Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to work with a writer

You’ve lined up a writer for a brochure, website, annual report or speech (now you’re off the hook). But don’t think your job is over. Prepare the writer for the challenge ahead. Research and background information are vital. Will you provide this to the writer or expect the writer to do that part too? If so, allow her (or him) time to do this investigative work.       
Ask for a bidDon’t be afraid to ask the writer for a detailed bid. This should include time for research, interviews, preparation, drive time to interviews, follow-up questions, writing an initial draft, revised drafts, getting approvals from the client and person(s) being interviewed, making changes and finalizing copy. A smart business person/writer will build in some time for last-minute changes. Or, she or he may keep track of time spent on these changes and charge accordingly.
Fresh information – This is a chief reason that companies hire writers. They want the latest information used in their piece. This usually involves interviews. How will these be conducted? From my experience, it works best for the writer to be alone with the interviewee (a tape recorder is helpful for reference or historical documentation) or schedule a time to interview the person by phone.
Sometimes the person being interviewed wants a “heads up” on what will be asked so they can get the needed detail information. Writers should be prepared to e-mail a list of questions in advance of the interview. Depending on the nature of the interview, the element of surprise can sometimes elicit better responses. The rule of thumb should be: if it involves a lot of fact-finding and verification of dates, finances or tenure, send questions in advance; if you want a more personal and spontaneous response regarding events or relationships, don’t reveal your questions until the interview.
More than meets the eye – A writer’s work involves more than one sees when reading the initial and final copy. A lot of research typically goes into an article, posting, speech, etc. The writer may have written three or four different versions before sending you one marked, “initial draft.”
Finalizing copy - It happens in virtually all writing projects: the need for last-minute changes and tweaks. Things change in the corporation or organization that make the copy wrong; someone learns something new that should be incorporated into the piece; a vice president reads the piece after the deadline and wants changes made; and numerous other reasons for changes.
Nit-picking copy on the client’s end is often a reality, but don’t expect the writer to give you this portion free of charge. A change here and there can add up to one hour plus for a 750-word article. If it’s a major piece with changes on every page, it can quickly rack up additional hours. Be prepared to pay for these last-minute changes.
Read before layout – Many people only want the executives to see the piece when it’s laid out. This can be a big waste of time and money. Plan for your key executive or review team to review copy before it gets to layout and again at layout stage. Things that read well on paper look different when paired with photos, graphics and headlines. It’s all part of the process.