How do you know if someone is a good writer?

Tony Hallett

Tony Hallett

Managing Director

September 2, 2015 1:04 am

How do you know if a writer is any good? I get asked this a lot and often it’s not a simple answer.

Of course it’s a vitally important question – Skyword CEO Tom Gerace recently said smart marketers are shifting a lot of their annual $600bn spend on advertising towards creation and storytelling – but there are three scenarios that determine any answer:

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1. Sometimes I get asked for an opinion on a writer I have worked with. This is easy. If it’s a writer I know and have worked with – maybe alongside them or as their editor – I give my opinion and move on. The person wouldn’t have asked me if they didn’t trust me.

But this only covers a gene pool of, what, 100 writers? I wonder if I’m underestimating but for advice that is worth having, the sample size is probably only that big.

2. Sometimes I get asked about a writer I don’t know. This is hard for me. Clients are surprised when it’s hard for them. But, some of you might say, can’t you just review their work? Check out their published pieces? Look at a portfolio on their own website or somewhere like Contently? That’s what most people will do. But it’s not hugely useful.

Sure, it will generally tell you if someone specialises in fashion or pharma, whether they’ve interviewed certain high-profile people or attended major events. But it won’t actually say much about the quality of their work.

Why? Because most good content creation is a team effort. From an editor working on subject areas and commissioning, to the writer creating copy, to a sub-editor ensuring style, grammar and the elimination of mistakes, to a final editor – often the same one from the beginning – approving the result, there are many links in the chain. There can be more – this is about as streamlined as the process should be – and we haven’t even mentioned rounds of feedback with clients and the resulting edits.

So simply looking at the finished piece of work with a writer’s byline against it only tells you so much.

3. Finally, I get asked about one of our own writers. I like to think this one is simple because I know them all and can vouch for them (why else would we ask them to be a Collectivist?). But while there are elements of (1), namely a client trusts my steer, there are also elements of (2) in that any individual sits within a process employing at the very least three people. I can’t stress this enough: it’s a team effort.

So when a client or anyone else asks me about someone and says, “Can I see examples of their writing?” I tell them what I’ve said here today. Everyone who has worked in media and publishing should tell you the same thing.
*photo credit: The review part 4 via photopin (license)


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