I am a nascent editor. I started submitting my poetry to journals when I was 20 years old. The more I started receiving acceptances—and personalized rejections—the more I wanted to continue improving my craft. I knew the best way to do this would be to read submissions for literary magazines. Not only do I read poetry submissions for South Florida Poetry Journal, but I am also the Associate Editor Barista for the Fictional Café! This brings me a great amount of pleasure. What excites me about being an editor is that I actively and regularly consume language. As eating food strengthens the body, reading and thinking about writing keeps me mentally active, and helps me write better poetry. I don’t ever want that to change. With the advent of online publishing, more and more people—especially millennials—are writing and submitting for publication, both in print and online. I’ve experienced writers at times holding their work too closely. They may resist constructive critiquing for fear it stymies self-expression. Although at times it may sting, the pain will subside and the writing will improve because of editorial input.
What exactly is an editor charged to do? How can a writer contribute to a positive working relationship with an editor?
In very basic terms, the role of editor is to ensure that all work appearing in a publication is in its best possible form. To achieve this, it may mean fixing verb inconsistencies or eliminating awkward wording. Sometimes, a piece of writing may be sent back to the author with the editor’s suggestions for improvement. Suggestions are merely that, suggestions. I have received numerous suggestions during the process of writing this article. Whether or not an editor explicitly states it, no writer is obligated to implement any piece of advice an editor renders.
The rationale is simple; the piece of writing, at that point, is unpublished, and solely belongs to the author. Once the writing is published, how that work looks and reads reflects the professionalism of the writer and the publication. You may have revised your work a few times, but even so you have no real perspective with which to assess it other than your own. It is quite rare that a work is published without being read by another pair of critical eyes, or passing through another’s perception. Otherwise, the editor’s attention to detail, and even the integrity and legitimacy of the publication, would be called into question.
As all writers know, an inevitable possibility with submissions is dealing with rejection. If an editor declines a piece of writing for their publication, that does not diminish its value or validity. It is important, and there is likely a home for it elsewhere. Every publication, large or small, has its own editorial standards to uphold. If an editor truly takes major issue with a piece of writing, such as a hate-filled, racist, or obscene work, it will be promptly rejected. Some other issues of editorial etiquette are:
- A professional editor will not undertake a sparring session with the author. Civility and professionalism are cornerstones of writing and publishing. Even though it seems as if these are slowly eroding, they really are not. Of course, writing, editing, and times are changing, but a writer should never be party to the erosion of publishing values.
- Word choice that could trigger or rub someone the wrong way should at least be addressed to the author. That never means you should not be forthright and honest in your choice of words or ideas. Writers can and should change the world.
- Similarly, if an editor has suggestions for a piece of writing that its author does not agree with, it does not have to be a deal-breaker. Wise editors make suggestions, not demands. Most serious writers will tell you that their work improves with every revision. A writer we know underwent a magazine editor’s sixteen requests for revisions to a 900-word flash fiction. At the end, he said the story was better for it.
Most importantly, as we readers well know, the most compelling, captivating, progressive works of literature often challenged the status quo of the time in which they were written. If your book, poem, or short story elicits a strong reaction, be it editorially or personally, you are most likely onto something really big.
The editor invests time in editing a work because it is in his or her interests to do so, because they want to see your work appear in their publication. If the editor didn’t want to publish it, you would have known quickly and not have been subjected to the editorial process. An editor will come your way who is just as willing to take risks as you are, and will help advance your vision. What is truly beautiful is when a writer’s vision is shared by the editor. This is where partnership and mentorship are born. I am very fortunate to have a partner and mentor in Jack Rochester, the Fictional Café’s editor-in-chief. I hope to be that person for another author or poet one day.