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“Editor’s Dream?” Who Cares!

Occasionally, you will hear a publisher describe an author as an “editor’s dream.” By this, they usually mean that the editor would have to do a minimal amount of work to make the project better. Which also means the publisher is more likely to consider the piece.

This doesn’t mean that publishers won’t consider projects that need a lot of editing. It just means that the more editing a writer requires, the more difficult it is for their potential to shine through.

Think of it like a job interview. If I’m hiring for a fry chef or an office administrator, I’m NOT looking for potential, someone who might be great provided I spend time working with them, honing their skills, and create the optimum environment for their growth. I want someone who can do the job. Now. Sure, writing is different. Sometimes publishers ARE looking for “The Next Big Thing,” and in doing so, concede to looking past unpolished prose and sloppy formatting. But unless an author is simply looking to bypass the editorial department completely (which often means publishing on their own), is it worth submitting your projects to a publisher without exerting significant editorial elbow grease?

This is a bit of a confession.

A while back, I served as an editor for The Midnight Diner. One of the things I quickly learned was the amount of junk writers will submit for publication.

  • First drafts
  • Poorly formatted
  • Double-spaced between paragraphs
  • Wacky fonts
  • Non- spell-checked

Of course, none of these things automatically eliminate a story from consideration. But just how many strikes do you allow, even for a rookie, before it’s just stupid to not call them “out”?

Maybe I’m missing something. But I’m surprised how many authors believe their job is to just get the story out there; the editor’s job, they think, is to clean it up.

Editor’s dream? they ask. Who cares.

A little secret: Editors want to do as little work as possible. A story must be pretty darned good for an editor to go back to the author and ask for a rewrite. If you can’t deliver a product that requires minimal, if any, changes on the part of the editor, don’t send it. But the story’s good, you say. It may be. But it’s rare that a good story can survive poor writing. Sure, there’s plenty of good stories told poorly. But when you’re jockeying for position amongst other authors, a poorly told story won’t survive the cut. And the more work you create for an editor, the less chance that editor will bother.

The best stories are the ones that need the least editing.

So here’s a little writing tip: Take your work seriously, revise carefully, follow submission guidelines, take care to format properly, and bring some narrative flair to the process, and you’ll have a much better chance of catching an editor’s eye.

The alternative: Submit a mess, and take your chances.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Randy Streu December 5, 2013, 6:53 AM

    Great advice. As an editor: THANK YOU!

  • Heather Day Gilbert December 5, 2013, 7:02 AM

    I agree, Mike, and I also think this failure to take time to properly edit/be edited is what has sullied the name of self-publishing in many circles. Hoping for a new generation of self-pubbers who take the time to get their books as close to perfect as (financially) possible before letting them hit those virtual shelves. As Christians, shouldn’t we make sure our very best work is going out to readers everywhere?

  • Kat Heckenbach December 5, 2013, 8:36 AM

    I wouldn’t phrase it that editors “want to do as little work as possible”–that makes it sound like editors are lazy. Rather, it’s that editors have SO much work to do already, that expecting them to fix things that writers are, or *should be*, able to fix themselves shows a lack of experience and a lack of concern for the editor and/or publishing house and/or their product(s). It may also be a sign the writer is a really newbie-newbie and they simply aren’t ready for publication. But if it’s the former, then the editor is getting the message that the writer is probably going to be a nightmare to work with.

    On the newbie side of things, I think I a lot of new writers just don’t realize how many other writers there are out there! And that they are submitting against a bunch of people with the same level of talent AND properly formatted work. It takes a while for that point to drive home.

    Speaking of new writers. my perception of the writing and publishing world has changed drastically since I started writing about six years ago. Much of the knowledge I’ve gained over that time has to do with formatting and figuring out what editors mean by their submissions guidelines. It can be overwhelming for a new writer when ever magazine/anthology/book publisher out there wants things formatted differently. It takes so much time and emotional energy to get a manuscript ready, and adding that this one wants double-spaced while that one wants single-spaced, and this one wants indented paragraphs, but that one doesn’t, and this one wants a space behind each paragraph, but the other…and put it in an attachment….no, never an attachment, body of the email only….but wait…. By the end of the day you want to find every person that has ever used the phrase “standard manuscript format” and shove them into the Grand Canyon. Time and patience and experience help to quell that desire though, as you learn more about the publishing world and the editors’ side of things, and then you can see more clearly the things I said in the first paragraph :).

    (So, am I allowed to say there are writers’ dreams and writers’ nightmares when it comes to dealing with editors as well? :P)

  • Jill December 5, 2013, 12:09 PM

    “By the end of the day you want to find every person that has ever used the phrase “standard manuscript format” and shove them into the Grand Canyon.” Heh, heh. What submission requirments begin looking like when an author has gone through the looking glass: “Standard Manuscript Format subject to change without notice. We reserve the right to decide what Standard Manuscript Format looks like when we read a work of fiction. Rules of the moment apply. Our editors do not in fact, as many authors assume, edit. Please review the editor’s job description before submitting.”

  • D.M. Dutcher December 5, 2013, 1:44 PM

    The problem with this is that not all edits involve format or line changes, and you start getting into style, continuity, and other types of errors that aren’t about doublespacing. Things that are far harder for the writer to see, which is why editors are important and need to do real work.

    Like for self-pubs, a lot of them have perfectly fine spelling and are decent in a technical sense, but without an editor they don’t see how bad their transitions are, how they are subtly repeating words, or how a chapter is glaringly out of place. You get rid of the low hanging fruit to free up the editor to do real, valuable work that makes you grow as a writer. I’m worried instead too many companies will skimp on this, and you can read a lot of recent books that look like a decent editor never even touched it apart from cursory edits.

  • Iola December 5, 2013, 3:38 PM

    Good editing ensures the editor (or the reader) can see the story.

    Bad editing means the story is lost, hidden behind issues such as bad formatting, irrelevant flashbacks, inconsistent point of view, and inability to stay in the same tense.

    If the reader can’t see the story for the editing, there’s a problem. I’ve just read two stories with this problem. One is a paid manuscript assessment, so that’s fine because she recognises this is the start of a process (I hope). But one is a published novella, wanting a review as part of a blog tour. That’s difficult. Especially when the author offers editing services on her website … Ideas?

  • Jessica E. Thomas December 6, 2013, 11:14 AM

    What’s an editor? I didn’t realize there was a such thing.

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