New Editors Guide For Working With Experienced Writers


Having a pool of experienced and talented writers is near the top of almost every publisher's wish list. While it seems obvious that better writers will automatically produce better stories, that is not always the case. The relationship between writer and editor plays a major role in the quality of the final content. Editors and writers are partners in producing strong work, but too often custom publishers fail to consider the impact of that important relationship and how its dynamics can make or break a story. Perhaps you're facing a situation where an inexperienced editor is paired with a seasoned writer. Perhaps a writer you're editing is less than enthusiastic about your attempts to enforce quality control or suggest changes. If left unchecked, these tensions can result in a tug-of-war between two people with differing perspectives who both have a vested interest in the final piece.

Experienced writers push back against editorial changes for many reasons. It's rarely personal, but newer editors may experience feelings of intimidation despite having their own mandate to ensure timelines and standards. Learning to work with confident and established writers takes time. Editors should rely on a few tips as they are developing new relationships with writers.

1. Be Firm, Show Respect

Don't let internal power struggles or office politics stop you from showing everyone the respect they deserve. Depending on how your publication team is structured, editors may have a wide scope of authority or may only provide suggestions. Starting with the mandate from your publication, convey your ideas to the writer in a respectful way. Don't be afraid to fall back on organizational policies where necessary. For example, if your guidelines doesn't allow references more than a year old, use that justification when asking the writer to remove a statement.

Don't underestimate the power of common curtesy. Acknowledge the writer's experience and time spent researching and compiling the piece. Often, the writer will know more about a subject than her editor, a fact experienced editors will acknowledge by deferring on what issues are fundamental to a certain piece. At the same time, editors may have to push back if they think readers won't be interested in ancillary facts writers just can't let go of.

As an editor, it's crucial to know when you will hold firm if a writer violates a policy and when you may accept the writer's argument if a section or paragraph is important to the content of the piece. Always approach the discussion as a conversation. Listening to the writer is as important as reinforcing your own mandate for the publication.

2. Be Clear, Expect Pushback

Writers often complain that editors give confusing or dictatorial feedback. The result is frustration on the part of the writer, who isn't sure how to respond to the comments. As a new editor, you are likely to be victim of a writer's dismissive attitude that you simply don't know what you are talking about, unless you can backup your feedback with direction or justification.

If a section is well-written, for example, but potentially confusing to the publication's readership, give specific feedback that emphasizes that point. You may say the information is fine but the content should aim for a grade 8 reading level instead of grade 11, given the audience's demographic. When writers argue with you, welcome the passion about the work and see it as a way to engage more deeply with the piece.

3. Be Human, Enforce Rules

As an editor, you have to ensure the publication gets out on time, with all of its pieces up to standard and ready to go. Part of this role is to enforce deadlines and the editorial calendar. Don't be afraid to remind writers of deadlines or to inquire about the whereabouts of a certain piece -- an experienced writer will expect this. At the same time, you don't need to act as if you were the writer's parent. No scolding is necessary: like any professional relationship, a human conversation about expected completion dates is all that is needed.

Writers and editors should think of themselves as collaborators on each piece they create. If you are new to the editing role, remind yourself of your own skill set and experience, which even an experienced writer may not possess. At the end of the day, an editor is a writer's first reader, and a reflective writer should be interested in what you have to say.

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