An Experiment in Editing
Recently I completed a six-day stint as an editor for a special project. In a nutshell I had to collect 22 pieces (ranging from 5 to 25 pages), apply an overall formatting scheme, and then do a surface-level mechanics edit. It was extremely eye-opening to be the person on the other end of the email this time—not the lone writer hammering out a down-to-the-wire response, but the person frantically trying to chorale 22 of those lone writers.
The project had bumps along the way, and as I look back in hindsight, I realize there are some things to be gleaned from the process to apply to our publication efforts as writers. Here goes:
- Grammar matters. Editors love, love, love clean copy that we can breeze right through. An editor should not be your personal proofreader; instead, she should be able to focus on the content and message of the piece without being distracted by careless mechanics. In addition to the extra time it adds to the editor’s job, it sends the message that you didn’t care enough about what you were saying to take the time to really read and perfect it.
Moral: spend the extra time it takes to create error-free grammar and have others read your work to make certain it’s perfect.
- Follow the rules. In my case, writers didn’t have any instruction or specific house rules, so submissions ran the gamut of citation styles, formatting, etc. It took quite a bit of time to try to bring them together in a uniform look for the project. From this I realized how frustrating it must be for editors who do have house rules and yet get submissions from writers who didn’t take the time to comply. I would imagine editors get so tired of correcting things that house rules clearly specify that they don’t even bother reading submissions that aren’t compliant at first glance.
Moral: Before submitting your work to any publication or publishing house, scour its website for submission guidelines / house rules and follow them to the letter.
- Be on time. Sigh. The hardest part of the project was hounding overdue writers. For this project there were some extenuating circumstances, which I understood, and I certainly didn’t take the overdue cases personally. However, again I got a glimpse into the life of an editor and how exasperating it must be to beg writers for files. The end result is the editor sitting up all hours of the night because the writer cut into the editor’s time before print deadline. It can come across as selfish of the writer, and after experiencing the pressure of print deadlines, I can see now why many publishers will not get anywhere near a writer who has a reputation for being bad with deadlines.
We’ve got to keep our editors happy and do all we can to make their job easy since they control our destiny with the publication or publishing house. After doing the hard work of writing, we don’t want to then turn around and blow our chances by handling the submission process poorly or antagonizing the make-or-break editor. So I’d love more insider tips from any editors out there who know the joys and frustrations of working with writers. What have I missed? Anyone out there who’s not necessarily an editor but could thing of other checklist items to add?