By Rochelle Melander
Never throw up on an editor. —Ellen Datlow
I have edited a quarterly periodical for 12 years. In addition, I edit books for both publishing houses and private clients. Over the years, I have kept a mental list of things I wish writers knew. Here are just a few of the items on my list. Follow them, and you will be a more successful professional writer. (Honest!)
1. Editors want you to succeed. When we open your manuscript, we hope it will be great or, at least, your very best work. If it isn’t, we will help you create your best work. But we need your cooperation. Here are a few things you can do to make the process easier:
*Be open to revising your manuscript. (I know! It’s hard.)
*Listen to our suggestions for how you can revise elements of your work.
*If you do not understand the proposed changes, ask questions.
*If we answer your questions and you still don’t understand, ask again.
*If we ask for more revisions, see #2.
2. It’s not about you. When editors offer suggestions for improvement, remember it’s about the work—the book, short story, novel, article, or poem—it’s not about you. I know—it’s hard to hear someone criticize your baby and not take it personally. But that’s all a part of becoming a professional writer. In the end, the writer has to leave the reader alone with the baby. The work has to stand on its own.
3. Editors can’t read your mind, and neither can your readers. Often writers are so immersed in their material that they forget that their readers, editors included, don’t know everything they know.
*If you are writing fiction, review your work for holes in the story. Have you skipped over scenes or backstory that serve a crucial role in the story?
*If you’re writing nonfiction, approach your work like an outsider. Does the work assume that the reader knows the people, places, and theories that are in the book? Is there any jargon that needs to be removed?
4. Guidelines matter. Publishing houses or periodicals create writer’s guidelines for a reason, and it usually has to do with two things: audience and money. The style guidelines are designed to help the writer reach the intended audience (remember #2: it’s not about you). If writers don’t stick to the style guidelines, it just adds more work for the editor—who has to edit the work to fit house style. The format guidelines, including word count, often have to do with money. The publishing company has budgeted for a certain number of pages. Your piece, once dropped into the template, must fit. When writers turn in work that is too long or too short, we have to fix it. (By the way, I rarely hire back writers who don’t follow guidelines. It’s too much work!)
5. Deadlines matter. Think of your writing deadline as just one domino in a long line of dominoes. When one deadline is missed, it affects every other deadline for the project. Yes, there is sometimes wiggle room, so if an emergency arises, please do talk to your editor about an extension. That said, I would not encourage any writer (no matter how good you are) to miss a deadline more than once.
Oh, I could go on and on. Get a few of us editors talking at a writing conference, and you’ll hear the wisdom pour out of us: Do your homework: don’t submit your thesis on biodiversity in the Wisconsin prairie to a theology journal, even if the journal is interested in all things “green.” Read voraciously in your field and as much outside your field as you can. Avoid jargon (it bears repeating). Use spell check. Keep a list of your own personal grammar goofs and use it to check every piece before you turn it in. Finally, once you think your piece is done, it probably needs a bit more work.
Writers and editors, do you have more suggestions? Leave them in the comments section below! I have one more Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar to give away, and I’ll give it to someone who leaves advice on this article. Leave your best advice for a chance to win this amazing tool. (I’ll hold an unscientific drawing on Thursday morning.)
WANT TO USE THIS TIP IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You may, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) is the 10th book authored by Melander, who teaches professionals how to write fast, get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com and sign up to be a member of her Write Now! Mastermind class for professionals at http://www.writenowmastermind.com