During my short 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 final part of this 3-part blog.
After an editor is hooked on a writer’s work, she weighs its commercial potential. A Tor Books acquisitions editor put it this way: “We’re commercial. If your manuscript is your baby, if you won’t be willing to change it, then this type of writing isn’t for you.”
“Be willing to work with me on changes if the piece is almost right, but not quite there,” is an associate editor’s advice to writers targeting Tales from a Small Planet.
An executive editor at Simon & Schuster values “…a writer’s willingness to take constructive criticism and apply it to his or her work.”
Editors ask for revisions that will topple barriers to good communication between writer and readers and enhance the value and credibility of the work by fixing errors and smoothing out rough spots. “Don’t get upset when we reject or wish to change your article,” the editor of a global magazine said. “For the most part, we know our audience better than you do. We do this for a living, so take our word for it.” Thin-skinned, egotistic writers are a pain in the asterisk. Believe it or not, Jack Kerouac was a pain.
Kerouac dropped a manuscript off to his editor at Harcourt Brace. In spite of having published Kerouac’s first novel, Robert Giroux refused to read the uncorrected, original draft of On the Road. Kerouac declared that the Holy Ghost had touched his book. Giroux countered, “After you have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, you have to sit down and read your manuscript.” The novel needed revisions, in Giroux’ opinion. Kerouac refused to change a single word, denounced his editor and left in a rage. Who knows how far that power struggle set back Kerouac’s career?
“As two professionals,” said an editor at Houghton Mifflin, “you should be having a cooperative, constructive, ongoing relationship.”
Successful writers build good relationships with editors from the outset. Editors have lost my work, asked me to re-write articles only to reject them, introduced errors into my articles, and forgotten to pay me. Through it all, I kept in mind that editors are my customers and I’m their supplier. Hoping to work with those same editors in the future, I wrote courteous follow-up letters.
An editor at a major publishing house said this about the author/editor relationship: “Look at the editor as somebody who is going to be your most important critic. There has to be an extraordinary amount of trust between editor and author, which is fostered by a great deal of respect for each other.”
“Show respect for my time,” said Pat Samples. “I’ll be likely to show more interest in you and your work, and give you more of my time.”
John Wood, a magazine senior editor, described numerous ways to build and maintain good relationships with editors in his How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters. He pointed out that writing prompt, specific thank you notes to editors after works have been published can “bond a relationship.”
LEARN THE LINGO
Chemists talk about valences and isotopes; mechanics about torque and viscosity. As writers, we should be fluent in the technical and specialized vocabulary of our field. If you don’t know ARC from FNASR, don’t bug the editor. Look it up or ask another writer.
Editors working under deadlines and mountains of mail decide, “Does this piece fit our publication? Is this writing better than good? Is this writer a professional?”
Impress the editor and he’ll say, “Yes, yes and yes!”
When teen hormones and culture shock collide: Ken’s War