The dirty little secret about hiring an editor

secret girl on blue background. Red lips trendIt happens in almost every conversation with a client. And when it does, the moment is palpable.

A CEO burrows his brow in uncomfortable silence. A new business owner laughs weakly, shifting awkwardly in her chair. An author wipes away tears, apologizing for the unexpected emotions.

These were all real moments with clients. And although each reacted differently, their reason was the same.

They felt exposed.

You see, what people don’t know about working with an editor is that it’s a pretty intimate process. And if it’s done well, you’ll almost always be found out.

What I mean is that an editor – a good editor – is trained to find your gaps, your blind spots. And she’ll poke and prod those areas to make them better for you. She knows that the only way to make your good stuff better is to dig deeper than you – to dive in to the places where you aren’t so sure about yourself.

And a client – a good client – has the humility to respond, revealing what is beneath the surface. He might admit a flaw. He may confess a doubt. He’ll likely hear feedback. And he’ll certainly feel vulnerable.

No doubt, this process takes some guts. But here’s the thing: It’s worth it.

Your corporate brand, your personal story – they’re both about who you are and what you want to share with the world. Hiring an editor means that you want to share it with authenticity and meaning – and that you’re willing to experience some discomfort to get there.

And so, with a little prodding, the CEO realizes that he hasn’t articulated his vision to himself yet, much less to his people. The new business owner admits that she isn’t confident in her process yet, even on the eve of her website launch. The budding author acknowledges that a memory is painful to write about, but agrees to go there.

And your editor? She’s smiling gently inside, thinking, “Now we’re getting somewhere. . . .”

Ella7_croppedElla Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out the website for more information.

A Simple Lesson from Obama’s Speechwriter

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It all comes down to one thing: emotion.

That’s what Cody Keenan told the Today show this morning. He said that communication comes down to simply creating emotion. And as President Obama’s speechwriter, he should know.

Keenan is the one who stirred laughter in the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Dinner remarks — and then stirred sobering respect in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy. He was the one who called for national unity in Tucson in 2011 when Gabby Giffords was shot.

And he is the one who stayed up this morning until the wee hours, putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address that Obama will deliver tonight. Keenan has been applauded for creating the right emotion for each circumstance, and he’s worked hard with Obama in hopes that they’ve created it again for the nation.

So what does this mean for business leaders?

As you face 2016, consider the primary emotion that you want to inspire in your people. Peace, security, clarity, gratitude . . . . Think about the one thing they need most from you this year.

With this emotion in mind, rethink the ways you communicate in your personal and professional life. What’s working? What can be changed to create this emotion?

Here are just a few ways you can change your communication to inspire change in others:

  • Create peace by boldly talking about the elephant in the room, forming and documenting a resolution plan, and regularly checking progress.
  • Create security by keeping promises, regularly updating clients on projects, accepting ultimate accountability, and requesting online endorsements to prove your track record.
  • Create clarity by forming a mission statement, writing clear job descriptions and expectations, posting answers to FAQs, and providing a clear plan of action.
  • Create gratitude by steadily expressing appreciation for others in every situation.

When you focus on emotion, every form of communication becomes an opportunity to motivate and inspire others.

What emotion will drive your communication in 2016?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based publishing company that delivers quality editing, writing, and publishing services on time to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Writing


1. Get clear on your purpose. What value are you uniquely qualified to provide to the world?

2. Know how you want your story to end. Without vision, you’re just rambling.

3. Create an outline. Give some structure to your plan by splitting up and prioritizing your work into smaller tasks.

4. Know your audience. Appeal to your ideal customer.

5. Put it all on paper. Give it all you’ve got. The best stories are risky.

6. Expect writer’s block. Accept your limitations but don’t let them stop you for long. Tap into resources to push through obstacles.

7. Check your tone. Attitude is everything.

8. Create margins. Give yourself a little breathing room to rest, exercise, and have a little fun.

9. Expect mistakes. The first draft is usually rough.

10. Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people you trust who are wiling to say the hard things.

11. Reflect. Give yourself time to take another look tomorrow with fresh eyes.

12. Edit. Prune out the clutter that distracts you from your purpose.

13. Meet your deadline. Stay accountable. Honor your commitment to yourself and others.

14. Sign your name. Own your brand. Share the successes and take responsibility for the failures.

15. Get published. Accept that you’ll never reach perfection. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable.

16. Keep reading. Learn from others’ style and techniques. Stay humble.

17. Celebrate each step of the process. You’re never totally done, so recognize your milestones along the way!

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Is Your Writer a Robot?

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Image courtesy of

Quick: Can you spot the writing of a robot?

Exhibit A: “WYNN-US’s return on assets has declined from above median to about median among peers, indicating declining relative operating performance.”

Exhibit B: “Despite an upper single digit sales CAGR through 2025, limited margin leverage mutes earnings momentum. Intuitive has the highest high OM/GM ration in devices even following recent softer top-line growth pressuring operating margins through 2015.”

These were the two samples that Stephanie Yang presented in her Wall Street Journal article, Is Your Wall Street Analyst a Robot? If you guessed that a robot generated Exhibit A, you’re correct.

