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Daniel Schwarz

Week in Review #2

What is Being an Editor Really Like?

Well, it's been two full weeks since I was hired to be a co-editor at one of the most-established design blogs in the world — SitePoint has been around for an impressive 17 years now, so this is very much a milestone for me. It's been quite an interesting learning experience so I want to share some of what I've learned, for anybody out there wondering what being an editor is really like. I totally didn’t have time to do a “Week in Review” last week, so hopefully this one more than makes up for it!

Sooooo Much Trello

Content management workflows differ from industry to industry, but I can say for sure that tech-related blogs love to use Trello for managing authors and their content — its kanban-style approach to organisation is unrivalled, in my opinion.

Publishers tend to use these six columns:

  • Pitches
  • Approved
  • In Progress
  • Being Edited
  • Scheduled
  • Published

Basically, each article idea has its own Trello "card" and starts off in the Pitches column, where the author kicks things off by adding themselves to this card and writing an outline of what the article will cover in the card description, while also @mentioning the editor(s) who will then approve or reject the idea.

Kanban-style Trello boards

Content Strategy and the Intensive Approval Process

Approving an article requires discussion. It can sometimes be quite difficult to anticipate whether an article will do well or not, so we need to combine our gut instincts with cold hard statistics. Has the author written well-received articles for us before? Has the topic been covered in a similar capacity already, and did it do well?

We also have a budget that we need to adhere to.

Almost every team that I work in uses Slack for communication and this is where editors discuss content strategy internally. Right now this is a little difficult for me as I’m currently in London, whereas most of the team lives in Melbourne (literally on the other side of the world). Hopefully, my next destination will be Thailand, which brings me a little closer (besides that, I desperately miss Chang Beer and Pad Thai!).

Slack for content strategy and communication

How we use data to approve topics

Analytics can tell us whether an article might flop or fail, where the two main statistics that we look at are: how many views did a similar article have in the first 30 days, and how many in the most-recent 30 days (sometimes an article can have a slow start, but generate lots of organic search engine traffic later on).

Some of the web analytic tools that I’ve used in recent months include Google Analytics (which is extremely detailed ⏤ it displays everything from the user's device type/model to their age/interests demographic) and Parsely (which isn’t as drilled-down but displays the essential data in a more user-friendly way).

Analysing statistics in Parsely

When there’s no data

Of course, if the topic hasn’t been covered before, then we need to need research it without statistical data. We need to be asking the following questions:

  • Is the topic trending/popular on social media?
  • Has it been written about elsewhere?
  • If so, how many times was it shared?
  • Did the readership review the article favourably?

Regarding the article itself:

  • What does the reader gain from the article?
  • What do they learn, and why do they need to learn it?
  • What do they take away from the article? How does it benefit them?

Crafting the Perfect Heading

Answering those questions in the title is deadly important. Why? Because when the article is shared on social media, or when the reader is browsing through the list of articles to read on the homepage, you have only that title (and maybe a cover image) to reel the reader in. 100% of readers have a very short attention span, so they’re looking for an article that’s going to benefit them immensely. It’s not unusual for editors to completely reword the suggested title to convey those benefits.

When I first started out as a freelance blogger, my editor (now co-editor, sorry bud) introduced me to Headline Analyser, which assesses your headline and awards it a score out of 100 (anything below 70 is a complete no-no). It takes into account:

  • Word count
  • Character count
  • Number of common words
  • Number of uncommon/power/emotional words
  • Headline type (how-to, list, generic, etc)

Yes, a heading is that important!

Finally, the Editing Begins

Once the author has completed their first draft, then we begin editing. While authors are encouraged to write in a format that suits them, the content (usually) has to be converted to markdown one way or another — this isn’t always straightforward, but doing the conversion on our end helps the writer focus on the words. I typically use Draftin, which is like version-control for markdown writers, whereas our co-editor at SitePoint enjoys Classeur.io. Both are fun to use — they're free and web-based.

HTML is also a common format to submit content in — ultimately, markdown boils down to HTML anyway. It’s always awkward to receive an article in a Word or Google Docs format, but there are little hacks that we can do to extract the content.

I also use Grammarly which catches any silly mistakes (and there will be silly mistakes, even after you’ve edited the article 5 times over). If an author is a first-timer, we’ll also need to collect their email address, website, social media links and a short bio to import them into WordPress, Ghost, or whichever CMS the blog is using.

Helping Writers Improve

Draftin (or similar) is an ideal way to offer contextual feedback with useful annotations. Like with any type of feedback, saying things like “this needs improvement” doesn’t help the author at all; the best editors are also mentors that help their writers improve. Literally all of the advice I’m giving you today originates from a variety of editors who have helped me improve, first to become a better writer, then to transition into being an editor. Now I’m able to help writers myself while learning how to be an editor at the same time — it's a never-ending cycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does being an editor live up to your expectations?

Definitely! While I totally didn’t realise that I’d also have to curate email newsletters for thousands and thousands of users (very scary!), I am enjoying every minute of being an editor. It's something that I've wanted to do for a very long time.

Do you have to chase up or be strict with authors?

Sometimes, yes. Plagiarised content, sly backlinks and the occasional, “Hey, how’s this coming along?” is quite normal — we have to ensure quality content at all costs.

Do you still write for the blog that you edit?

Absolutely! Not only articles but books and screencasts too — I have a book about prototyping with Adobe XD coming out very soon — if you subscribe to my newsletter I’ll let you know when it’s out (and you'll also recieve weekly tips as well).

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If design isn’t your thing, I’m also working on a book that helps aspiring freelance bloggers generate a satisfactory ≬ lucrative income. Seriously, you should sign up to my newsletter because there’s going to be bucketloads of useful stuff in there (you can expect a free first draft of my freelance blogging book very soon!).

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Next up: What Are the Top Design Blogs Now?