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What Writers Need To Know About Editors. Believe It Or Not, They Are People Too!

Editors are people tooIt’s not unusual for beginning writers to have questions about how to approach editors.

But the general attitude seems to be one of fear. Fear that if they email, or call, or otherwise approach an editor in anything but a mythical proper way they will be blacklisted from all of freelance writing forever.

Of course that’s not true.

Here’s what you need to know about editors:

Editors need writers. Without writers editors are out of a job. They are constantly on the lookout for writers who can meet their needs.

Every editor is looking for a different kind of writer. Some want books, others want articles.

Within those categories is an almost infinite variety. Books range from huge scientific tomes to small poetry chapbooks. Articles run from a few sentences in a woman’s magazine through expose’s to erudite commentary on an endless variety of topics. And each of those topics need writers.

Editors know their readers. When an editor accepts or rejects a manuscript of a query it’s either because it’s so poorly written it doesn’t seem worth fixing, or, more likely, it simply doesn’t match what the editor knows her readers want. Often that mismatch is obvious, like an article about dogs submitted to a horse magazine. (And yes, I can imagine such an article that would work.)

Equally often however, the editor can’t pinpoint exactly what’s wrong or missing or why the article just isn’t right.

Another common reason editors reject a piece of writing that new writers seem to have difficulty actually believing is that the publication already has something similar in the works. Among reputable editors there’s almost no deliberate idea theft.

If I submit an article on how to find the best place to take a healthy walk, there’s a very real chance someone else has proposed something that’s much the same.

Editors work to make you look good. Experienced writers welcome good editing, and there are lots of good editors out there.

Most of the changes an editor asks for or insist on are because he knows his audience.

Once and awhile the editor will be wrong, and most of them are happy to work with the author until they are both reasonably happy with the solution.

Editors are people, really.

All of which boils down to the fact that editors are people just like writers. They work hard, like successful writers. Editors want the best for their readers and depend on writers to deliver that.

Editors, like writers, also sometimes wake up on the wrong side of the day, or lose their tempers or become overwhelmed and don’t follow through.

Like writers, editors deserve respect, but writers can treat them like the peers they are. Editors really are on the side of writers.

What’s your best experience with an editor been?


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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • I got a rejection letter last year from an editor who took the time to detail exactly what was wrong with my story. That made me feel good, actually, because it ended up being more encouraging than discouraging. And I’ve done enough homework to know that is a GOOD thing. If I had received it when I first started, it would have killed me. Instead, it told me that there are good things about my writing. To be fair, it was an older story that I revamped, but had inherent problems I didn’t really notice. It’s a good opportunity for growth, which all writers, no matter how experienced, should embrace.

    If you’re interested you can read the letter and my reaction on this blog post: http://aelizabethwest.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/not-such-a-bad-thing-when-rejection-helps/
    Elizabeth West recently posted..20 Things I am Thankful for in 2011My Profile

    • Elizabeth, when an editor makes a personal rejection like that it’s golden… try her again.

  • Very true. I guess it doesn’t hurt that I’m a fairly chatty person by nature!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Resolutions? Really?My Profile

  • I firmly believe that editors should be loved and cared for and bribed with chocolate whenever possible. I wouldn’t be half as good a writer without the tough love I get from mine. After she pointed out the same mistake I make every time, I started to pay attention and even though it took some time, I no longer do that (why yes, I am criptic, but it’s embarassing. so shush).
    Jane Rutherford recently posted..Love Letter to my favorite writing tool – ScrivenerMy Profile

    • “Bribed with chocolate” – now why didn’t I think of that!

  • After getting my first article accepted for publication, I was fortunate enough to hit it off with the editor at the magazine. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fairly specific niche magazine (for parents of kids with Aspergers) so we automatically have something very strong in common. We have actually chatted back and forth a bit and a few weeks ago she contacted me to let me know what they wanted to work on in the upcoming year and to see if I was interested in any of the topics! I also discussed with her the ebook I’m working on and she wants to promote the book in the magazine and on the website. I’m actually a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it. I actually can’t believe my own good fortune!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Resolutions? Really?My Profile

    • The relationship was fortunate enough – but then, things can happen when one is open to conversation, networking and, generally, socializing.

      I guess an editor’s job can have its own share of loneliness – perhaps not as much as a writer’s, still quite a bit.
      Helenee recently posted..Greek Christmas Traditions updated Tue Dec 20 2011 2:11 am ESTMy Profile

    • Yes, that’s the ideal relationship with an editor. And it’s not impossible. Write what they want and need, come up with ideas and it only makes sense that they’ll start a conversation with you.

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