As a professional writer, you are going to face endless (sometimes painful) rounds of edits. I often say that it’s hard to describe to someone the kind of tolerance you need to cultivate for criticism as a copywriter. But it’s true: you need thick skin, and you need to expect that many clients will definitely not love your work… at least right away. As a copywriter developing your career, you may wonder: how much is too much? And, if I can choose, how much should I let clients edit my work? Some of this is a personal decision, but I have one major insight.
Writer Edits and Revisions
First, it should go without saying that you always edit your own work. It’s a skill.
When you’re setting a precedent for how much clients can edit your work, know this: client revisions are one of the most insightful moments in a client relationship.
Edits, especially early on, will give you unparalleled insight into how a client thinks, what they think is good and what they want from you. If you say, off the bat, I will only edit this once (or not at all, or twice, or whatever), I think you could be doing yourself a disservice. Clients will feel pressure in that initial feedback round and you may not get all of their insights or actual feelings. That’s actually the best possible outcome, and it’s not even good. The far worse, and far more damaging, possible outcome is that the client will end up something they feel indifferent or even negative about. If you don’t get it where they want it, you ultimately haven’t delivered a good product.
What Client Edits Tell You
I always do a trial (paid) with a new client, before we sign a contract or establish any regular production cycle. This is important. That first piece is done with limited understanding of who the client is and what they want (even though you’ve obviously done your research… right… right!??). Because of that, you’re probably offering them your best guess at what will work and their reaction is full of clues.
When Clients Don’t Understand Your Work
For example, if a client leaves feedback like this:
I don’t like this
What does this mean?
I don’t understand this
... you’ve been given a huge gift. As a writer, this is telling you that you and client have different understanding, maybe even on as basic a level as what words mean or how they’re meant to be used. Major red flag and a beautiful opportunity to understand if this relationship is even possible. Don’t dismiss it or get offended by it. Scrutinize it and feel out whether you can come to an understanding or whether there really is just a huge ideological gap.
When Clients Don’t Like Your Work
It’s a lot to expect a client to thoughtfully analyze your work and provide valuable feedback. Most professional editors are barely capable of this (no offense). So, when a client has a general feeling of unease, or generally doesn’t like something you’ve done, you need to open a dialogue (don’t get defensive). Depending on the client, you may want to ask for specifics. If they give you specifics, you’ve struck gold. Make the changes. It’s important to know that there is a learning curve with every single client. If you’re making stupid mistakes (using brand language wrong or getting a value prop wrong), that’s on you. But sometimes it just takes time to catch up with what a client already knows about their brand. That time may be worth taking, because it gets you on the same page.
When Clients Rewrite Your Work
There is a final type of client feedback that is hugely telling, and one that almost always means you need to quit the client. It’s the rewrite. If a client completely rewrites something you’ve written, and then expects you to do it again (paid or not), the writing is on the wall. Now, I say *almost always* this means you run for the hills, but there are a few times it doesn’t. For instance, one of my long-term clients has an awesome CEO and an awesome team and I heart them and the first piece I did for them I had to completely rewrite. Because they wrote the brief wrong. And they were nice about it and apologized and I rewrote it and now we’re in love forever. So, there are exceptions. But if a client doesn’t want to give you feedback or guidance, and just rewrites a piece in its entirety or close to it, you may be donezo.
Revisions for Written Work
So, maybe not the most exciting prospect, but I personally do not limit client revision cycles for trials, and almost never limit client revisions for other work. I let them have their way. It works for me, and I think the lessons I learn from being edited have made me a better writer. It’s not the easiest way to learn, but it is one of the most valuable ones. Let them tell you what went wrong, and you can fix it. Don’t, and you risk a mutually ambivalent, even unhappy, client relationship.