How to Deal with Bad Editors

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 Stef dela Cruz 0 Comments

I never thought I needed to know how to deal with bad editors when I first started writing. I thought all I needed to become a good writer was a thick skin, a sense of open-mindedness, and the skills to write a good piece.

Writers must know how to deal with bad editors. They are bound to meet at least one in their lifetime.

I thought that as long as I knew how to write, work was going to be seamless. Boy, was I wrong. I realized how naïve I was after I had a run-in with a horrible editor. And yes, even the seemingly nice ones can give you nightmares when they make inconsistent requests for revision.

Dealing with a Bad Editor

Years ago, I submitted an article to an editor whose opinions changed as often as the weather. The article was returned to me with the following note: “This write-up must use PAST TENSE ONLY. Please revise.” I scratched my head because I knew the original instruction was to write everything in the present tense – but I gave my editor the benefit of the doubt. I went back to work.

After revising, I resubmitted the article. My editor said, “This article is still using the past tense. Didn’t I tell you to revise and make use of the PRESENT TENSE ONLY?”

Bad Editors

I think I had a mini-stroke. It was probably the tenth time that the editor gave me contradictory instructions, making him an unreliable editor – and a really bad one. Thankfully, my present editor gives me no trouble at all when I write for my column.

How to Deal with Bad Editors

There are the good ones – and then there are the bad ones. I once asked in a prayer, “God, why are there bad editors?” Dealing with bad editors is something every writer must learn to thrive in the industry. If your editor has been acting like a little bad boy lately, here are a few suggestions that might make things easier for you.

  • Clarify all details of the writing project with your editor from the get-go. This is, in my experience, the one thing I have to do whenever I deal with bad editors. If he says, “Write something that’s about 5 pages long,” make sure to ask, “How many words exactly do you need?” Ask about the tone, the point-of-view, and the format, too. It’s better to establish the terms from the start – this prevents any misunderstanding.
  • Always keep a record of your conversations with your editor. If you want to know how to deal with bad editors, start with learning to document your every move. If you need to speak with your editor regarding important revisions, do it via email or ask him to text you. That way, you can keep a record of all his requests – and you can use those as proof, in case he goes back on his word.
  • If your editor asks for revisions to your written work, ask him to be very specific. Don’t fall for requests for revision that are phrased like this: “I think it needs more details.” Instead, ask what kind of details he needs. Does he need more sources? Statistics? Explanations? Any vague requests must be qualified accordingly. Knowing how to deal with bad editors means knowing how to ask for clarifications.
  • Make sure you’re not the one at fault. As a writer, we have to come up with a lot of articles. Sometimes, we make mistakes, too. Knowing how to freelance (and actually earn) means knowing how to build long-term relationships with your editor. And you can’t accomplish that if you’re a bad writer with a bad attitude.
  • Don’t hesitate to call out the mistakes of your editor. If you know how to deal with bad editors, you know never to say sorry for errors you didn’t commit. Take this as an example scenario: your editor says he needs 500 words but he reprimands you for “falling short of the recommended 750 words”. Don’t just write a longer article; tell him that you are simply following his original recommendations and that his instructions are contradictory – that way, he’ll think twice before he puts the blame on you.
  • Always remember that editors are just people. Yes, they are bound to make mistakes down the road. Don’t flip just yet; understand that mistakes may happen. But if your editor always blames you for his own mistakes, don’t be a doormat; clarify and point out that the errors are not yours to begin with. But yes, do it nicely (as he is STILL your editor). Make sure you follow a code of ethics – I myself follow a Writer’s Manifesto to keep me focused and grounded.

Have you ever had a bad editor before? I have been blessed to work with such wonderful editors who have been very understanding and guru-like in their capacity to guide me. But I won’t be surprised if I’ll be dealing with bad editors in the future – and I take comfort in knowing that I can deal with them. Smile

Besides, there is always something we can learn from editors, good or bad! How about you, have you ever written for a bad editor before? Do you have your own tips on how to deal with bad editors? Share them with me and the wonderful readers of this blog by leaving a comment! Oh, and don’t forget to visit me on Facebook – I share more daily anecdotes there for your entertainment. Until next time!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!