On being a specialist

One of the editors I work for recently commented, “You are a jack of all trades!” She meant that she was impressed with the variety of things I know something about, which is a direct result of the fact that I am easily bored. For this client, it helps that I know a little bit about a lot of things, since the books she asks me to work on cover a wide variety of subject matter. But what’s most important to her isn’t that I know a little bit about a lot of things. It’s that I know A LOT about the specific thing she’s hiring me to do—developmental editing.

The best work is available to people who have skills that other people don’t have. I have talked about commodity writers before. If anyone can write about something, a client can get anyone to write about it—including someone who’ll do it for exposure, or ten cents a word.

I see a lot of people focused on “I want.” That’s fine insofar as identifying what you’re looking for in your work. But too many people communicate this to potential clients. “Hi, I’m looking for a freelance job I can do from home, and I found out about your job.”

When I’ve been in position to hire people for various jobs, it has never mattered to me that someone wanted the job because they could do it from their living room. What mattered to me was, could they solve my problem? For one job, I had X number of manuscripts that needed to be edited in X amount of time by someone who knew what she was doing. People who said, “I see that you are looking for X. I have X, and here are the references that will confirm it” were the ones I hired.

That’s not to say that you can’t have a variety of different skills. But you have to pitch the right skills to the right people. The person who hired me to be an agent didn’t care that I also taught copyediting at the University of California – San Diego. The person who hired me to do developmental editing did.

If you’re like me, you enjoy knowing a little bit about a lot of things. But it’s having specific expertise that makes a difference in the work we do.


Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available!
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

And don’t forget classes for writers—and more on writing at BeYourOwnBookDoctor.com