If You Are An Editor, Please Be Reasonable When Asking for Changes
A good editor should be able to get the changes they want in one edit.
I recently submitted an article to a publication. The editor wrote back, effusively expressing how much they loved the piece, praising it to the skies, saying it was one of their favorites of the past year, how thrilled they were that I had chosen their magazine to submit it to and how honored they were to be able to publish it.
I was just as thrilled to receive this feedback, and despite waiting several months to hear back (not long for a good publication), I couldn’t have been happier. They just wanted one simple change to the title. I made it in minutes and sent it back. They sent it back with a vague reply about SEO (not important for fiction) and how they were an expert in the area so I needed to make it “SEO friendly.”
I asked for more feedback since I had no idea what they wanted and they responded to add long tailed keywords, and put them at the beginning of the title. Although this didn’t make sense for a short story I did my best to comply. Next the wrote back saying the title was now too long, which was a given since the wanted long tailed keywords in it. I trimmed it. Still too long. I trimmed it further. Not SEO friendly anymore.
When all was said and done, for a 5000 word story, they wanted zero edits for any of the text but I went through no fewer than a dozen edits for the title. I have had similar situations occur with editors for both Medium publications and those outside the platform. While I think that I respond well to feedback and requests for edits, I also know, as an editor myself, that there is a reasonable way to ask for them and ways that will alienate writers.
At the same time, I know that sometimes, after several requests from an editor to edit the same piece, I can become annoyed which I may communicate to the editor. I have tried to work on this and have determined different ways that writers can improve the way they respond to editors and how editors respond to them in turn,which can make the relationship more likely to help them in their writing goals.
Strategies Editors Can Use to Improve the Way They Work With Writers
From my own experience with editors and as an editor, there are several things that can help someone work well with most writers.
Determine What Your Expectations Are
This is often a step that is skipped by editors who just think that if they start reading they’ll know what they want. But from what I’ve experienced with my own editing and what other editors have shared with me, we sometimes don’t know what we expect if we don’t spend time thinking about it and establishing a model to work from.
An example, I’ve seen on Medium when writers start new publications they don’t always have a good idea of what kinds of stories they want to publish. Or they have an ideal in their mind but when they don’t get a lot of submissions that fit those expectations, they accept things that don’t really fit the description. With other articles they might ask the writer to change it to fit the criteria better while the writer realizes that such changes weren’t required for other articles. This can make writers less willing to submit to the publication in the future.
Make Sure to Read Carefully
It’s important to read a story carefully at least twice, taking notes about what you want to have changed. Then read through your notes and determine that you have everything down that you want to change. It will not engender good faith if you don’t see things you have problems with until after the writer has already revised the article and come back with further changes.
Make Appropriate Requests
Make sure that what you are expecting from the writer isn’t unrealistic or inconsistent with other articles in the publication. If you are trying to increase the quality of what’s published with new requirements, for example longer articles or including at least one scholarly reference, then it’s important to make that clear in the guidelines.
Be careful about requiring SEO strategies as not all Medium writers are well versed in these, and given the captive audience on Medium it isn’t necessarily critical for article engagement. When a writer has little or no knowledge about SEO, giving instructions that simply says to optimize the article or the title can lead to annoyance or the need for numerous edits as they try to figure out what it is they need to do. If SEO is a required part of your expectations for articles, again, make sure this is spelled out in the submission guidelines.
Make Sure You Are Clear and Concrete In What You Want the Writer to Do
It’s important that your instructions to the writer provide concrete things that you want changed. I think this is one of the things editors often have the most trouble with. Sometimes editors forget that writers don’t necessarily know everything that they do and so don’t think to explain things as carefully as they should. So when an article has been incompletely revised from the editors point of view, the writer didn’t do what was asked and from the writer’s point of view the editor failed to ask for everything they wanted.
Strategies Writers Can Use to Improve the Way They Work With Editors
There are also strategies that writers can use to make sure they only need to revise an article once.
Check That You Understand What is Wanted
Often the best way to prevent misunderstandings in terms of what an editor expects is to restate their request. Write a quick note back saying, “So, if I understand you correctly what you’d like for me to do is . . . “ That will give them the chance to say yes or to correct your misconception before any additional work has been done. It will also help them understand how their requests to authors are perceived.
Ask for clarification
If you aren’t entirely sure what an editor is asking for, ask them to clarify before you start revising. We may worry that an editor will think we aren’t experienced or don’t have basic knowledge about writing if we say we don’t fully understand what they want.
However, I can tell you from personal experience that most editors much prefer you to clarify requested revisions rather than waste time changing things in a way they didn’t desire and then having to read through the piece again only to need to ask for further changes.
When Annoyed Wait Before Sending a Response
I think that this is good advice any time you feel upset with someone. When we get annoyed, it’s not unusual that we may lash out without thinking about it first. Often we later find that we regret our impulsive response yet can’t take it back. When it’s someone we’re close to personally, usually an apology can smooth things over. But in a professional relationship this isn’t the case, and lashing out can hurt your relationship with a colleague and in some cases your professional reputation overall.
It’s natural to feel protective about your writing and to want others to view it positively. We look for validation from other writers and especially from editors who are the gatekeepers to what gets published in publications. When changes are requested we can take that personally as if the editor is suggesting there’s something wrong with our work or it’s not good or weak in some way.
When you feel annoyed by something an editor says or requests, instead of dashing off an angry response and hitting send, wait until you cool down and re-evaluate your reply. Once you are calmer you will more likely be able to view what the editor has said in a constructive manner and make the needed changes. If you still disagree with what they want, you will also be able to compose a calm reply that expresses your
Thank the Editor For Their Help
I think one of the easiest things a writer can do to let an editor know their effort is appreciated is to simply say thank you. Letting them know that you value their help in strengthening your piece can establish a lot of good will and will end the interaction on a positive note regardless of what came before.
When editors and writers know how to work together in a manner that is respectful and efficient, this can go a long way to helping them establish a productive, positive and lasting relationship.
Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and often writes about how to create a more satisfying and successful writing life. She is an editor for The Partnered Pen, One1Infinity & One Table, One World and is Editor in Chief for Promposity & Mental Gecko, both of which she created. She is also the Managing Editor for Novellas and Serials at LVP Publications. Her collection of poetry, Disguised I Breathe, In Love I Hold, can be found on Amazon under her pen name, Taye Carrol.
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