pop into my cubicle with a “quick question.”

Yes, I know, they’re not always quick. I start a lot of my answers with, “Well, it depends…”

But I love that people know to come to me with their spelling, grammar and usage questions. It’s fun to help them and it solidifies my credibility. And it makes the collegial bond even stronger because I’ve helped them with something I didn’t have to.

These relationships are a large part of why I love editing so much. It’s more than just the words.


Note: You can download the Professional Editorial Standards here.

Watch Professional Editorial Standards, Why do they matter? on the Editors Canada YouTube channel.


Previous post from the in-house editing series: My brain hurts! (Or I’ve been proofreading from right to left!).

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4 Comments on “Client Relationships for the In-house Editor”

  • Frances Peck


    Not only is this excellent advice for how to approach clients, but it can help us build and strengthen relationships of all kinds—with family, friends, neighbours and our fellow editors. « Be kind » should always come first.

  • Gael Spivak


    That’s not what I am saying in this blog post and it’s not advice I’d likely ever give. It’s way too absolutest for how I think and how I analyze situations, especially when they are complex.

    I choose to be kind when editing my colleagues’ work. That’s what the « be kind » section of this blog post is about. I wasn’t talking about anything else but what I do when editing at work. And that’s a very tiny part of reality.

  • Sharon Paul


    That was very helpful. I do try to be kind to my clients. But as you said, it’s important to cite books and other sources while suggesting changes. Thank you for all the tips.

  • Virginia St-Denis


    Thanks for sharing these tips. Like you, I’ve done much of this instinctually throughout my in-house editing career. Giving it some thought now, it’s reassuring to know that these things could be considered better practices.

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