Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keeping Editors Happy

Working with Editors

Whenever local papers publish a piece of my work, I compare it to the original to see how many changes have been made. Very seldom does a piece survive intact. Sometimes changes are made so the story fits the allocated space. Other times they may involve corrections of punctuation and grammar, or a sentence may be rephrased to bring clarity. I don’t mind the changes so long as my message is retained. My aim is to learn from my mistakes and what better way than a free lesson from a professional?

Here are some of the important things I’ve learnt along the way:

Word Count
If you are given a word count, keep to it. Exactly. If they want 800 words or less, don’t write 815. This is a sure way to annoy editors and stories will be disqualified from competitions for exceeding the word limit.

Set yourself a deadline that is several hours before the publication’s deadline. Editors appreciate it when a writer consistently produces quality work that arrives on their desk or in their email a few hours before the cut off point. It alleviates stress as they don’t have to wonder if you will come through with the story or if they will have to scramble around looking for something else.

Check your facts and make sure your sources are reliable. A rash of letters about inaccuracies will not endear you to any editor. If appropriate, include phone numbers or addresses for the people concerned so the publication can verify facts.

Making Changes
If your work is returned to you with suggested changes, do as requested. Don’t rewrite it completely so that it needs another edit once you’re done.

Watch your spelling and don’t rely on your computer’s spell check. Editors get annoyed when words are spelt incorrectly or the wrong word is used. Check for things like there/their, desert/dessert, loose/lose, and here/hear. Words that are commonly misspelled include focused and buses. Both have one “s” not two. It’s surprisingly easy to use the wrong word by mistake, or even type one wrong letter that changes the meaning completely. Check each piece of work thoroughly – after leaving it for several hours or a day if possible.

Avoid monster sentences
My daughter is studying to be a social worker and brings me long academic essays to check. Her biggest weakness is writing long rambling sentences that could easily be divided into two shorter ones. Editors want work that is easy to understand after one reading. Things that need to be read several times to be understood will be rejected.

Don’t be arrogant
Editors prefer to work with writers who are flexible and teachable. If they want a comma, put a comma. If they cut a paragraph that you spent hours on, accept it. In the long run, a submissive attitude will be more helpful than egotistical demands.

Learning the craft of writing is a life-long process and the best teachers are generally those who are further along the path than we are. If you have the privilege of working consistently with editors, cherish those relationships and give them your best. The benefits will follow you for many years to come.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

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1 comment:

Shooting Stars Mag said...

thanks for the advice. this is all really good to know!!!

lauren51990 at aol dot com