25 September, 2013

Writers and Editors: it doesn't have to be a bad relationship

Now that I'm on a more even emotional keel about this topic, it's time to put this out there.

The relationship between writer and editor is notoriously bad. You want to know why? It is the same reason as anyone is misunderstood: writers often make assumptions about editors that simply often aren't true. Especially they assume that there is an adversarial relationship between them and the editor.

The truth is, (most) editors want to make writers shine. They enjoy getting people's work out there, that is why they do the job. One of my greatest joys is seeing writers grow in their writing. I've had the privilege of seeing some of those in the three years I've been working as a magazine editor and it's been so exciting to see.

Another reason why editors are "hated" is that writers can get very precious about their words and don't like it when editors don't have the same feelings.

However, less well known is that editors dislike a lot of things that writers do too! In the book Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (Edited by Michelle Ruberg) they list types of writers that magazine editors hate:

  • who have an "every word is precious" mentality
  • who miss deadlines without prior warning
  • prima donnas: they hate to be edited and throw a tantrum when even the smallest things is changed
  • pests: they repeatedly communicate with editors, to the point of being a bother
  • free spirits: who don't stick to editors' guidelines, deadlines, word counts etc.
  • invisibles: who don't respond to editor's emails in a timely fashion

Yep, I've dealt with all of these, and for some people, more than one category applies. Unfortunately we are a voluntary organisation, so it isn't as easy to not deal with a troublesome writer as it would be in a paying magazine, in which such a writer wouldn't be offered any further writing assignments.

Here's a great post on this topic: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/01/19/top-five-things-editors-hate-and-what-do-you-hate which also gives a good list of what editor's hate.

On the more positive note, I love this post, "Three words your editor wants to hear." Here's a quote:
...when the author is fearless and ego-less, willing to listen and able to use the editor’s ideas as just a springboard, great things happen. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
Here's another one, "Five Reasons Why Writers Hate Editors, and One Reason it Doesn't Matter."
If you want to be a writer, get over yourself and learn to love your editors. Hate cracking eggs all you want but you can’t make an omelet without it. 
What about me? What do I want writers to know?

Much of the nitty gritty I want them to know is in our magazine's style guide, but the most important thing I'd like them to know is that we are working to make their work shine. And if they choose to work together with us in a mature manner, that can be a joyful process for us both.


David Ferguson said...

With my grand total of one publication, I need to admit that the editing process was challenging (you do fall in love with your work) but ultimately made a much better product.

Unfortunately it is hard to draw the fine line between critique and criticism when you have made yourself vulnerable by offering your work.

Ken Rolph said...

When our dog gets scruffy we put him on the back patio table and take to him with brush and clippers. He sits that with his nose in their air and a look of satisfaction as the electric clippers vibrate over his skin. It reminds me of how I feel when being edited.

I suppose I have the advantage of being in the book business for almost half a century. That means I started way back when editors were rare and very professional. Before we all got into slef publishing and everyone was a nauthor. After you see what goes into making a book from beginning to end you are less inclined to be precious about your own writing. You learn to see it as raw material.

The best editors are like those invisible elves which fix the shoes overnight. They strive to clarify what you are trying to say, rather than replace it with what they want to say. They pick up on your bad habits (like started too many sentences with: So . . .).

It has certainly got more difficult today with, so many amateurs getting into the act. Recently I had a young person offer to look over something I was writing. She wrote to me, "If you want me to look at it, send me a email". I don't think so!

Wendy said...

Oh yes, Ken, I've gotten to appreciate editors and don't like to submit my work to anyone without having had someone discerning look at it first.