The problem with unasked-for editing

Getting work as a freelance editor is always a challenge, and my colleagues sometimes see an opportunity when a local business or other organization publishes a newsletter or blog post with errors. They ask me, “I’m thinking about pointing out the errors and offering my editorial services for pay. What do you think?”

I think this is a bad idea. A terrible idea. Don’t do it.

The reason why may not be what you think. It’s not that people who care about their words would have already hired an editor, or that if they had a budget they would have already hired an editor, or even that it starts the relationship off on a sour note. (Though all of these things may be true, they also may not.)

The reason is that unasked-for editing is always bad editing.

That’s it. If they didn’t ask for your opinion, it’s not your place to give it. Not even to solicit work or to “prove” your skills.

Now, it’s one thing if you want to save a friend or colleague potential embarrassment, and so you direct message them to let them know their Facebook post about their editorial services has a typo in it. That’s cool, as long as you don’t call them out publicly, in which case you’re just being a jerk.

Unasked-for editing is bad editing because:

  1. It hasn’t been requested or invited. Period. Boundaries exist for a reason.
  2. You don’t necessarily know the reason for the “error.” I’ve seen people drag writers for spelling the word “colour” and the only one who looks like a fool is the person who doesn’t know that British English spells the word differently from US English. And some “errors” are deliberate, for marketing purposes or to gain attention.
  3. You may not know the style. I’ve seen editors criticize writers for writing, “The game can be played by two to 10 people.” Shouldn’t the numbers be written consistently? Not if AP style is being used.
  4. You haven’t had a chance to discuss goals and expectations with the client. That’s why people make mistakes 2 and 3.
  5. Professional editors know that even experienced editors can miss errors. Only amateurs believe that perfection is achievable. Pointing out other people’s errors when you haven’t been asked to do so is a rookie mistake. If you want to be treated like a professional, you have to act like one.

Now, I know someone will respond to this post and say, “But that’s how I got my biggest client!” Okay! Happy for you. But I wouldn’t recommend this approach as a valid marketing method.