Hot Tips for Working with an Editor


Photograph by Robert Couse Baker via Flickr Creative Commons

No matter what you publish, you’ll be working with an editor. (Even self-publishers have to edit themselves.) How do you ensure your relationship is a good one? By following these suggestions:

Be realistic
No one editor can make or break a writer. None wields that kind of power, which is not to say some won’t be helpful or hurtful (alas). The power they hold, however, is the power you give them.

This is important to remember because it puts you on equal footing with editors, for just as you need them, they need you. There would be no magazines or books without the contributions of talented writers like you.

Give editors what they want
No two editors are alike. Just as they have different personalities, they have different editorial needs. These needs vary from one periodical or publishing house to another. The greater your ability to identify the types of materials specific editors are looking for, the greater your chances of acceptance.

Give editors what they want, the way they want it
Writing is a creative endeavor; getting published is not. To achieve the latter, you’ve got to tow the company line.

That line is set by a company’s president, namely, the editor. She determines whether or not you should query by mail or phone. She decides whether she wants you to submit a formal proposal or two-page synopsis. What works for one editor, doesn’t necessarily work for others. Much has to do with personal style, workload and, in some cases, the established practices of a magazine or publishing house.

Make editors feel special
No editor wants to feel he’s a dime or dozen. That’s the impression he’ll get, however, should you write a one-size-fits-all query you simultaneously submit to scores of other outlets.

There’s more than ego involved here. As should be obvious, publications, like publishing houses, differ. These differences may be subtle, but it’s critical to note them nonetheless, and to tailor your approach accordingly. If you don’t, you greatly increase the likelihood that an editor will reject your work.

Stick to business
When you write to an editor, you do so with a goal in mind—to get published, not to make a friend. Sure, it would be nice to have a warm, close relationship, and you may well have that with time. It’s not a requisite, however. Some of the best editors in the business will get closer to your work than they will to you. That’s not a bad consolation prize.

Lay off the sales pitch
Good writing speaks for itself; it doesn’t need to be hawked.

Don’t present yourself as the next John Grisham or Amy Tan. Don’t claim your work will change the lives of millions or spawn a product line. Don’t say more than is necessary, but make sure you say it well.

Write tight and bright. Check your spelling (most especially the editor’s name). Watch your commas and pronouns, and leave the rest to the editor’s imagination.

Don’t take editors personally
This is easier said than done, of course, but at least make the effort.

Like you, editors have their good and bad days, as everyday circumstances conspire to make them more or less receptive to new ideas and/or writers. Too, their actions (or lack thereof) often are dictated by forces beyond their control. Mergers, acquisitions and downsizing are as prevalent in publishing as in other industries. As much as an editor might like your work, he may be unable to publish it.

Finally, editors simply make uninformed decisions when it comes to talent, or should we say flat-out mistakes? Just ask the editors who passed on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book … if they haven’t already committed hari-kari.

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