As writers, we all aspire to be published, so when it finally happens, whether it’s a short story, a poem or a novel, you will find yourself working with an editor.
We’ve all heard stories about dealing with editors, but whatever you think about them, they are there to assist the writer, not make their life unbearable. The role they play forms an important part in the writing business. Without them, there would be certain chaos, because then every amateurish, badly written story would make it into print.
Of course, getting on the published ladder is not always a smooth process. You may be lucky enough to receive an acceptance; however that doesn’t mean to say that your masterpiece is perfect, because it won’t be. The editor may want to change some aspects of the piece. This is quite common, so that doesn’t mean the writer should act like a stroppy teenager and stamp their feet.
To coin a well-used cliché, working with editors really is a two way street. Writers must understand that editors are there for a reason, to help the writer as part of the remit to being published.
Problems always arise when editors make suggestions to the writer to change certain things within or about the story. Very often they are only minor details that need changing. That could be anything from a character name change or a change of story title. They may suggest cutting some narrative or dialogue, or perhaps they want more narrative included. They might ask the writer to change a scene or two. Whatever they suggest, it is done for the benefit of the writer and the story.
You may not agree with their input, or the changes they might make to your story, but you need to act professionally and with diplomacy if you want to get ahead and be published (and stay published). Writers should work with the editor, not against them.
The natural reaction of most writers is to become instantly defensive about their work when editors suggest changes. How dare an editor change my masterpiece! What do they know? I know what’s best for my story; I know my story inside out, it doesn’t need changing!
Hands up if you’ve reacted like that. But they are editors; professionals who provide an objective, outside view of your work, people who know what kind of things work and what don’t, people who read stories for a living.
Editors want to work with and nurture writers, especially new ones. They will spot potential. They will notice talent. They will know if a writer is worth investing in. But they will also spot amateurs and they will pick up on your errors, even if you don’t. They will guide and encourage where it’s needed, so it is worth showing the editor a willingness to learn and the commitment to and perseverance for hard work.
There is no doubt about it - some writers get very awkward and stroppy about being told to change their stories, because often they think they know it all. In their minds, their work is perfect and they simply can’t be told any different. Unfortunately, this attitude won’t score any favours with potential editors. Rather than being professional and open to suggestions and changes, these kinds of writers will come across as difficult, arrogant and awkward to work with, and editors will not give them a second chance.
It’s a two way street, remember.
Editors want to work with writers who are willing to work hard and are open to ideas and suggestions and advice, writers who are adaptable, those who can show respect for their editor and their decisions, and more importantly, those are dedicated to their craft. They are simply doing their job to help you accomplish yours.
Often I have had to make changes to stories at the request of editors. I’ve had to change the titles of a story; I’ve had to change some parts of the narrative in other stories, or certain words. But rather than gnashing my teeth and throwing my rattle around as tough I’d been affronted, I made the necessary changes, showed my willingness to adapt, and above showed my professionalism by trusting their decisions. The result is a solid, working relationship with all my editors.
The message is quite simple. Being professional and co-operative will earn your editor’s respect. And that means they will want to work with you again and again.
Chances are that if you do get onto the published ladder, and you collaborate and work on your relationship with your editor, you’ll gain each other’s respect and stay published for many years to come.
Next week: Writing and self-confidence.