Last week we discussed the things that writers hate. Now it’s time to discuss the things that editors hate. Please note that we’re all in this together. The word “hate” here is used in the same context as saying “I really hate it when my husband forgets to clean the kitty litter box.” We’re a family, and there’s a constructive element here in terms of making one family member see another member’s point of view. Followed by a group hug.
I asked my wife Ann, fiction editor of Weird Tales, for her top five first, and here they are:
1 – Writers who blast me on their blog for rejecting their story or who send threatening emails because of rejection.
2 – Writers who query before the published upper limit of my response time.
3 – Writers who make substantial edits on page proofs after I’ve told them the time for that kind of editing is over.
4 – Writers who constantly bug me to tell them why I form rejected their story when I have another 500 submissions staring me in the face.
5 – Prima donnas, whether unpublished or “famous”.
And here are my top five, from the perspective of years of running the Ministry of Whimsy and editing anthologies. I should note that “dealing with cranks and curmudgeons” isn’t on my list because some of our best writers are cranks and curmudgeons. I don’t take this personally when dealing with such writers–in fact, I find it endearing, so long as it doesn’t cost me much time dealing with their quirks.
Please do add your own, too.
1 – Writers who assume there is an adversarial relationship with editors. Most editors are trying to bring out the best in your work. To accomplish this, they must first understand and empathize with what you are trying to do. This process can be time-consuming, and it reflects a level of caring about your work that you may never get from any other source. In that context, a writer should at least calmly consider the changes, not reject them outright in the heat of passion. Obviously, there are bad editors and editors who don’t really understand the book they’ve bought, but I’ve found it’s rarely that way. Good editors also understand that you may accept a change by finding a third way that neither you originally or the editor in revision thought of. Often, this third way creates the bond of collaboration with the editor, because the writer would never have thought of this third way without the editor’s prompting.
2 – Writers who make demands and/or insert themselves into parts of the process they have no expertise in. This is a tough one, because writers today are taught to be aggressively proactive. But editors hate it when writers with no idea of what PR or marketing means make demands that are silly and time-consuming. Editors also hate writers with no eye for art or design who want to have a say in those decisions. (I’ve had a role in almost every cover for my books from large and small publishers over the years, but only because my past record proved that I knew what I was talking about on an aesthetic level–and because I try not to abuse the privilege.)
In all ways, writers should try to integrate themselves into an editor’s and publisher’s process–not try to control it. This is easy enough to do–a wise writer will enter a discovery phase to get a sense of the publishing company, how it all works, and only then respectfully suggest ways in which s/he can help the editor and publicist with the book. An editor will appreciate a helpful but not intrusive writer.
3 – Writers who take editors for granted. It’s easy enough to show a little love for your overworked editor with a card or small gift, but this doesn’t happen often enough. Editors are almost always on the edge of burn-out (publicists even more so), and while writers who seem to take and take without ever giving back are the norm, it’s a not desirable state of affairs.
4 – Writers who take advantage of an unequal power structure. Sometimes the worst kind of writer for an editor is an older writer in mid-career, with a wide public following. This means the writer may be more in control than the editor, and may take advantage of this situation to make an editor’s life a living hell. Be aware of the power dynamic and behave with restraint as necessary.
5 – Writers who miss deadlines. Although writing is not an exact science, editors do hate a writer who consistently misses deadlines. Sometimes, editors will, in fact, give such a writer fake deadlines to ensure they get a manuscript by the time they need it…and still not get it.