Writer Wednesdays: Editors hate it when you …

Okay, continuing our hatred series … last week we covered what publishers hate. This week, let’s look at what the editors hate.

Before you submit:

  • Don’t get cute with the formatting. For example, one thing we hate is when an author uses spaces or indents at the beginning of a paragraph. Go to the paragraph section of Word and have the program indent for you. All of those characters have to be stripped out by the publisher eventually, so be nice and don’t put them in. No double returns between paragraphs, either. You might notice that ebooks have a little extra space between paragraphs (which I hate, but no one cares). That’s not a full return. That’s part of the template. The publisher’s system will do that for you, so don’t add an extra return. Just put it in a nice, readable font and let us do the rest.
  • Think about your commas. I swear, if it weren’t for the damn comma, I’d be out of business. You need a comma when you have multiple prep phrases in a row, when you have a dependent clause joined to an independent clause, when you have two independent clauses joined with an “and,” and when you have a list (including the dreaded serial comma, but check with your publisher). That’s pretty much it. You don’t just throw one in because the sentence is getting kinda long. Before you comma, justify why you need one before you hit that button. If you’re not sure, GOOGLE IT. I probably Google stuff fifty times a day — you should too.
  • Ask for a style guide for the publishing company before you submit your work. That way you’ll know why your editor does some of the weird stuff he/she does.
  • Look up names, dates, brand names, etc. I can’t tell you how often I have to look up those things. Never assume you know how to spell it! We get so used to driving past the 7-Eleven (not the 7-11 — sorry, Annie!), we don’t even see it anymore. But as a writer, your job is accuracy. Google it. And remember, don’t use brand names as generics. Your heroine shouldn’t reach for a Kleenex; she should reach for a tissue. And she’ll eat JELL-O, not Jell-O, or Froot-Loops, not Fruit-Loops, believe it or not.
  • Don’t write like a 13-year-old on Facebook. No ?!! allowed. No WTF or LOL or OMG.
  • DON’T USE ALL CAPS UNLESS YOU’RE YELLING.
  • Don’t yell.
  • Make sure you didn’t slack toward the end of the book. It’s natural to experience writer’s fatigue and start running drunkenly forward when you see the finish line. Don’t turn it in yet! Get a good night’s sleep and edit the crap out of the end. It’s usually the weakest part of the book for sloppiness. 

When you get your edited copy back:

  • When you get your first corrections back, you might see a bunch of comments in the right-hand margin. Those are the places where we tell you what you need to work on. But don’t put your corrections in a comment. Do it right in the copy, and leave the editor’s comment — like a flag on a mailbox. You’ll need to accept or reject the editor’s changes, but if you reject one, you need to put a comment in the margin explaining why. And back it up. And be polite.
  • If you’re not sure, ask! If you don’t understand an edit, ask about it. Maybe the editor screwed up — we’re human. Or maybe this particular publishing house has a quirk in their style. Some hate dashes. Some hate ellipses. If you’re pretty sure the edit is wrong, talk to your editor. I wouldn’t be rude, certainly, and I’d keep an open mind, but you just might be right. Just this week, an author questioned my hatred of dashes (actually, I love them; publishers hate them). I disagreed in one place, but I agreed with her on another. See? Compromise.
  • But — don’t change your editor’s edits without asking first. It just creates more work on second edits if it is an obscure style issue you don’t know about.
  • This is your work, not your editor’s. I try not to step on my authors’ toes when it comes to voice, but sometimes I get over-excited and I’m sure an author will just love what I’m suggesting. The hardest thing in the world is to say, “What can you do with this?” instead of doing it yourself. But usually the author’s correction is so much better than what I was thinking. If you believe an edit doesn’t sound right — changes your voice, or doesn’t fit with the voice of a character — talk to your editor about it. Tell the editor –respectfully — your concern, and suggest a compromise. Most of the time, that middle ground is the best choice anyway.
  • Your editor is just there to help. Editors are invested in your work; your success reflects well on them. And if your work is poorly edited because you reject every change, that reflects on them as well. It’s so hard to forget about that English teacher who marked all over your paper in red ink, but try. Editors are not that teacher. They’re not there to gleefully catch you making a mistake and punish you. Every mark on the page is made to make the manuscript the best it can be. It doesn’t mean they think you’re a bad writer. Look at it this way, if you see corrections all over the damn place, it shows they were really paying attention, really working hard, which they probably wouldn’t do if they didn’t think your piece was really worth it.
  • If you’re hiring freelance, try to stick with the same editor. Unless you hate his guts, of course. Over time, I get to know my authors’ voice, writing style, quirks, loves, hates, weaknesses, strengths. We’ve negotiated a separate peace over certain disagreements. I care about my authors and would bend over backward to help them get published. If you editor-hop for the cheapest price or fastest turnaround, your new editor will have to reinvent the wheel yet again. Try to build a relationship with your editor.
  • And be patient! If an editor is always available at the drop of the hat, it’s probably because they have no other clients. Yes, it’s nice to have an editor at your beck and call, but if you’re his only client, maybe you shouldn’t be. Competent editors are busy people. Lousy ones aren’t.

Everyone has to be edited. There are big-name writers I almost can’t read because they don’t get rigorous edits anymore. I guess the publisher is afraid to offend them. So the book drags in the middle or uses unrealistic dialogue, and no one has the guts to tell the author.

So be open to changes, but don’t ever feel like you need to apologize for the mistakes you’ve made in your story. It’s human nature to get defensive or embarassed, but editors understand how excited a writer gets when writing. When you get excited, sometimes you miss things. Big deal — am I perfect? Absolutely not, so why would I expect you to be? We’d rather see that excitement any day than listless but perfect copy. That excitement you feel when you write without worrying about being perfect? That’s what keeps us doing what we do.

Please comment! As a writer, what bugs you about publishers or editors? What do we do that drives you crazy or makes you cry? It’s your turn to hit ’em back!

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About alisaacarter

I am a writer of young adult novels, wife, mom of three, lover of animals, former magazine editor, reader of anything paranormal, and coffee fanatic.
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