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Asking for Work or Advice? Mind Your Manners

I don’t know how other industries survive. All the politics, back-biting, and in-fighting can make it hard to go to your colleague with a question or request. In some industries, colleagues just aren’t supportive of one another.

Not so with editors.

Maybe it’s because even when we work on large staffs (are there any left?), we work alone. Maybe it’s the temperament common among editors, one that leans toward helpfulness rather than hindrance. Maybe it’s just because language has humbled us. After all, who hasn’t wrestled at least once with a sentence or paragraph and lost?

Whatever it is, editors are among the most helpful people I know. We’ll help our colleagues straighten out errant grammar, tell each other about good job opportunities, and recommend tools and resources to get the job done better and faster. Many of us create material as well, writing articles and books and speaking at live events. We’re eager to promote our work and share our knowledge with our colleagues.

Thanks to evolving technology, we have incredible access to editors around the world. Besides being able to connect with editors here at Right Touch Editing, you can join groups like the Copyediting-L and Editors’ Association of Earth and follow lists of editors on Twitter. And that’s to say nothing of heading over to an editor’s website or dropping them an email.

In fact, it’s so easy to connect with our fellow editors that we can sometimes forget ourselves. We can forget that we’ve actually had limited contact with an online colleague, that our questions might be easily answered with a little research, or that what we’re asking is more work than it seems at first.

In short, we can forget our manners.

Every editor starts out knowing little and needing a lot of help. And we can all get overzealous from time to time and make mistakes. I made my share when I was starting out and still have occasional missteps. We all do: we’re human.

But if we keep some basic manners in mind, we can maintain our helpful community:

  • Respect other people’s time. Keep your questions to the point. “How do I get started as a freelancer?” is a broad question that can take entire books to answer. A better question might be: “I’m interested in editing memoirs. Can you recommend a good resource for finding work?”
  • Respect other people’s boundaries. Some people are more comfortable than others with giving advice. Some folks have guidelines for who they’ll recommend for work or how they’ll go about it. If you can work within someone else’s boundaries, great. Otherwise, politely bow out.
  • Make it easy for someone to say no. We all have busy lives, and it can be hard to say no when we need to, especially when we recall how much we needed help in the past. Posing your request in a way that lets the other person know you won’t take offense if they can’t help can go a long way. The other person is more likely to help you next time, as well.
  • When asking someone to promote you, respect their audience. When you ask someone to promote your work, you’re essentially borrowing their reputation and selling to their audience. Take care of that reputation. Make it clear what their audience will gain from your promotion.
  • Return the favor. Even when you’re new or inexperienced, you have something to offer others. Return the favor you’ve been given, whether it’s to the person who helped you or someone else in the community. On forums, do more than ask questions. Share your ideas and get to know the people in the group. The community will be richer for it, and no one will feel taken advantage of.

I love the camaraderie in the larger editing community. I love how we help each other and promote each other. To be able to keep that camaraderie alive, though, we must respect other people’s boundaries and needs. We have to do what our parents taught us.

We have to mind our manners.

This article originally published on 1/27/15, on Copyediting.com.

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