What Editors Wish You Knew
May 31, 2022
Note From Rochelle
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Today’s post is the third in a series on revision. The first pieces offered concrete revision tips:
For today’s tip, I’m sharing the information editors wish you knew.
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
What Editors Wish You Knew
By Rochelle Melander
Never throw up on an editor. —Ellen Datlow
I have edited a quarterly periodical for about 20 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 more successful. (Honest!)
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.
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, you will send the work out into the world without you to explain it to the reader. The work has to stand on its own.
Editors can’t read your mind
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? Are there jargon or acronyms that need to be explained or removed?
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 must 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, editors must make it work. (By the way, I rarely hire back writers who don’t follow guidelines. It’s too much work!)
Think of your writing deadline as 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.
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. Take a break and review it again with fresh eyes.
Writers and editors, do you have more suggestions? Share them in the comments!
Writing is stronger when “only” is right in front of the word it modifies: “I like only black olives, not green olives.” vs “I only like (I don’t buy or serve or eat or share, I only like) black olives, not green olives.”
Noting important details in the style sheet helps keep the story consistent. A well-known writer changed the main character’s injury from left ear to right ear within the book. Another well-known writer changed the family car from a station wagon to a sedan within the book. Readers who notice and comment about such discrepancies offer the compliment of attentive reading, but avoiding such mistakes would prevent frustration for both writer and reader.