If you’re writing for traditional publishing markets (by which I mean anyone who has an editorial staff to choose their content, such as book publishers, magazines, newspapers and multi-author websites and blogs), your real client is not the reader, but the acquiring editor. Editors, of course, want to make their readers happy, but they also want to work with writers who make the editor’s job easier, not harder.
Last year I posted six ways to show that you’re not a professional, thereby making sure that editors will never want to work with you again. Today, I want to tell you about the writers of the 10 stories in Paramourtal 2, and what they did to make their editors so happy that we would be delighted to work again with every one of them.
So here are six ways to make your editor happy:
1. Read the guidelines and follow them precisely. Every one of our Paramourtal 2 authors gave us a story that not only fit the book’s theme, but was the right length and file format, and had a professional looking page layout. (We don’t insist on “standard manuscript format” – but whenever an editor does insist on it, you’d better use it or else!)
2. Submit the very best work you can. All of the successful submissions were not only well written, with strong plots and interesting characters, they were fresh ideas and fresh treatments of old themes. They stood out from the slush pile by the quality of the writing and by their originality.
3. Proofread before you submit. All our authors’ manuscripts were generally free of spelling errors, cut-and-paste errors, and other proofreading errors (with one notable exception that I’ll get to in #6). Turning in a manuscript with few or no errors is one of the best ways to convince an editor that you care enough about your work to pay attention to the details.
4. Be willing to rewrite to editorial specifications. This is often the hardest one – but you’d better learn to deal with it. There’s not an editor alive who won’t ask for some rewrites, especially in fiction. And that’s usually a good thing, because a good editor can often see where your story could be stronger. Every one of our authors, even the one who is a professional editor himself, worked hard to solve the story problems we pointed out, and all of them ended up with better stories.
5. Finish your rewrites on time. This should be obvious, but it isn’t always. Our authors not only finished their rewrites on or ahead of schedule, but they made us love them even more by not complaining when the book took much longer to edit at our end than we had anticipated (Do be patient about waiting to hear back on your edits. Remember, you have only one story to work on, but your editors have many). If you do have to be late with a rewrite, make sure it’s for a very good reason – your house burned down; you or a close family member is in the hospital – and tell your editor about the delay as soon as you can. Most editors can work around a reasonable delay if they have advance notice of it.
6. Do your own work, don’t make the editor do it for you. One of our authors submitted a story with vivid imagery, a good mix of humor and drama, and a nicely original setting. But it had one very serious problem: the author seemed completely ignorant of correct punctuation, using commas to end sentences, periods to end paragraphs, and a different punctuation style for every line of dialog. We pointed this out in the first edit, but the punctuation of the second draft was bad as ever. So we pointed it out again, and mentioned that if we’d had even a few more strong submissions, this problem would have made us reject the story, no matter how much we liked it. Still, by the time the second rewrite came back, we were actually wondering whether the author might have some sort of learning disability about punctuation. I opened the third draft resigned to a lot of punctuation editing just to get the story done. And the author had already fixed it all. I don’t know whether they* finally studied up on correct punctuation, or had found a good friend to proofread it for them, and I don’t care. This author took responsibility for their own problem and found a way to fix it. And that’s what an editor wants from any writer she’s going to work with.
*non-gendered pronoun used for author anonymity. Yes, I know it’s a plural pronoun and therefore grammatically incorrect.