The Write Stuff--Part 9: Editors and Editing

Embrace the symbiosis between authors and editors


"To write is human, to edit is divine." When Stephen King wrote that, he was commenting facetiously on editorial privilege. I don't know any editors who would describe their jobs as divine. Managing writers is hard; we're often moody, occasionally paranoid, unrelentingly opinionated, and dismissive of criticism. I wouldn't want to manage me.

We can become better writers--or at least more commercially viable--by embracing the symbiosis between authors and editors. The following scenarios portray that relationship.

Scenario #1

You e-mail your article about Moscow's BLS trauma practices, titled "Russian Dressings," to Trauma Drama Magazine two weeks before deadline. That gives you and your editor extra time to make changes. Your piece is forwarded to Trauma Drama's review board, a diverse group of EMS personalities who take turns evaluating submissions for accuracy, clarity, propriety and value.

You hear nothing from the magazine for four weeks. Concerned that your manuscript has been misplaced, you contact your editor, who reassures you that your work is being reviewed and you'll receive a reply shortly. Ten days later, as promised, you get an e-mail from Trauma Drama with a two-part evaluation of your article: a summary of opinions from the board and a copy of your manuscript with suggested revisions redlined. There are lots of those; the comments highlight weaknesses in your story that will take you several days to correct. You're glad (and so is your editor) that you submitted early.

You're surprised at some of the suggestions, but you understand that authors are the least objective readers of their own work. You accept most of the revisions and offer compromises or alternatives for the others. Within a few days, you and your editor agree on what you'll change. You submit your rewrite well within the time frame needed to put that issue of Trauma Drama to bed.

Two weeks later you receive a proof, or preliminary copy, of your article as it will appear in the magazine. You advise your editor of two minor errors, which are corrected before publication. The following month you're the proud owner of the latest issue, with your byline prominently displayed. The graphics you previewed in the proof look even better in print. You quit your day job and begin working on your first novel. (Wish fulfillment may have influenced that last sentence.)

Scenario #2

Already late with "Russian Dressings," you entrust delivery of your manuscript to the U.S. Postal Service--despite Trauma Drama's preference for e-mail submissions--because you can't get a dial-up connection. By the time the magazine receives your hard copy, your editor has to expedite the evaluation process, giving reviewers less time to offer detailed feedback to you. Still, the board highlights significant problems with content and structure, forcing you to rewrite several pages of text--a task that would have been difficult even if you'd had more than 48 hours until proofing. You balk at some of the proposed changes.

Your editor spots unresolved issues with your resubmission, but has no other copy-ready content available at the last minute. The only solution is an all-night rewrite of the rewrite--mostly by your editor, whose skills and perspective transform your manuscript into a cogent, well-crafted piece with a different angle. You're pleased to see your article in print, but you can't help feeling it's no longer your work.

You can minimize the chances of Scenario #1 turning into Scenario #2 by observing these editorial guidelines:

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