How to Handle an Impatient, Hot Headed, Fire Breathing Editor
By Bob Valleau
She was my worst nightmare. I’m talking about one of my former editors when I worked as a fulltime staff writer for an international Christian ministry. I’ve rubbed elbows with a lot of different editors in my writing career, but this woman depicted the worst of the worst. Don’t get me wrong, she was a nice person. But when it came to being the guardian of the English language before it became print, she was the holy terror of our community of creative geniuses which included other writers and graphic designers. I butted heads with her on many occasions. At first, she and I had a hate-hate working relationship. However, through prayer and God’s help, He was able to salvage our relationship and turn it into something manageable.
How did this stubborn editorial beast turn into an amicable foe? I believe three things worked in my favor, and I’d like to share them with you now. Perhaps you can use one or all if you, too, are having “words” with an editor who is treating you like you just learned how to write.
1. Give and take. Compromise goes a long way in any relationship. For instance, if your article or story is too long, something has to give. Can you do without a paragraph or two without changing the meaning of your article? How about making your sentences shorter or using different words that mean the same thing? Sometimes the reason an editor wants to change something is because of space allocation. But, it seemed my particular editor thrived on slashing articles to pieces just for the fun of it. I’ll never forget how she would always delete my first paragraph. It got to the point where I wrote my first paragraph as my second one and just made up some lame introduction for the first paragraph because I knew she would delete it.
2. Seek common ground. Try placing yourself in an editor’s shoes. They have a lot on their plate: deadlines, readership needs, working with the space allocated for each article or story, making sure your piece conforms to the organization’s editorial guidelines, etc. I have served as a writer and as an editor. Both positions have totally different functions. Writers are the creative aspect of the publishing process, and it starts with you. Editors are the technical aspect, and the process ends with them. Try to understand an editor’s point of view and why they are wanting to change what you wrote. If they have time, allow them to explain their reasoning for their changes.
3. Consider drastic measures. Fortunately, I did not have to involve other people in any of my writing processes, but they were there as an option. If you are a fulltime writer for an organization, you can involve the editorial manager or even the publisher to try and come to a consensus about what you have written. If you are a freelance writer and have signed a contract or an agreement, there may be little you can do except not submit anything further to that publication.
Although I criticized my former editor earlier, I’ve had time to reflect upon my five-year history with her. I’ve concluded that I would never trade what we had because of what she taught me: the importance of accuracy, attention to detail, organization and an appreciation for making words sing on paper. To her credit, she was endearing to me, and the best editor I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. (Shh: Don’t tell her I ended that last sentence — and this article — with a preposition.)
© 2012 by Bob Valleau. Bob has over 25 years of writing experience for the Christian market. He was once named Christian Writer of the Year by the American Christian Writers Association. Currently, he freelances and lives in Texas. Click here for his website.