Writers and editors should have a sweet spot: the topics on which they know the most. They should also have a range of topics they are comfortable with. They also need a clear idea of what they don’t do.
The T-shaped editorial skills profile
A common way to describe the skill profile of any expert or worker is as a T-shape. The top of the T describes the breadth of the worker’s skills. The vertical part describes the set of skills for which they have deeper knowledge.
A writing professional needs to know what their specialty is and what areas of knowledge they’re conversant in.
For example, I am for the most part a business writer. You are not going to find me writing much about loving relationships or gardening.
As you read what follows, consider your own expertise as a writer and editor — how would you write a similar narrative for yourself?
My deepest expertise is in writing and publishing — the topics of my last two books. I also have expertise in social media and in the television industry based on my years of study as a technology analyst.
I feel quite comfortable on a range of topics including marketing, innovation, management, application development, statistics, and mathematics — all based on my past background and current study. I’ve ghostwritten books on digital marketing, artificial intelligence, and application development strategy. I could build on my existing knowledge of technology markets for these topics.
I’ve edited books on a wide range of topics including IT, financial advising, productivity, disruption, politics, networking, transportation, digital marketing, data, innovation, and customer experience. I’ve also edited memoirs of a TV industry leader and a social media influencer. In all of those cases, the deep knowledge came from the author, but my background was sufficient to enable me to place myself in the role of the reader and edit with confidence.
I draw the line at fiction. I would be uncomfortable editing a book on history or home repair. If there is a technology, branding, media or marketing angle, I can be a big help. If there is not, I’m not the best choice, and I’ll probably refer you to someone else.
Fill in the blanks in your own skills profile
If you are a writing and editing professional, define your own areas of expertise. Fill in the blanks:
- I am so knowledgeable about these topics that I could write a book on them: _____
- I am sufficiently knowledgeable about these topics that I could ghostwrite a book working with a subject-matter expert: _____
- This is the broad list of topics for which I’d feel comfortable editing content: _____
- I don’t have the right skills to work on a book about these topics: _____
You should do this from time to time, so that when opportunities arise, you can decide whether they fit within your T-shaped profile.
To be as useful as possible, continue to extend yourself more broadly and deeply.
On your deep topics, what more can you learn? For example, if you are an expert in innovation, can you learn more about startups, corporate R&D, idea management tools, and strategic investing?
On your broad topics, how can you expand them? I was an amateur about politics until I worked with a friend on a book about political opinions and research — now it’s in my broad skill set. A relentless curiosity, a broad reading list, and a diverse set of friends will help you to learn more. And if you get a chance to try something new, do it!
A valued writer and editor is always becoming more knowledgeable and more versatile. It’s not just good for your career. It keeps your mind sharp, too!