What not to say to your editor

Before I start ranting here — because this is a ranty post — yesterday I appeared as a guest at Stacey Nash’s blog as part of the From Australia With Love tour. There’s a (rather tongue-in-cheek) interview with Isla from Isla’s Inheritance and an excerpt too. You know, if you’re curious.

Yesterday when I got in to work a colleague greeted me very loudly. My boss immediately appeared from her office and started making small talk. Then she asked me if I could pop into her office before I read my emails.

Uh oh.

For those of you that aren’t aware, in my day job I edit technical documents. They are often long and very boring, written by subject matter experts whose areas of expertise seldom include more than passing English language skills. Mostly I love it, but sometimes writers are, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. And I say this as a writer who loves writers.

Well, most of them.

My supervisor wanted to warn me out about a passive aggressive email that came in yesterday while I was on leave, before I saw it and started screeching profanities. To paraphrase, the author of a document I edited last week had observed that he’d “gone through the laborious process of going through the enormous number of suggested edits” before going on to tell me he hadn’t done a bunch of them.

This same writer has previously told me that anyone “with an adult level of reading” would understand what he meant by a certain phrase, after I explained that I’d misread it.

Never mind the fact that some of my edits were basic things like turning fragments into full sentences and pointing out missing information, or that some of the missing information would have been damaging to the organisation I work for if it hadn’t been added.

Needless to say, he didn’t say thank you either.


Excuse me while I put my ranty pants on. (And note that when I say “you” below I don’t mean you you … unless you’d also send the above sort of email. In which case I totally mean you.)

At the risk of stating the obvious, taking this tone with your editor is not helpful. It comes across as prima donna-ish, like you think you’re above the editing process. If you do think this, here’s a newsflash: no one is above the editing process. I’m a professional editor who draws a pretty good salary for what I do. I have what I like to think are very high levels of English grammar skills (although now I’ve said that I’m just waiting for someone to spot a typo in this post!), and I am not above the editing process.

This is why I bend over backwards to do what my editor asks me. Because I figure if she’s asking me a question then I haven’t made myself clear enough, and if she misreads something so will readers. The same goes for the questions my beta readers ask.

Not to mention the fact that everyone makes typos, and it’s almost impossible to proofread your own work.

If you get rage-inducing feedback from an editor, agent, crit partner or your mother, WALK AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD. Take a breath. Think about it. Don’t drive angry, and above all when you reply thank them for their time even if you want to strangle them. (If you have an agent and the editor’s suggestions are unacceptable, let them go back and be the bad guy.)

To do anything else is unprofessional. And, as agent Laura Zats blogged last week, “There’s always another author. There’s always another book.”

16 Comments on “What not to say to your editor”

  1. Good advice. I can understand your frustration.

    • I had a different writer today ask me why I was changing previously edited work, and whether the previous version was substandard. Way to make me try and backstab my colleagues.

      It’s been a week. :p

  2. K. A. Last says:

    Lol. Great post, Cass. I love my editor. She is the awesomeness of awesome. I spotted a typo though. Hint: there’s a word missing. Let me know if you can find it 😉

  3. I freaking LOVE this post. But you knew I would, didn’t you? 🙂

  4. Jennifer Anderson says:

    Well said! 😉

  5. Lollie-LuLu says:

    OK, I kind of love you for this. Following!

  6. Love this post. Breaking in a new editor this week…so I’ll keep this in mind.

  7. […] blocking helpful blogs like Grammar Girl. Probably the most notable work-drafted post is this one: What not to say to your editor. Because I was very angry. (For the record, the writer I blogged about there is getting a tiny bit […]

  8. Tami Lund says:

    I realize this blog is from January, however, it was SO GOOD that I felt compelled to leave a comment anyway! I. Love. It.

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