During my two-week stint as an editor, I developed sympathy for editors who’d rejected my work in the past. (Contact me for your free copy of Travelers’ Tales, the anthology I edited.)
While wielding the red pen, I learned what pleases and annoys editors. I’ve also gathered advice to writers from other editors. Here’s the scoop.
WRITE FRESH: Editors love word combinations that convey image, emotion and action. “Words,” said one freelance editor, “can engage readers to keep on reading.” Keeping readers reading is every editor’s mission.
“One of the ways you can judge a good writer,” an editor at Delacorte Press said, “is if he shows you something. You see it in action. You don’t have to write adverbially.” Or adjectivally.
Adverbs and adjectives tell instead of show. Action should convey the person’s manner. “He ate greedily,” comes alive as “He crammed biscuits into his mouth. Melted butter dribbled down his chin.” Happy, generous and similar adjectives are interpretations filtered through the writer’s judgment. “Although poor, they were generous,” becomes fresher rewritten as “The family invited us into their tin shack for tea and tortillas.” The author’s job is to draw word pictures. Let readers draw the conclusion.
“Write with a unique twist and include lively quotes and statistics,” said Kim Lisi who’d edited Home Business Journal. “Show some creative effort.”
CUT THE CHATTER: After her vacation, an acquisitions editor returned to work only to get buried under 800 e-mails, phone messages and letters. She begged writers to hold off communications until she’d dug out.
Editors appreciate writers who resist asking about the status of submitted material until a reasonable period has passed, who send in their best work the first time (not submitting minor revisions after the piece was accepted) and who don’t ask questions that are covered in the guidelines.
In Book Editors Talk to Writers, Judy Mandell reported that editing is “…a world of deadlines, bottom lines, and all-out stress. Editors would like to deal personally with every writer. But, they can’t. They’re just too busy.” Editors usually don’t have time to tutor novice writers or enter into philosophical or gossipy exchanges. “Keep the personal commentary brief unless we’re well acquainted,” said The Phoenix editor Pat Samples.
The editor of a magazine for an organization with 180,000 members worldwide was more direct. “Don’t pester editors. We’re busy and we’ll get back to you when we can. We remember the names of the people that have bothered us and it’s not in a good way.”
PROVIDE THE VITALS: Electronic mail is a double-edged sword in editor-land. While transmission is virtually instant, some authors omit the basics. “Include all contact details when sending ideas for articles,” said Mark Berriman of New Vegetarian and Natural Health. Surprisingly, he also receives articles without bylines included!
Editors who accept e-mailed queries and articles appreciate “netiquette.” Write specific topics in e-mail subject lines. (Unless directed otherwise.) E-mails with common subject lines such as “submission” or “article here” are difficult to find when editors want to refer to them later.
When attaching documents, write brief explanations or introductions in the bodies of e-mails. Some editors won’t open attachments if they don’t know what they are. (They’re too busy, for one. And, two, attachments spread viruses.) One editor said, “Don’t put me on your e-mail distribution list.” Editors don’t want digital photos of pets and junk that’s been forwarded a jillion times.
In subsequent communications, continue to supply your full name and title of the project. Editors working on myriad projects can’t remember if Jason Smith wrote “Recycling Batteries,” or was that Jackson Smyth and “Battered Cycles”?
Stay tuned for Part 3
When teen hormones and culture shock collide, describes the story of Ken’s War, to be released in late May by Melange Books LLC. Get the inside story at https://www.facebook.com/kenswar