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Editors who know less than you do.

Honestly, it never ceases to amaze me how bone-headed editors can be.

Many of them are puffed up with self-importance and within the writing world, their authority is almost incontestable. (To wit: Have you ever seen *any* writing advice that urges you to challenge your editor? Thank you, case closed).

Most writers, including myself, do need an editor. But when your editor sends you a message like this, you really start to wonder who needs who:

You’ve done a pretty good job overall, however your article is going to require some revisions before I can approve it for publication.

I really enjoyed reading your work. You’ve provided a lot of great information throughout in a conversational tone that I’m readers will enjoy.

However you need to provide some in-text citations; “According to,” “So and So says,” etc. to your work to substantiate your statements for readers. Please don’t confuse these with parenthetical citaions.

You have an excessive amount of “to be” verbs in your writing. Though not always passive, you should try to limit your usage of them to strengthen your writing.

C’mon, share your bone-headed editor stories! (Unless they’re about me, of course….)


9 responses »

  1. Editor of a women’s glossy in India who was rude and didn’t know how to spell. Here are excerpts of a letter from her to me.


    what you ask at the interview depends on the flow of conversation of course. But here are some broad guidelines.
    Also, please remember that if you are to work for us, I qwill entertain absolutely no immature queires like is the story coming out tomorrow. I am taking all this very patiently because you are new. But this is about the last time.

    In a magazine, our deadline is roguhly a month before the scheduled issue date. if issue date is 16th july, our deadline date for the same was 16th june. and if your article was coming out i would have told you. Pl do not ask me such questions.

    here are some of the things you might want to ask: I will not even bother replying henceforth.

    how tuend in to business was she… was it understood she would work under the rollick platform someday?

    something about her professional dewgrees? she had gone to study in london, then she chucked everything up. why did that happen? was she bored? did she think she have better things in store?

  2. ahahah! Your criticism is spot-on as usual! Never found an editor who couldn’t spell properly, but I’ve stumbled across a couple of editors who practice an extensive self-censorship. Fear? Honest beliefs? Complying with orders? Hard to tell, but quite frustrating when you face weak excuses such as “this is not *very* important…” just because they are topics carefully avoided by mainstream (corporate) media!

  3. Nope. Never seen any writing advice about challenging an editor.

    I’d actually love to see some.

  4. There’s definitely a double-standard in the writer/editor dynamic. Same as there is in the boss/employee one. If a job applicant sent in a cover letter with missing words and typos, they’d be dismissed immediately. Yet employers and HR people constantly send off hurried, error-filled emails in response.

    There’s the attitude from some editors that they are just SO busy they can’t be bothered – to spell check or even to respond.

    As a person who recently made the switch from freelancer to editor, I’m trying to be very conscious of that, and I definitely recognize that I don’t know it all. If a writer I’m working with were to challenge me, that would be fine. Maybe I’d agree with his/her points, maybe not. I suppose as editor, it’s my right to over rule the writer, but I don’t want to wield that power unconditionally.

    I want to continue to learn and grow, both as an editor and as a writer, and I think working with (and being challenged by) other great writers will help me do that.

  5. Leigh and Julie… William Zinsser in “On Writing Well” doesn’t exactly urge writers to challenge their editors, but he feels very strongly about defending your work. I can look for a quote (although I feel like that part of the book is a few paragraphs).

  6. Wow, that’s pretty bad. I had an instance where a few print articles that I did were reformatted for the magazine’s website and had glaring grammatical mistakes. It sucks because there have been times where I would have liked to use one of those stories as a link to a work sample in a pitch, but it would obviously be detrimental. I emailed the editor once asking if she could correct one of the errors, and I thought I did it in a really nice and completely unpretentious way, but she just never responded or corrected the post.

  7. great topic Julie…may this could be an on going series!?

  8. Excellent piece, Julie! So true, and so sad. I see this with alarmingly more frequency these days. My theory is that many publications have shaved costs by replaced formerly high-quality and high-salary editors with untrained and less-well-educated individuals, some of whom have never even been writers.

    It’s a downward spiral – poor editing results in poor content which results in fewer readers….

  9. Reminds me of being in college, looking at a professor’s wacked-out corrections, and thinking: “No way. I know more than this guy. And I can’t do anything about it.”

    In general, I am constantly amazed at the people who manage to get these jobs. And keep them.

    I’ve had this experience way too many times with editors. One, in particular, has a fine grasp on grammar and spelling, but she is always in such a hurry that her emails often make no sense whatsoever. I accept it, because I know she’s swamped. But would she accept that from me?

    What irks me more, though, is when an incompetent editor rewrites your work, and does so with improper grammar or punctuation. That drives me nuts. It makes me want to get out a copy of Elements of Style and throw it at them. I’m sure that would work out well.


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