Tag Archives: make the editor your friend

How to Make the Editor Your Friend (III): Be Willing to Revise

Another area in which little things mean a lot in the writer-editor relationship concern story revisions, and the writer’s ability and willingness to revise a story once it’s been submitted to the editor.

When I say revision, I’m not talking comma patrol. As an editor, I expect to have to do a copyediting sweep to get the article to conform to Associated Press or house style expectations. However, if the writer is able to turn in copy free of typographical or common AP style errors, that shows me that he or she is aware of style issues and is trying to make my job easier, which is a plus.

But even when there’s been a good flow of information on the story’s progress back and forth between writer and editor (which often happens when the editor uses story coaching techniques), parts of an assignment may not hit the mark. The writer might explore a tangent that doesn’t bring out the general theme of the piece, he/she might raise questions with a source that they don’t answer later in the article (but sound deliciously relevant to the editor!), or it may be that one section is too long, while another, more important area has been overlooked in the quest to meet the word count for the assignment.

I often tell new writers to plan for one round of revisions in the article writing cycle. Eight or nine times out of ten, I don’t need a rewrite from them, but it avoids the ugly situation in which a writer might insist I should publish an article “as is” because they don’t have any more time to work on it (this has actually happened to me once or twice; those folks don’t write for me anymore).

My favorite way to communicate rewrites to writers is through a story edit memo, which provides my take on the story (what I got from the piece as a reader), identifies what I see as the story’s primary strengths (e.g., good use of description or quotes, excellent transitions) and summarizes what I see as the article’s main problems. I like to provide as specific feedback as I can, rather than expect the write to know what I mean by “tighten it up a bit” or “tell us more about the subject’s childhood.”

A couple of hints for making the revision phase go more smoothly:

  • Clarify with your editor during the assigning phase how many rounds of edits are typical for the publication, if you haven’t worked for them before.
  • Let your editor know early on if you’re having trouble structuring the piece in such a way that you can meet your word count without going over. (Or if, heaven forbid, you don’t have enough to fill out the length requirement.) He or she may have suggestions for what to expand or trim.
  • If your editor doesn’t provide detailed feedback on a revision, by all means ask for specifics! If the editor says “write less about the businesses involved in this project,” ask how much less (number of words) and if there’s any part of that section he/she wants preserved.
  • Don’t forget to ask what’s working about your initial draft. Getting the editor’s take on what he or she likes can make the decision-making while you are cutting or rewriting material easier.

Helpful links related to article revisions

How To Edit, Revise & Rewrite Your Articles, Essays Or Book Chapters

Tips On Revising Your Writing: How To Edit Your Article Or Manuscript Professionally

Rewrites and Revisions: They’re Nothing Personal

The Rewrite Request

Working with Your Editor: Three Tips on Getting the Most out of the Editorial Process
This post is aimed at book writers, but some of the advice about responding to revision requests still holds.

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How to make the editor your friend (II): Adhere to the word count

When I was in high school, my journalism instructor used to say that I was hard to edit because I wrote so tightly. She meant it as a compliment—emphasizing that I didn’t tend to write fluffy, loose paragraphs loaded with dross—but that tendency of mine did come back to haunt me when I had to cut a piece. One of the hardest situations a writer can face is to over-write a piece, and cut repeatedly, and STILL be over on the word count.


Adhering to an assigned word count is like the other two previously mentioned ways to make your editor your friend: it’s just common sense, as well as common courtesy. Despite this, I have received 400 word stories when I asked 2,500 and 1,500 word stories when I asked for 500. The first was from a first-time writer working on a trade magazine article who was in over his head. The second was from a long-time writer, who had also edited the publication I was working at before I did, who just felt he had more that he “wanted readers to know about” that he had to stuff in his op-ed column.


Guess whose piece I revised gladly? Guess whose piece completely hacked me off (since this all took place after deadline)?


I think most writers, experienced or not, don’t write long or short with ill intent. It also seems to me that the vast majority of writers miss word count by over-writing rather than under-writing.


Many writers do as I do when I write an article and over-research, which can lead to writing long if the scope of the article wasn’t clearly delineated when the assignment was made. Plentiful research, as useful as it is for finding the telling detail or confirming speculations made by sources, can also tempt the writer into wanting to find a way to cram everything into the article.


One of the most helpful cures when you’ve gone over your word count is to go back to your “nut graph” and strain the paragraphs that follow through that filter. How directly do they relate to the main point of your article? If the content is mostly diversion, can you make a convincing argument that the words must stay—and find other words that can go instead?


Other typical easy ways to trim an article:


  • If you have a tendency to put “echo quotes” (a second source more or less agreeing with the first person, with little elaboration) in your stories, take them out.
  • Write in the active voice. Passages written in passive voice almost always take more words to say the same thing.
  • Watch for the tendency to engage in “throat-clearing” and write useless set-ups for our quotes.


Links to learn more about adhering to word count and writing tightly.


Trouble Sticking to Your Word Count? Try These Editing Tricks

Five Ways to Cut Your Word Count

Write Tight! Tips from Chip Scanlan of Poynter Online

Five Myths About Short Writing



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How to Make the Editor Your Friend (I): Meet Deadlines

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Today kicks off a new series of posts talking about the skills that freelance writers need to cultivate to ensure healthy and happy relationships with the editors they work with. For happy, successful, prolific writers, these traits and skills are second nature.

Rule number one is: Meet Deadlines.

Deadlines are the ever-present reality of anyone who works in media. If a newspaper says it will publish every day, it has to publish every day. A monthly magazine should come out once a month. Even online publications, which can be updated continuously, set deadlines for copy to ensure a steady supply of new stories.

Managing editors like myself are essentially project managers. We set deadlines for writers within a matrix of other deadlines—sales/ad deadlines, design and production deadlines, printer’s deadlines, etc.—and have to flex with the inevitable changes, such as a special issue that will require an extra day at the printer because of the metallic finish on the cover, or a layout that has to be redone when significant new developments make the gist of the original design idea obsolete.

How a writer meets a deadline says a lot to me about their general work style. If I need the draft by a particular time on the day I’ve specified (first thing in the morning, close of business, early afternoon), I let the writer know. If you aren’t clear if “due next Monday” means “I want it in my in-box when I get into work” or “before midnight Monday night,” ask.

I try to give writers as much leeway as I can with deadlines. In return, I expect writers to let me know how the reporting and writing process is going. If sources aren’t cooperating, tell me a week before deadline, rather than the day before. Editors can usually suggest other people to talk to, or another approach to a topic, if it’s the structuring of the article or the actual writing of it that’s causing problems. I don’t see questions or requests for advice as a sign of weakness.

Another caveat: I freelance myself, and I understand how easy it is to over-commit. But don’t make your full plate my problem. Be honest with your editor if you’re overbooked. If you just accepted the assignment, call them back immediately and beg off, as graciously as possible. Maybe even suggest one of your less-overburdened buddies to do the assignment (you’ll be making three people happy—you, your writing buddy and the editor—if the writer you suggest is up to the job).

If you’re already well into the interview/writing stage, call the editor and talk about what can be done to rectify the situation, but don’t drop the ball unless you don’t want to work for that editor again. It’s an open secret that many of editors pad their deadlines to deal with writer break-downs, but writers who take advantage of that all the time are not at the top of our “favorites” list.

Writers who meet deadlines promptly and who communicate about issues related to deadlines get assignments. Writers, no matter how good, who cannot make deadlines do not.

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