Top Five Things Editors Hate–And What Do YOU Hate

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5 – Prima donnas, whether unpublished or “famous”.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.

23 comments on “Top Five Things Editors Hate–And What Do YOU Hate

  1. Well, here’s one thing I find some people take for granted: Writers who don’t follow instructions (usually the formatting or some of Ann’s complaints).

    On a side note, the next segment in “Top Five Things… Hate” might be Top Five Things Reviewers Hate.

  2. Ooh, here’s one more: writers who demand a detailed critique of their submission (related to Ann’s #4).

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes–that one is really annoying. It’s even counterproductive because editors are so busy I think a lot of the time they know something’s wrong, but they don’t do a great job of identifying why. I also distrust an editor who thinks it’s their job to provide detailed feedback on a rejected submission unless the writer indicated something like that in their cover letter and the editor is amenable, or there’s a prior relationship there. There is such a thing as an editor who gets into it for control/power reasons.

    Charles–okay, that’ll work re reviewers, but then you have to allow, with an amnesty for both sides, a things writers hate about reviewers… ;)


  4. I know I’ve been guilty of #2 at least twice this year… In my defense, I was putting together my grad school application and I had only those two stories out and unanswered for. I had really hoped to include both on the application.

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    ooops–re my editor comment. i meant magazine editors mostly.

  6. Ahem… I should add, I am referring to Ann’s #2.

    If I am guilty of any of Jeff’s top five, I don’t think I’d be able to hold my head up high anywhere, much less this blog.

  7. Larry says:

    I think the poster child for Ann’s #1 is here.

    And Jeff, if you do one on things Writers Hate About Reviewers, I’d like to read it, since I could always learn from such things. But I’d imagine doing one on things Writers Hate about the Internet might be more amusing to more people ;)

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I was mostly just kidding. I think I’d combine “what writers hate about reviewers” with “what reviewers hate about writers” in one post and then take a vacation for a week or something and then come back and cart away the bloody bodies.

  9. Larry says:

    Pfft :P

    Of course, I think you ought to be really daring and write a series of posts, such as “What Gator Fans Hate about Seminole Fans,” “Why the New York Yankees Suck and Boston is Great,” and so forth. That ought to be enough to qualify you for the Witness Protection Program, no?

  10. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Anyway, I’m going to now refrain from talking about reviewers, as that is not this post…carry on with editor hatred for writers…

  11. Regarding the detailed critique. I actually not only dont want a critique, I dont even want an opinion, unless the editor is considering publishing the piece. If they have zero interest, it is good enough to say “No thanks, not for us.” The only thing I have appreciated is a few places that said things like “Everyone in the editorial department read it, but in the end we decided it wasn’t for us.” But I don’t think it helps anyone to offer reasons unless the editor really likes the work and truly thinks it could help the writer come back with something that that fits, like “Great story, but not really trippy enough for me. If you could come back next time with more LSD and a little bit less giraffe hunting, I’d be really interested in looking.”

  12. I remember getting feedback from an academic magazine, from a university, on a reject for a short story. I see the value of this sort of thing in that setting, for the editors. However, I learned far more about the sole rejecting editor when he/she blasted me for not acknowledging the multi-cultural ethnicities of Mexico, while simultaneously professing ignorance about the name of the largest Indian ethnic group in Mexico.

    When the editor feels strongly about a story enough to make a helpful comment, it is always appreciated. I prefer not to just get comments for commenting’s sake. Comments about stories editors didn’t like usually say more about the editor than they do about the fiction in question.

  13. Seth Merlo says:

    I’m totally new to the whole submitting stories thing, but I was able to ask for feedback on one occassion and found the reply very helpful. As a (very) new writer, I think any advice or tips you can get is important. The feedback I received was brief and focussed on the technical aspects of my writing, which I’ve taken on board and try to apply to my other work. I realise editors are generally under severe time constraints, but when there’s an opportunity to give feedback, I think it’s good to give it and any sensible, humble writer would take it for what it is. At the very least, as Brendan indicated, the feedback will tell you more precisely what a certain publication is looking for.

  14. I think between you and Ann you cover most of the big ones. I think my two are writers who promise, promise, promise they’ll deliver something on time and then come up with nothing, but only after the actual deadline is upon you so it’s too late to do much about it, and writers who get involved in areas that are not their purview (ie anything much except the story, it’s editing and copyediting, proofs, contracts etc).

    I should add most writers I’ve dealt with over the years have been fantastic, but inevitably there are a few moments that, shall we say, stick in the memory.

  15. Oh, oh, I forgot: writers who send you unsolicited work for ‘any project that you might be working on’ just on the ‘off chance it might be useful’. It’s well intentioned, but there’s then an abusive follow-up if you don’t respond promptly because they need to know if you want their work (even though you didn’t ask and don’t have a project). Argh. I do hate that one.

  16. John Klima says:

    Writers who send submissions as e-mail attachments and include NOTHING in their attached document to indicate a way in which to contact them. (i.e., the attached document only contains their story text)

    I have a polite animosity towards mailed submissions. At this point I’m not open to subs so it doesn’t matter, but when I re-open, I will STRONGLY suggest that people use e-mail.

  17. Number 1 on Ann’s list always surprizes me. I mean, in this day and age, don’t writers know that editors google their names and the names of their publications obsessively (in an every-hour-on-the-hour-like manner)?

    That reminds me, I’ve haven’t googled myself for two hours now…

  18. Jeff: Please define cranks and curmudgeons.

    I’m dying to hear this (mostly because I know it will amuse the shit out of me).

  19. Well, I suppose I dislike authors who recommend their editors commit suicide and take their cat with them.

  20. “Writers who blast me on their blog for rejecting their story or who send threatening emails because of rejection.”

    Wow! The first is petty, the second is frankly awful behaviour! A good way to go about ensuring you’re never published in Weird Tales that’s for sure.

    I think perhaps Ann should tell them to go find out about a guy called Farnsworth Wright if they think they’re hard done by. He turned down Clark Ashton Smith’s “Seven Geases” saying it was “just one geas after another” (which sounds like an incident from Aylett’s ‘Lint’), rejected “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” for goodness sake… It should be suitably humbling.

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