What Every Editor Wants You To Know

When I submitted articles to various editors years ago, I ultimately took the attitude, “I don’t really care if you publish this or not.” I never said that, of course, but that was my mindset anytime there was a disagreement. I wasn’t trying to pursue a writing career back then. I didn’t even think of myself as a writer.

But when I got my first full-time writing gig, all of a sudden I couldn’t have that attitude. I was thrown into a situation where I had to submit every aspect of my writing to someone whose views were very different from mine. And after racking up a full career as an editor for major publishing houses, he wasn’t very predisposed to seeing things my way (the nerve on that guy, right?). Somehow, I thought he should be.

Basically, I was an editor’s worst nightmare. Today, I look back and thank God for that editor. He helped me break many bad habits and set my writing on a completely different trajectory. In that spirit, I thought I would compile a list that serves as my tip of the hat to all you editors out there. Enjoy!

1) If I am not John Maxwell, my editor is probably not going to be a Pulitzer prize winner. But he or she is still my editor. I need to respect the position.

2) The editor role is typically one of mentorship and authority. That’s how it works best. Why? Because we don’t naturally want to submit to someone else’s feedback and direction, especially when there is a disagreement. If we don’t see the editor as wearing the hat of a leader who has the authority to speak into our writing, we will tend to want to spurn any serious correction they offer.

3) The enemy can use disagreements between writer and editor to sabotage God’s work—if we let him. Disagreements are inevitable. For me personally, when I’m wearing the writer’s hat, the editing process is always very enjoyable as long as I agree with the editor’s feedback. But the moment I strongly disagree, the editing process becomes a challenge in my life. I have learned over time to submit to the process, even if it’s painful. Why? Because…

4) God gave us our editor. If we believed God put this editor in our path before we had a disagreement, we should still believe that after a disagreement. As writers, we ultimately have to decide whether we believe the editor God has given us is gifted, called, anointed, and appointed to be our editor as much we believe we are gifted, called, anointed, and appointed to write.

5) If we already know everything they told us in their feedback, we don’t need them. We can’t let our insecurities drive us to act like we were already aware of everything they said. If we were truly aware, they wouldn’t have had to say it. Editors need to feel useful and appreciated like everyone else. We should try to display an attitude of humility and gratitude toward our editor. It helps make their job more enjoyable, which in turn benefits us (see Hebrews 13:17).

6) Most editors are extremely busy. It’s hyper-competitive out there. That means editors have to churn out a massive amount of work in order to stay in the business. They don’t really have a lot of extra time to coddle us. It takes a lot longer to write lengthy, gentle, and overly polite comments than it does to write a lot of short, direct, and corrective comments. Multiply that difference by the hundreds of corrections and comments editors make each day, and you’ll understand the need for them to be short and direct.

7) We shouldn’t resist their corrections just because they don’t fit our personal preference or style. This is especially true when you’re writing for their company or publication. The editor probably doesn’t have time or energy to go back and forth with us about our personal writing style, grammar, capitalization, or punctuation preferences. We should just go with their preferences and let it go.

8) Writing is a team effort. Most of us, when first starting out, don’t like to use an idea, word, or phrase that was suggested to us by someone else. Instead, we’ll try to come up with some third solution just so that we can feel like it was our idea. This puts our lack of experience in the spotlight. Writing in God’s kingdom is accomplished by different members of the body (see 1 Corinthians 12:21). If they made what is clearly a good suggestion, we should use it. Otherwise, we’ve basically insulted them and also made the editing process unnecessarily complicated. Why? Because often, our awesome third solution doesn’t work either. So, they have to give us another round of feedback for a problem that, from their perspective, they already fixed one time.

9) Our writing is not for us. Often, we are so emotionally involved in our writing that we cannot see it as clearly as our editor can. They have the perspective that the writing is actually for the readers. Whether we realize it or not, our strong preferences are often self-centered. We’re concerned about telling our story, or how we come across, or what people will think of us. The editor, on the other hand, is typically free of such bias and thinking a little more clearly about the issues being discussed.

10) Be resolute and persistent about getting your way on proposed content changes only when absolutely necessary. All of the above tips relate primarily to copy editing or maybe the light content editing you experience when writing articles for magazines and websites. If you are writing something as personal as a book—and being edited for content by your publisher—you may have to be persistent about an issue when there’s a strong conviction behind it. However, give-and-take really should be our default mode when we’re being edited. Probably 85% of the things we wrestle over don’t make that much difference in the end. We should try to be very relaxed, peaceable, and even submissive (see James 3:17) about the small things so that we can save our persistence for when we really need it!

The writer-editor relationship can be one of difficulty and challenges at times. In order to work together in a healthy way, proper perspective, attitude, and communication are necessary. None of us are perfect; I still have to work to overcome most of the difficulties described on this list. But hopefully these tips will be helpful toward achieving our goals. What other tips or feedback can you share in the comments below?

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2 thoughts on “What Every Editor Wants You To Know

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  1. I’ve been both an editor and a writer. So I can both empathize with this essay and also wonder about a few things at the same time. I do agree that every writer needs a good editor. Mostly editors improve what I do. Yet there are times when an editor doesn’t understand that writing is part of a writer’s personality.

    That’s why I find editing work so stressful. It is hard to know when you are editing the writer’s personality and when you are editing his work.

    1. Hi Lester, That’s great wisdom. Thank you for sharing it. After writing this piece, I realized I had only told one side of the story. So, I’m working on a piece called “What Writers Want Editors to Know.” But it may take me a good bit of time to finish that one. It tough when I make generalizations because each situation has its own complexities that make it unique. But I agree with you… it’s hard to know the difference between editing the work and the personality. That’s a great point.

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