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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 publication.

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 caused eyestrain.

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 integrity.

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 level.

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 rewarding one.

© Copyright 2000, K. Marie O'Brien

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