Editors Behaving Badly


Mock, shame, oppress, attack, the bad editor

One thing that I hate to see is a writer who has been badly treated by an editor. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to happen that often, but again this week, as I was meandering through Cyberland while on a coffee break, I came across comments from an author who felt they had been mistreated. So much so that after an edit they put down their writing tools and walked away from a project.

This is in no way acceptable.

As editors we are there to encourage and nurture our clients. We may not always have the time to hold hands throughout the whole publishing process, but our work should be professional and helpful. Even if the client does push us to the edge of our tolerance threshold (yes, it can sometimes happen), an editor should remain polite.

This author had the problem I see most often: the edit was communicated in a harsh, condescending manner that made them feel that their writing was unforgivable. Let’s get this straight – while not everyone can write, kindness and tolerance go a long way to cushioning the blow if the writing really needs more work than an editor can give.

So, let’s look at this from both sides and see if we can shed some light on why the unacceptable can sometimes happen:

The editor’s point of view

Editing a Paper by Nic McPhee

  • The editor is overworked and underpaid. Occasionally a client can become so demanding that being polite seems to be the least of their worries.
  • The editor is new to the job. I’m lucky in that my past career I learnt pretty quickly how to talk to people, and that filters through into my editing life. Some people don’t come from a service-type background and as a result aren’t quite so proficient in communicating. The editor may be so caught up in the technicalities of the job that they forget there is a person on the other end.
  • The editor isn’t trained. It may be they are hiding their lack of training behind jargon and a ‘matter of fact’ attitude.
  • The editor is having a bad week. It shouldn’t show up in their work, but if things are going from bad to worse it may be that communication breaks down.
  • The editor needs an attitude readjustment. Yes, there are some editors who need to tone down the way they add comments to their edit.

The writer’s point of view

editors nightmare

  • The writer thinks that their manuscript is perfect. This can make even the most straightforward edit seem harsh in their eyes.
  • There’s a hell of a lot of red. It can be a shock to the system to get back a document that is covered in red marks. Have a quick look through, put it away for a few days then go back to it. If tracked changes is used, even the deletion of a comma and the insertion of a full stop produces a couple of marks (which is why some editors have ditched the red in favour of other colours in their work). Things may not be as bad as you fear.
  • They think the editor seems cold. Some editors are better communicators than others, and some like to remain distant because they think it means they are being more professional. Remember that hiring an editor is a business arrangement, you choose your editor so choose them well. An editor who isn’t particularly interested in your life story may turn out to be the best for your writing.
  • They think the editor is downright rude. You should get a ‘feel’ for your editor within the first round or two of communication. If you find that you don’t get on, you don’t have to carry on with the edit, just as if an editor doesn’t feel they can work with a writer they can decline the job. Talk before you carry on with the edit, find out how the editor works. If you aren’t sure, ask for a sample edit before proceeding further. You may have to pay for a small sample but you will soon find out if the editor is the right one for you. It may be that what you see as harsh is actually just a straightforward edit – we can’t say please and thank you in every comment in a document, but an editor should never be condescending and should never make personal remarks.
  • They don’t agree with the editor’s changes. Remember that an editor is making ‘suggested changes’ to your document. At the end of the day, whether you accept their recommendations or not is totally up to you. You would be wise to take their advice, and can usually ask about specific changes if you aren’t sure why they were made, but in the end it’s your writing and you can do what you want with it.

If you are a writer and you think your editor has been unduly harsh, take a step back and, however hard it may be, try to look at the edit as an honest appraisal. Take what positive aspects you can from it, and use it as a basis for making your writing the best it can be.


2 Comments on “Editors Behaving Badly

  1. A respectful, cohesive relationship between writer and editor is crucial. One way to ensure a writer and an editor are compatible and ‘on the same page’ is for the editor to do a sample edit and have discussions with the writer before the project begins. If there’s no rapport, or there are significant differences of opinion at the outset, it’s best not to proceed.

    • Totally. A sample edit will let the writer know what to expect, and the dialogue is also an indicator of what the editor can expect.
      There are so many editors out there, if we don’t click I know that there will be someone out there for them, and can always point them in the right direction.

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