I’ve worked for many years as a writer and editor. I’ve filed stories with talented editors and worked with writers with all kinds of experience to help them find their voice when it seemed kind of faint.
A good editor isn’t your enemy or obstacle to bringing your stories to readers: He or she is a collaborator, and the easier you can make life for them, the more they’ll appreciate you.
So, what are the keys to working with an editor? Here are three important tips:
Remember that you’re not alone
Good editors value collaboration. They want their writers to succeed. At the dawn of any new assignment, I like to have a detailed conversation with the writer to land on a common vision for the piece. It’s both helpful and efficient if I can talk with the writer before the reporting work begins, so that they understand what I need and how I see the story fitting in with the rest of the publication.
Your piece is one of many that will be packaged together in a magazine’s issue. What may seem like a great approach to you may already be replicated within another story that’s slated to run at the same time as yours.
How much of yourself should you bring into the story? Is there a service angle that needs to be considered? Will your piece strictly be a go-see-do story, or is the editor looking for a more nuanced portrait of a destination? These early conversations are often essential for preventing bigger headaches down the road.
Then, stay in touch as you move into your reporting and writing. Your editor is there to help. If you’re stuck or have found a good reason to pivot from your original idea, touch base with your editor to get their thoughts. It’s better to have an early discussion with him or her about why a story angle isn’t working rather than asking for repeated deadline extensions—or, worse, filing something totally off the mark.
No editor wants to hand-hold a writer through a piece, but good editors love to collaborate. Remember: Their name is attached to your story, as well.
Proof your story, and then proof it again
Nothing says more about a writer’s lack of commitment to a story than typos and misspelled words. Even just one or two errors sound the alarms for any editor.
This is what goes through my mind when a writer files a sloppy draft: If they were unwilling to put in the time to make sure the story was clean, what else were they willing to forego?
Try this: When you’ve finished a draft of your story, set it aside and come back to it in a day or so. An old editor friend of mine liked to call this the “drying out” phase of writing. You’ll be surprised at what you find after you’ve separated yourself from a story.
Use spellcheck, of course, but also read your writing out loud. It’s the best way to pick up on any clunky or odd sounding sentences. Give your editor as clean a piece as possible, so that he or she can concentrate on the actual story.
There’s a point that comes with most writers who’ve made it their job to work with words when they seriously question their career choice. Often, the second-guessing comes after an editor marks up a first draft. It can be a hard thing to realize that, despite all of the hard work you’ve already invested in a project, more work—maybe even a lot more work—is needed.
Remember: A first draft is rarely, if ever, a final, spectacular draft. Your editor will more than likely have some suggestions on how you can tweak your piece. Maybe they’ll even ask for a rewrite.
When that happens, spend some time carefully going over their input. No editor’s word is gospel. They’ll value your thoughts, and may even welcome your explanation for why you made certain choices. What they’re not looking for, however, is a defensive rebuttal to their edits. Dissect what they’re asking for, and then come up with some options for getting the piece where you both want it to be.
Editors have long memories. Help them out, and it’s far more likely they’ll want to work with you again.