Are You an Editor’s Dream or Nightmare?

Let’s start with the assumption that we want our writing to get published. If you are that rare author who isn’t interested in publication, what the heck are you doing reading this post? Feel free to go back to your visionary world, and don’t forget to thank whoever is paying your bills.

As for the rest of us, let’s take a look at the  graphic for this post. (I know; very high-tech, right?) Any work that is going to get published has at least three moving parts.

  • My vision: what I intend my writing to say
  • My manuscript: what my writing actually says; unfortunately, they are not always the same
  • My editor: what my editor needs and wants my writing to do as part of an entire publication

The fact that there are three players here means that I have to let go of some control (or I will rarely, if ever, get published).

Here are some examples:

  • Editors may ask you to delete words, phrases, and lines. One editor I worked with asked if I would delete an entire stanza from a poem. (She said it would make the poem more powerful. She was right.)
  • Editors may ask you to add more. Once I wrote a piece exploring my feelings about a certain subject. The editor wanted more opinion. I added it, and ended up sounding more certain than I felt. But that’s what she was looking for, and that’s what got published.
  • Editors may suggest specific changes. In my experience, these suggestions almost always improve the piece, and only rarely affect the tone and meaning.
  • Editors may ask you to make revisions without telling you what they would like changed. I’m not sure what to make of this; I assume it’s some sort of test, and my current strategy is to get feedback from other writers and then cross my fingers (which feels a lot like marking all the A bubbles on a test, hoping to get at least some of them right). I’m half-tempted to send in the exact same piece with no changes at all and see what happens. (Dear Any-Editors-Who-Are-Reading-This: Just kidding! I’d only do that to other publications; never, ever to yours!)

There are two more kinds of changes I’ve encountered, and I would like to pause to point out that these changes can happen without your approval. That’s right; some editors will publish your piece with changes you didn’t know about. Crazy, right?

  • Some editors will change your title without asking. This has happened to me twice (out of only eight publishing credits to date; that’s 25% for those who spent all of your math classes writing comics). Once I preferred my original title; once the new title was much stronger.
  • Some editors will add/delete a line here and there without your prior knowledge. When I noticed this in one of my own pieces, though I wouldn’t have written the line myself, I understood why the editor added it; I was writing about something a little sketchy and the addition read like a now-you-can’t-sue-us-if-you’re-dumb-enough-to-try-this kind of maneuver.

Because editors are crucial to our work as writers, and because writing itself is so subjective, and because editors’ opinions and methods are so varied, it’s critical that we decide early on what our stance will be. How will you approach and work with editors, especially when they take to your writing with what feels more like an ax than a fine-toothed comb?

When I hear about editors’ main complaints, they are about the attitudes authors can exhibit. There are (apparently and appallingly) writers out there who are so convinced of the godlike qualities of their writing that they are inflexible. They don’t follow submission guidelines. They complain or whine about suggested revisions.

As writers, we can choose to be:

  • A prima donna (mainly inflexible)
  • A whiner (mainly flexible, but making sure the editor knows we are doing all the favors here)
  • A workhorse (mainly, and willingly, flexible)

I’m choosing #3 for sure. I’m saving my inflexible backbone for moments when I truly disagree with an editorial request. Why? Editors talk to each other! And if my wildest dreams (well, maybe my second or third wildest) come true, and some editor at some journal is talking to some other editor at some other journal and my name actually comes up, I really, really want the editor to say, “Oh, Dawn Claflin? Yeah, you should use her writing. She’s great to work with.”

So, because editors are going to monkey with your writing, I recommend you pick your approach now, before you’re asked to change a single word.

It’s just one more way to make your writing stand out. In a good way.

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