What Pisses One Editor Off
This is an excerpt from my e-book Editors Unleashed: Editors Growl About Their Writer Peeves. Enjoy!
The Editor: Editor of a magazine for sports enthusiasts.
The Peeve: Writers who half-ass interviews.
What’s your biggest grammar/style peeve and why?
Disregarding basic conventions—not knowing how to use commas, etc. I don’t care what side of the serial comma debate you stand on, I’d just like you to know there is one. Style: I get stuff written in a sort of pompous, grandiose style that I guess I’m supposed to take more seriously than a basic, matter of fact approach. I much prefer basic and matter of fact.
Can you share a writer horror story?
A writer had trouble getting sources and didn’t bother informing me until after the deadline passed. Then she just said she couldn’t write the piece, bye. I could have solved the problem if she had let me know earlier that she was having difficulties getting people to interview for the piece, but once the deadline had passed, it was a little late. I will never work with that writer again. Another writer would be asked to interview three or four people for a piece but then never really put what they said in the article (he used his own opinion/experiences—fine, but we weren’t asking him to be the expert, we were asking him to interview the experts). From talking to him, I had the vague sense that he would call people up, explain who he was, ask one question and then hang up. In other words, no clue what basic reporting means. How did this guy get to be a writer? Same as above: not someone I will work with again.
What’s your biggest contract negotiation peeve and why?
Writers expecting me to read their minds. If the deadline won’t work, ask if it can be changed. If you think you’re entitled to more money for this article as compared to previous ones, tell me why. If you don’t like any clause in the contract, don’t just stew about it, tell me. I can fix almost any concern that a writer has but I have to know about it first. Don’t just decide I’m being unfair and resent me for it. I try hard to look out for my writers, but I’m not going to be the one to suggest a raise in pay. I have a budget to consider. If the writer brings it up, I’ll do the best I can to make the numbers work.
The other thing that drives me nuts: people who have to spend several days thinking before they accept/decline an assignment. We work on a tight schedule. I need to go on to the next writer if the first one doesn’t want the assignment. How hard is this? Do you have time to do the piece by the deadline? Yes/No. Are you interested in doing the piece? Yes/No. Is the pay offered acceptable? Yes/No. This is not rocket science. This is not a book deal negotiation. It’s probably eight hundred words with three sources supplied due in three weeks. It’s just not that hard to say yes or no.
I would never hire a writer who…
…acted unprofessionally. Polite, persistent—that’s fine. Demanding and stalkerish, your e-mails go directly to the junk folder.
There are so many ways to display a lack of professionalism; which one ticks you off the most?
Writers who act like they’re doing me a favor by writing for the magazine. I appreciate good writers and try to use the same good writers over and over. But we’re doing a business transaction: I offer money, the writer supplies writing. I’m not grateful when the writer holds up his end of the deal. That’s just a basic expectation. I am grateful when the writer goes above and beyond, but then those writers don’t expect me to be grateful, they’re just happy to be of help.
What’s the one worst thing a magazine writer can do—something that’s totally unforgivable in your book?
I’ve had writers get facts wrong, I’ve had writers forget to give me source information for fact-checking, I’ve had writers submit copy with multiple misspellings—but none of these things make me unwilling to work with the writer again if the writer is willing to fix the problem, apologizes for it, and tries to do better next time. What is unforgivable is not doing the bare basics—as in the writer who wouldn’t even do basic reporting for a piece—and then expecting to get another assignment. I don’t think so.
What’s your biggest query peeve and why?
I don’t get many queries but the biggest problem is that people haven’t read the magazine and have no idea what we cover or how we cover it. You can’t possibly know what we’re looking for unless you’ve seen the magazine. You’ll impress me a lot more if you send an introductory letter with clips, asking to see sample copies so you can hone your query appropriately. I’ve given plenty of features to people who’ve never written for me before just on the basis of how they handled getting to know the magazine.
How do you react when a writer commits one of your peeves?
If it’s something fixable—a source omission, an uninteresting lede—I ask the writer to fix it and see how they respond. If it’s something that has to do with one’s whole attitude and professionalism (i.e., can’t be bothered to interview the sources) then you’ll never get another assignment from me.
Just to add some balance: Can you share a dream writer story?
I have a writer who provides story ideas when asked; doesn’t beat me up if story ideas aren’t accepted by the editor-in-chief; accepts/declines (though hasn’t declined yet) an assignment in a reasonable period of time; notifies me of any assignment concerns/contract questions at the time of the assignment; alerts me to potential problems long before they bring production to a screeching halt; hunts down her own sources when needed but understands the necessity of using provided sources as well; reliably (i.e. by deadline) turns in well-written material that uses a friendly style that suits the magazine; never needs editing; her stories get raves from the EIC and make me look like a genius; is persistent about following up with everyone (me, the sources) without being a stalker; always presents a friendly and professional attitude even when I know a situation is probably making her nuts.
If you could tell writers just one thing they should NOT do, what would it be?
Assume that I can change the numbers in the budget just for them. If you’re getting 35 cents a word, you might be able to talk me into 45 cents a word if I value your writing, but there’s just no way we’re going to go from 35 cents a word to $2 a word. The budget just isn’t there, and it’s never going to be there, and I can’t change that. If the conditions of the assignment and the pay are acceptable, fine; if not, you can negotiate but you need to be realistic.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell aspiring and professional writers?
Always look at the assignment in full before deciding based on pay. I have writers who earn less per word writing for me than for national consumer magazines but they actually earn more on an hourly basis because there are far fewer hassles writing for us than for other magazines.
If my 800 word assignment for $400 takes five hours to do (sources are provided, no endless rewriting or committee editing to deal with), that beats Cosmo‘s 400 word assignment at $2 a word that takes ten hours to do plus requires three rewrites and re-interviewing four sources twice. And don’t forget that you can outgrow a magazine and leave it behind without creating hard feelings.
Writer is to editor as…
…pen is to paper. I’ve got nothing if I don’t have good writers.