How to Deal With a Poor Editor
Most Editors Are Good Editors!
I have worked with a number of good editors throughout my career. They all have had their preferences, especially in the area of title and formatting, but they all had a good grasp of English grammar and spelling. They made sure that the story or article appeared in their publication free of typing errors.
In fact, I have been so lucky that when I finally came into contact with a bad editor, I did not recognise what was happening.
Signs an Editor Might Not Be Confident
The first sign I got that I might be dealing with a bad editor was merely that it was difficult to place an article in their publication, and I simply worked harder to please them! But here are some other signs I noticed that I might be dealing with a bad editor.
- They were relatively new at editing, and attempting to establish their own business.
- They were also very opinionated, and lacked the awareness of different literary styles that I had been used to in the experienced editors I with whom I had worked previously.
- They talked about professionalism and quality, but I began to notice unprofessional behaviour in their dealings with clients.
- As time passed by, I noticed that their output was much slower than other editors I had placed material with during the same time frame. At first I excused this because I know most people in the publishing industry have multiple projects on the go—or else a day job and their own freelance job.
Don't Hide Behind Writer Passive Coping Strategies
If you are like me as a writer, you will feel powerless in this situation and try to make as little fuss as possible. I simply found more validating projects to work upon (and incidentally discovered at least one other excellent editor). I pushed the projects that were with the puzzling editor to the back of my mind and waited to see what would happen with them.
I simply thought it was an uncomfortable social situation that might work out. It did not occur to me that what I was dealing with was a common phenomenon until I decided to do some independent research.
Daphne Gray-Grant's Advice
Daphne Gray-Grant, who writes for RAGAN, lists the following signs of an incompetent editor:
- Generally running late.
- Quick to complain and slow to praise.
- Sends marked-up documents instead of advice.
- Rewrites and changes the story.
- Believes they are an authority on all subjects.
- Has unrealistic expectations.
Gray advises the writer to “pick their battles” and only fight the essential issues. This might involve accepting more edits than you are really comfortable with and moving on. She also advises always having a contract, and inserting a “kill fee” in the contract, so that the publication owes the writer if the article is withdrawn.
Gray's advice is all good—but:
- I have found that ethical editors do the right thing without being bound by contract, as their standard terms and conditions regarding author rights may be printed in their publication.
- I also suspect an unethical editor would only reluctantly and partially honour the contract terms, even if you have a good contract.
- I don’t know any new authors who have the power to request a “kill fee”, but this is an excellent suggestion.
KJ Charles' Advice
According to her bio line, KJ Charles is an experienced editor and author who can view the relationship from an objective position. Her suggestions include:
- Have a contract that specifies the author has right of approval of any edits and has a breach of contract clause.
- If you get a heavy edit, show the script to an experienced author for a second opinion. (This ensure you are not over-reacting).
- You may ask to be assigned a different editor.
- If the Editor/Publisher won’t apologise, consider not working with them again.
- Quote the contract in discussion with them.
- Don’t be afraid of being “blacklisted” in the industry if you respond politely.
- Consider self-publishing rather than submitting to incompetent editing.
In Conclusion: The Goal Is a Good Product
In the final accounting, the writer’s name is on the article, and they are responsible for the accuracy of the text. If the editor introduces errors or inaccuracies, it could affect the writer’s reputation. It is an editor’s job to improve an article within the limits of their agreement with the writer. If you suspect your editor is incompetent and not just annoying, get some confidential industry advice.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2019 Cecelia