Monday, February 1, 2010

Working With An Editor

Nobody knows the look and feel of your story better than you. Nobody knows exactly what you meant better than you...except the editor who accepts your story.

The purchasing editor will "get" the inner gem that is lying under the semi-polished version you sent them. Yes, you've spent a long time going through it, making sure the punctuation and grammar is as good as you know how to make it, restructuring awkward sentences, removing repeated phrases, and killing babies as required. For every conceivable method of measuring things, you have polished your story to a high sheen--and yet it comes back from the accepting market with changes, both requested and suggested.

And more often than not, writers accept the changes, agonise over sentence restructuring, and find clever ways to say what we said in the first place, only a little more clearer.


Some writers believe the editor must know better than they as why else would they be in the position of Editor. Some accept the changes and then reread the story and find it is either better or, at the very least, no worse than the baby they'd originally sent. Some writers don't care and are ready to accept any changes so the story can finally find a home and get published.

Personally, I think it's a little of all of this, but I don't think it's all true either (I'm certainly no better than the writers in this anthology-but I believe my copy editor has a great deal more knowledge in the presentation of the English language than almost anyone I've ever met...argue a point at your own peril).

We send work to critique groups, friends, other writers, et al, so we can get feedback and make subtle changes to move the story forward. Rare is the time when we go back to previous versions because we've moved too far from what we considered a brilliant idea. The creation of a story is all about evolution and about getting it out to appreciative readers. Getting paid is a bonus for everyone, except the professional writer who needs to pay this months rent.

If you are one of the few who believe that your work is exceptional as it is, if you reject suggested changes on principal as you believe it will ruin the underlying message you're trying to get out into the world - then stop sending your stories to editors. Publish them on your own blog or website. If you want to get into mainstream zines then stop being precious.

The editor and the magnificent people who work with them in reading, accepting, and in suggesting possible changes to your story are your final critique group. They want to publish your story and may even want to give you money for the honour they are giving you. Unless you have a rock-solid reason for not accepting a change, and can explain it better than 'It's just not how I saw it', then accept the suggestions or requests. If it doesn't change your voice as a writer (and a good editor would not try to do that), then accept the changes.

I've been lucky so far. The authors I'm working with are all very professional and the minor changes they've knocked back have been for very specific reasons, which, when explained in a clear and concise manner, make sense. Our editing process will be fairly quick if things keep moving as they are. And really, why wouldn't it? We purchased the story because we loved it in its originally presented form. We are not suggesting huge structural changes or major plot deviations.

So, if you've gone to the trouble of following the guidelines, formatting correctly, polishing a story to within an inch of its life and waited the long wait to finally gain an acceptance - why would you baulk at the final hurdle when an editor suggests a change? Remember, they like your story. They wouldn't have offered to buy it otherwise. They are only attempting to show it in its very best light. And, if nothing else, remember that every part of the writing to publishing process is subjective. Your name will be on the story, but the editor's name will be on the cover of the book, and if it's badly presented, it will be the editor (and probably the publisher) the who receives the most mud.

We all want to get great stories out there to be read and fawned over. It takes a partnership to accomplish that in a traditional sense. Let's work together and produce the best damn stories read by anyone. Now stop reading this blog and get back to writing!

Good luck with your submissions.


  1. All very valid points, BT. It's great to hear the point of view from 'the other side of the fence'.

  2. Good points, BT.
    I have been on both sides of the fence, so to speak, and agree wholeheartedly. I have also work with horrible, horrible editors, or even worse, subbed and been accepted to places that had NO editorial process at all.
    I can say that, so far, your editors have been among the most professional and keen-eyed I had the pleasure to work with. It fills the author with confidence to know there work is in such good care, and it should fill the reader with confidence that their hard-earned money will be spent on an excellent anthology.


  3. By the way,

    The above should read "... keen-eyed I'VE had the pleasure of working with" & and "THEIR work is in such good care..."

    And now you see why writers need editors.

  4. I've edited, but only in that "before you send it off for submissions" way, wherein it really doesn't matter if the author agrees or disagrees. This is a whole other kettle of fish, and fascinating.

    It's a wonder that anyone who thinks their work is perfect as is would be able to stick around so long in the first place. But I guess if you never believe any of the crits you get, they can't do a thing to the ego!

  5. I don't think an author is really capable of making that final edit. How could we be? We already know what we meant and read it with that in mind. A strong story takes a fresh eye to see what's unclear or a stumbling block.

  6. I could have sworn I left a message for this: I think I forgot to solve the word jumble again! Also, I forget what the message was about.

  7. Absolutely true! Despite an occasional disagreement with an editor about commas, I've always been happy with the result after I make the suggested changes. Writers who can't accept edits aren't professionals.