What to tell an editor

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You’ve completed a draft and you’d like a review. This is your chance to tell the editor clearly what you need. Or, you could start with excuses. It’s your choice.

When you turn over a draft for editing, there’s always stuff that you worry is weak or wrong. Resist the urge to hide your weaknesses. This is your chance to get help.

Your editor stands in for the reader, but has the intelligence to know how to fix problems.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@jbernoff”]Writers must learn not just to tolerate feedback, but to ask for it and embrace it.[/tweetthis]

In an email that accompanies the draft, ask for specifics (what type will depend on what level of edit your draft is ready for). For example, ask:

  • Is the structure right? If you’re not sure about the order or grouping of topics, ask the editor for an opinion.
  • Should I cut stuff? There’s always some bit of content, quote, or fact that you love or need, but seems to stick out. Ask the editor whether it adds to or detracts from the piece.
  • Have I gone too far or not far enough? It’s hard to get the perspective to know whether you’ve been too provocative . . . or perhaps, too boring. The editor brings a perspective that you can’t get on your own.
  • What’s missing? What could you add that would take the piece to the next level?
  • What’s flawed but will be fixed. For example, I recently sent part of my book to my editor for a review. I knew I’d soon have a replacement for a quote that I knew was weak, so I told the editor to ignore it.

Equally important is what not to say. Here are some things you could tell the editor that might make you feel better, but don’t help the process.

  • Apologies. We all know your draft is late. We know it’s weaker than you hoped it would be. The editor isn’t interested in your apologies and excuses, only in your content.
  • Justifications. If a part of the draft is weak, don’t defend it to the editor. Instead, point out why it’s there and ask how you can make it better.
  • Flailing. “Help! I don’t know what to do!” is not a useful comment. Gather the shreds of your self-respect and ask for the specifics you need. If there’s no thematic unity, ask for help with that. If you think about it, you know where your problem is, even it’s at a basic and fundamental level.

One more piece of advice for writers: When you have two weeks to write a draft and get feedback, please don’t assume that the writer gets thirteen-and-a-half days to write the draft and the editor gets two hours to do the review. Give your editor time for a thoughtful read that will actually help you. Better to hand in a weaker draft with a little more time to edit, than to use up all the time yourself.

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