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
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.