Yang explores the rising trend of financial-services businesses to rely on software for computer-generated news like this sample. In fact, she says automated writing has become so popular that financial firms make up 60% of the client base at Narrative Sciences Inc. Other startups that use artificial intelligence are clamoring to get in on the action.

So, what does trend this mean for financial advisors and investors?

Let’s start with the good news: Automation brings with it a world of efficiencies. Although Yang couldn’t get firms to talk cost, sophisticated software programs that use algorithms to synthesize information enable business to publish thousands of corporate summaries and marketing materials quickly and relatively cheaply. Analysts, in turn, are less preoccupied with reports and more free to focus on higher-value time with clients. And they apparently don’t need to be concerned about being replaced by a robot: Yang cited a 2013 Oxford University study in which financial analysts were ranked as safer than 70% of other occupations.

But automation comes with its problems: Just take a look at two writing samples again. Whereas the machine reported quantitative facts in Exhibit A, the human writer who composed Exhibit B weighed each word for quality. Yang points out the ability of a human to cut through industry noise to bring insight, advancement, and nuance to financial information. Every businessman worth his salt knows business is about relationships, and a human writer can build relationships with words that a machine cannot (yet).

Ultimately, even this writer has to admit that automation in writing is an interesting and worthwhile development. But as with any novel shortcut in business, recognize its limitations or risk alienating your investors. Only a human writer can truly leverage words to build business-sustaining relationships.

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

How to Get Your Writer to Write Like You Talk

talkingheads“This sounds nothing like me,” a client recently confided about his content from another writer. “It’s not what I wanted.”

His disappointment was evident–and not uncommon.

What do you do when you read your first draft of content from your writer in high hopes . . . and feel disappointment instead?

Some people give up on their writer and return to cobbling together their own words. Some seek another writer, hoping to find The One that will magically breathe life into their content.

To be sure, not all writers are equal. Some are better than others at certain forms of writing, such as blogging, business, or advertising. And some are simply just better writers.

But before you ditch your writer, consider this: Have you provided her with enough guidance? Have you taken the time to tell her about you and what you want? Writers are a bit like hairstylists: Provide little instruction, and you’re likely to get a mohawk instead of that simple trim you wanted.

My clients are usually sure about one thing: They want a writer who can write like they talk. And a good writer changes her tone to accommodate each client as easily as she changes her wardrobe.

But what clients aren’t always certain of is how to communicate what they want to their writers.

To get your writer on board with your expectations, consider these four simple ideas:

  1. Compile a style guide, which is simply a list of what you want in your written communication. The most well-developed guide I’ve seen so far is that of Explore God, a nonprofit organization that invests deeply in its team of writers. In addition to six instructions dedicated to tone alone, the organization provides 15 more parameters as guidance—down to the ideal number of words to include in a sentence.
  2. Provide your writer with any existing corporate materials that help her get a feel for the way you’ve been presenting your company, including your online materials such as your website and social media forums as well as print materials such as article, brochures, and flyers.
  3. Provide direct, specific feedback. You’d be surprised how many people hesitate to tell their writer they’re unhappy with their content in an effort to avoid an awkward conversation. Experienced writers, however, already know that their writing will not satisfy every client, particularly a first draft. They appreciate clients who are honest and specific about what they want to change.
  4. Perhaps the most critical—and most overlooked—piece of information is the published version of your content. Don’t let your busyness or fear of an awkward conversation get in the way of this step. In addition to providing specific guidance to your writer, she can begin compiling a study guide based on the final product. That way, you both win.

With a little effort and communication, you can align your writer with your expectations – and you might get a better haircut to boot. What other strategies have you used to communicate with your writer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to continue the conversation.

Upgrade Your Genius

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“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.

One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.

“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.

However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.

But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”

Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.

Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”

Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.

What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.

Become the Media

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Jello Biafra, a former lead singer for the punk rock band Dead Kennedys, once said, “Don’t hate the media; become the media.” The songwriter and political activist combined his bold ideas and artistic talent to impact the worlds of music and politics.

As you reflect on this year and prepare for the next, consider this: How will you become the media in 2015? Real change happens in your personal and professional life when you share your ideas with the world.

Identify one goal in your professional and personal life in which you want to make progress. Perhaps you want a better job or to promote a cause.

Now, list the people, resources, and actions with which you can make that goal happen. Be specific about how you will use communication to reach your goal. What action can you take or product can you make to speak to the world? What ideas, images, and strengths will you convey? What misunderstandings, assumptions, and weaknesses will you break down?

Here are some ways to create or revamp your message for the world. Which will add momentum to your goal?

  • Article
  • Artwork
  • Biography
  • Blog
  • Book
  • Brochure
  • Business cards
  • Case study
  • Cover letter
  • Email ad
  • Facebook page
  • Flyer
  • Grant
  • Header
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Logo
  • Photograph
  • Performance
  • Press release
  • Media kit
  • Music
  • Newsletter
  • Radio spot
  • Resume
  • Signage for your place of business
  • Speech
  • Television spot
  • Twitter account
  • Video
  • Website

Once you’ve nailed down your goal and the action you will take to reach it, set a deadline for yourself and ask someone to hold you accountable. If you have ideas but need help articulating them, consult with a writer. The right message with the right method will yield results. Share with me the results of your media in 2015!

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website.