Ten Ways to Please an Editor
Editors are the gatekeepers of publication. They can be a writer's best friend or worst enemy. So who chooses? The writer, of course.
Pleasing an editor is a necessary skill for every writer. There is no mystery involved. That's the good news. The bad news is editors become jaded because too many writers make little effort to learn the basic rules. But that lack also means you have a chance to shine in any editor's eyes. Here's how you can establish a good reputation with an editor:
1) Understand what they publish before you make a submission.
Submitting an article on dogs to a cat magazine is a waste of time for both you and the editor. Why bother? It only marks you as an novice.
Every publication has rules they expect writers to follow. Those rules are found under their submission guidelines. In addition, some have an editorial schedule that involves themes. Before you submit a piece, you need to read and understand them. For instance, some publications only accept snail mail submissions. Others only accept email submissions. If you flaunt this simple rule, your work will not be considered.
The same holds true if you submit your work to the wrong department. Some editors will pass these along to the right department, but most won't. Do you want to gamble on having your work ignored because you didn't bother finding the right slot?
2) Respect deadlines
Deadlines are hard and fast at most publications because of the various chores involved between the submission of your work and the final publication. If your work is accepted late, that means the editor, fact checker, proofreader, art director and final formatter will be forced to work under a shortened time period with a greater chance for errors. How spectacular would your work have to be to make this additional stress worthwhile?
An editor might be stuck with your disrespect for deadlines once she has accepted your initial submission, but your choice to ignore her needs will result in a red flag on any future assignments. On the other hand, the author who gains a reputation for work being handed in on time or early will rise to the top of the list when the editor is considering her needs.
3) Be polite and cooperative.
Obvious, you'd think. Right? But too often ignored. Editors make requests for a reason. They don't like arguing about changes to the piece, the placement of the piece or when it will go to press. If you don't understand their reasoning, ask why instead of arguing. Usually the reason is valid. If you disagree with the request, you can always pull your piece, but be careful. If an editor has worked hard on preparing your submission for publication, she won't appreciate having it pulled without a valid reason. That will leave a hole in her section she has to scramble to fill. It will mark you as unreliable. The key to avoiding that reputation is good communication and a heap of patience.
4) Expect the unexpected.
No one plans to have problems. The plans are for smooth sailing, which is why an author who can adapt to rough waters will be treasured by an editor. All problems can be solved. The author who is part of the solution will leave a deep impression and gain a wealth of gratitude. The author who seems bent on making a bad problem worse will find the door remains shut when she knocks in the future.
5) Realize edits are normal.
Accept that your words aren't sacred scripture. They can be changed without significant damage to your message. Even the message can be changed if that meets the needs of the publication, as long as the message still contains integrity. For instance, if you've written a piece describing the elements of completing homework, the editor may like your ideas, but she wants to change the focus to completing work at school. As long as the end article is true to your vision of teaching children, no harm is done by allowing the changes.
6) Be willing to adapt.
If you submit one piece and the editor ask for an entirely different piece, consider it. There are many reasons why the original piece won't be published that have nothing to do with your skill as a writer. If she offers an alternative, she's asking because she liked your work even though she couldn't use it as submitted. She sees promise in you on the subject she's suggested. There will be times when the editor likes the subject matter, but the format isn't right. If you are willing to work with her needs and suggestions, you'll become one of her favorite authors after only a few assignments.
7) Keep in touch.
A writer who doesn't reply in a timely manner creates uncertainty and distress. It doesn't matter that you are hard at work meeting the editor's demands if she's left in the dark. Drop her a line or leave a phone message letting her know what you are doing, any problems you may have encountered and when to expect the completed assignment. That reassures your editor that her concerns are your concerns -- and you're willing to complete the task. Most writers who quit communicating also aren't doing the necessary work to meet the deadlines, so it is important to let your editor know you are diligent.
8) Be willing to take assignments outside of your comfort zone.
If you normally write about crime in your city but an editor needs an article about local politics, think before you turn it down. Even though it might be a stretch, can you do it? Be clear as to why you can or cannot complete the task. If you need background information, is it too hard to find? Can the editor provide it for you? Are you capable of learning enough to complete the piece? There are times when a fresh look at a subject ends up with a spectacular piece that would have been missed by someone who's covered that beat forever.
I'm not a sports writer, so I wasn't thrilled when I was asked to cover college basketball. I accepted anyway. I was shocked to find newly registered players on the court after midterms. Regular sports writers accepted late enrollment as routine. I wrote an investigative piece focusing on two players at one college. Other writers on other papers followed suit. It snowballed into several colleges losing their team standings for the year, including the championship team -- the original one I covered. I never expected to win an award for sports writing, but I did -- only because I was out of my comfort zone. Seeing the sport with fresh eyes was the most important part of that piece.
9) Do your research before writing and proofread your own work when you're done.
If you consistently turn in polished work, editors will remember and turn to you when they need a writer. The better your piece looks as it hits their desk, the less work they have to do. So make the extra effort. Read through the piece several times, making any changes that strike you. If you have time, set it aside for a week before sending it. Our eyes develop blind zones when we read the same words more than once. The time away from it will sharpen your senses when you read the article one last time.
10) Realize editors have bosses too.
Too many writers think editors are being whimsical when they make requests. Nothing could be further from the truth. Editors must please their bosses just like you must please an editor. The editor is expected to put the publication first in all dealings with writers. That means when push comes to shove, the writer will be the loser. There are always other writers who are willing to accept those realities. If you choose to help her shine in front of her bosses, she'll appreciate your efforts and turn to you in the future. If not, it'll be another writer in her Rolodex.
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