Erin Kurup, Editor & Idea Architect for Care-Fueled Entrepreneurs

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Intro to Editors: What’s the Difference Between an Editor and a Copywriter?

Intro to Editors is a series that explores what editors do in the context of solo and small business owners. Read the rest of the series here.

Intro to Editors: What’s the Difference Between an Editor and a Copywriter? (erinkurup.com, photo by Johan Larsson via Flickr)We’ve talked about where editors fit into the creation process alongside writing coaches, graphic designers, web developers, and other writing-oriented professionals. But I left one ubiquitous group out of that discussion, promising to give it its own post: copywriters.

Ta-da! This is that promised post.

(Copy)editor. Copywriter. What’s the difference, besides the last six letters? It’s a common point of confusion, and understandably so. After all, both work on text for you. Today we’ll tease out the differences into separate threads and take a look at where copywriters fit into the picture.

Where do copywriters fit?

The key difference between editors and copywriters is this: Copywriters do the actual writing for you, whereas editors work with you on text you’ve already written.

Remember our spectrum version of the writing process? Here it is again, just in case:

Where editors fit on the writing spectrum (http://erinkurup.com)

Essentially, copywriters cut out everything before “text is finalized.” A skilled copywriter should be able to gather raw material and then turn it into a final version that’s ready for layout (or whatever the final step is).

That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, though! You’ll still be involved, helping your copywriter understand your business, your ideas, and your audience so that he or she can write effectively for you. You’ll also be responsible for reviewing drafts and providing feedback. It’s just a different kind of involvement than you have when you work with an editor.

Which one should you work with?

For most small business owners, the answer to the question of which professional to pick is that annoyingly non-prescriptive phrase: “It depends.”

Whether you’ll work with an editor or a copywriter is very often a project-by-project decision. Sure, if you hate writing and never want to have to do it, for instance, you’ll probably work with a copywriter more often than not. On the flip side, if you enjoy writing or feel like it’s a role in your business that you want to fill yourself, a good editor can quickly become a key part of your creation process. But many business owners fall in between the two extremes, moving back and forth between editors and copywriters depending on the needs of their current project.

How do you know which one to choose for a particular project?

Intro to Editors: What’s the Difference Between an Editor and a Copywriter? (erinkurup.com, photo by Wonderlane via Flickr)The choice between a copywriter and an editor for a specific project depends on all kinds of factors, from your timeline to your goals to your personal preferences. There are benefits to working with both, and how you experience the process will vary greatly depending on which you pick.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, only you can make the final call. But here are a few things to keep in mind as you decide.

Generally, go with an editor when:

  • It matters to you that the page, product, or post be written by you and/or be in your unique voice.
  • It would be harder to explain your subject matter to someone else than it would be to write about it yourself.
  • You only need help with one aspect of the process (e.g. you’re solid on structure, but grammar drives you nuts).
  • You’re partial to the DIY mindset and/or prefer a hands-on approach.
  • You’d like to improve your writing skills.
  • You’re on a tighter budget.
  • You have time and energy to put into the editing process.
  • You’ve always wanted to write a __[fill in the blank]__.

On the other hand, a copywriter might be better for your project if:

  • It doesn’t really matter who does the writing and/or whose voice it’s in.
  • You’re confident you can get your message across to someone else so that he or she can translate it into copy for you.
  • You’d like help with the whole process — or better yet, for someone else to do as much of the writing work as possible.
  • You’d rather cover yourself in honey and run naked through a field of hungry bears than have to do the actual writing yourself. (Speaking of which…bears and honey. Is that a real thing?)
  • You have a large budget (especially if it’s a bigger project).
  • You have very limited time to put into the writing process yourself.
  • Things like “improve my writing skills” and “write a __[fill in the blank]__” are nowhere to be found on your bucket or to-do list.

Honestly, there’s rarely going to be a black-and-white wrong choice. Either way, if you pick good people to work with, you’ll end up with a solid finished product.

A great way to get a feel for which style of working you prefer is to give it a try. Work with an editor on your next project, then try a copywriter. That way you’ll have firsthand knowledge of how you, personally, like to work, and you’ll be able to make informed decisions going forward.

Do editors and copywriters have anything in common?

It may sound like editors and copywriters are two completely different animals. But if you think about it, they fill a similar role in the writing process: They help translate your truest message into clear, eloquent words that reach the people you most want to serve. It’s just that their ways of getting there look different.

Photos adapted from the CC-licensed work of Johan Larsson and Wonderlane.

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