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Editors: More Friends Than Foes
by K. Marie O'Brien
Too often writers, even experienced ones,
believe an editor is their opponent. Clinging to this attitude, however, does
nothing to benefit you as a writer. The foremost goal of an editor is to make
his or her publication the best it can be. It's the editor's job to bring the
appropriate information to the audience s/he knows best. Working with writers is
one way editors accomplish this.
As a freelance writer, I've been lucky. Not that
I haven't put in some strenuous hours of work and suffered a multitude of
rejections--I have. But I've also been fortunate enough to work with several
knowledgeable and helpful editors.
Learn from rejections
If you receive a rejection, is there a reason
given for it? Was it inappropriate for their publication? Have they recently
published a similar piece? Was the language too technical for their
publication? Review your article or story from the editor's point of view.
There are learning opportunities here. The editor knows his publication and
audience, and is the best judge of what will work with the
If an editor urges you to try again with
another manuscript, she is usually serious. It's an invitation you shouldn't
ignore. It's may be hard to keep trying, but with encouragement like this,
success is more likely. I approached and was turned down three times by one
magazine. But the editor's hand-written notes kept urging me to try again. The
fourth time, I was successful.
Even rejections with stinging comments can
educate. One editor's note to me was full of undisguised sarcasm and
unnecessary cruelty. I was angered and hurt, and initially tossed it aside
with disgust. The rejection didn't attack my writing style or content, but
rather the size of type on my manuscript (10 point) which the editor said
The "advice," however, stuck with me, and
since then I always print my manuscripts in larger type (12 point). Has this
netted me any sales in and of itself? I can't say. But I'm hopeful I've kept
from endangering the eyes of many other editors. This may not seem as relevant
with today's technological advancements, but I've adjusted this concept so
that I never submit something to an editor without first looking at it from
the editor's perspective.
Altering your manuscript
An editor may be interested in your
manuscript, but may want you to alter it. Don't balk at this. This means the
editor has read your story and finds it promising. It also means s/he is
willing to work with you. As I said before, editors know their audience, so
consider their suggestions or requests appropriately.
Are you temperamentally hanging on to every
adjective and comma as a matter of your creative principal? Most creative
endeavors involve some form of collaboration. Even experienced writers, should
take every opportunity to enhance their knowledge of both the craft and
business of writing.
My first piece of fiction to find a home did
so only after I consented to make a politely requested change. The editor
indicated that he and his coeditors liked the story very much, but in order to
publish it in their magazine, he asked if I would make one change. When I
thought about it, the change did nothing to endanger my story's
I was rewarded not only with publication and a
generous check, but also with a thank you letter from the editor for my
willingness to work with him on such a professional
A matter of taste
People have various tastes, and editors are no
different. Sometimes an editor just isn't going to like your piece. The
writing may be fine, but the content doesn't grab her, or her personal
preference is toward another kind of story. This can be discouraging, but
perseverance is the key.
I was told by a couple of different editors
that they didn't like one of my children's fantasy stories. One editor went so
far as to say she found it "kind of gross." Well, I couldn't let that story
rest. I liked it and I knew there had to be others out there with my same
taste. I sent it out a couple more times and my story found its place with a
very appreciative editor and audience.
Good editing is a challenge. Once I've written
and re-written an article, I can't count on myself to always do the best job of
editing it. I rely on editors to help me look good as a writer. Seeing editors
as potential mentors and colleagues can help make the submission process a
© Copyright 2000, K. Marie O'Brien