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What to Expect When Expecting to Work with an Editor

License: CreativeCommons, derivative of the wikiHow image.


What to Expect When Expecting to Work with an Editor



ately, I’ve been applying for “real” jobs because freelance work has been dripping in. (Anyone need an editor?!?) As I fill out the online applications (because for some reason, hiring managers prefer not to actually look at my resume, but would rather I fill out some form on a website that regurgitates all of the information that’s on my resume, only in an uglier format), I have repeatedly hit on the point that, as an editor and a writer, I know both sides of the process. I know the needs of each party in the writer-editor relationship.

Why is this a selling point? Because as writers, we might not know what it’s like to be an editor. Sure, we edit our own work, but there is more that an editor does than just fix sloppy sentences and question your metaphors. Understanding the editor’s experience of the submission-to-publication journey will help you to have frustration-free interactions with editors.

Working with an editor is the logistical side of the writing process. And doing logistical-y things usually involves a list of some sort. Because I’m nice, I now present to you two lists that can act as guides through the journey that an editor and writer go on together when preparing a piece for publication.

10 Steps of the Submission-to-Publication Process

  1. Receive an email that tells you your piece was accepted.
  2. Question if you read that email correctly.
  3. Re-read that email.
  4. Clap to yourself/fist bump the air/do the Snoopy dance.
  5. Reply to editor that the piece is still available for publication (which it should be because of course, if it had been accepted elsewhere, you would have immediately withdrawn the piece from all of the other journals that were looking at it).
  6. Eventually receive edits from the editor.
  7. Revise accordingly (which may consist of a few email exchanges about concept, consistency, nit-picky punctuation problems, etc.).
  8. Wait for it...
  9. Publication day!
  10. Splatter all social media avenues with the link to your publication.

10 Things to Expect/Consider/Do When Working with an Editor

  1. Trust her.
  2. Be kind to her, even when you disagree.
  3. Understand that any delay in replying to an email you sent her isn’t because she’s ignoring you or has forgotten about you, but that she’s just busy.
  4. Address all questions she has raised in her edits.
  5. Be open to hearing a perspective other than your own in regards to what your piece is about.
  6. Stick up for your writing if you strongly disagree with an edit.
  7. Send her any revisions in a timely manner/by the deadline she gives you.
  8. Thank the editor for spending time with your piece.
  9. Ask how long you need to wait before you submit again.
  10. When you social media the heck out of your publication, be sure to tag the journal/website in all of your posts.
Kill your darlings

[Originally, our graphic designer created this image to go with the article.]

Originally, I had a pregnancy metaphor in this column, which is why the current title was kickass and perfect. I took out the pregnancy metaphor, though, because an editor’s job is to kill the writer’s babies that were at one point darling, but in the end have nothing to do with anything or are so superfluous and hollow of meaning that it would just be embarrassing. (Note: the Spanish for pregnant is embarazada. This note doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. That is, it’s not pregnant with any relevant meaning. How embarrassing is that? I obviously need an editor to kill this little darling.)

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at (Come on editor self! Stop with the slacking already!) is that I come to you in this column as an editor—which, by the way, is not the same position as held by God.

Editors don’t know everything, just like writers don’t know everything. As an editor, what I do know is that the best writer to work with is one who is willing to be open about changing parts of her piece, but who also knows how to stand up for her work. Let me emphasize the word WORK here. I didn’t say, “Stand up for herself.” There’s an important distinction. When an editor critiques your work, don’t take it personally. Just because you had a confusing sentence and an ending that was a little too saccharine for your essay about surviving a Big Life Event doesn’t mean you suck. You, as a person, totally rock. An editor critiques writing, not your personality. So don’t take edits personally.

“An editor critiques writing, not your personality. So don’t take edits personally.”

You might have chuckled at some of those items on the two previous lists (and hopefully you considered the “because I’m nice” comment to be sarcasm at its best). In particular, you might have laughed at the step that said, “Question if you read that [acceptance] email correctly.” This is funny, but important. Yes, you must accept your acceptance. I’m not just talking about replying to the editor to confirm that the piece is still available. I’m talking about your brain accepting the fact that you were accepted.

I know this might seem odd; but when I get an acceptance by a journal I admire, my first thought is, “Well, if they accepted me, then they must not be as good of a journal as I thought they were.” If I’m able to immediately shush this self-doubting thought, my second mental response is: “They must have made a mistake and accepted my piece by accident.”

I’m not kidding. Stop this insanity already, Chelsey!

Though, sadly, I’m not the only female writer to have had these thoughts. I’ve had a number of conversations with a number of female writers who are writing in a number of genres and have told me that this self-doubting moment is a part of their publication process, too. This needs to stop. I don’t know how to make it stop; but as women, I really hope that one day we will stop questioning our worth in the world.

Point to all of this? Editors are aware of the fact that writers can be self-doubting at times. Though the editor’s job isn’t to be your cheerleader, and in the same way that you need to be open to and accept her criticism, you also need to be open to and accept her praise.

“As women writers, I really hope that one day we will stop questioning our worth in the world.”


One of my most hated jobs was working as a leadership skills trainer at a high school full of kids who truly did not care about learning leadership skills, especially not during their lunch break. Another reason why I hated this job was because I had a supervisor who treated me as if the grand total of all of the things I knew about communication was roughly zero. As in: at one point, she made me sit next to her as she showed me how to write a response to her emails.

Initial email I sent to my supervisor: What time should we meet tomorrow for our supervision meeting and where would you like to meet?

Supervisor’s response: Let’s meet for our supervision meeting tomorrow at 5pm in the library.

My usual reply: Sounds good!

Reply my supervisor “taught” me to send as I sat next to her and literally watched her type out the following response: Great. I will see you tomorrow at 5pm in the library for our supervision meeting.

My editor self says, “OMG, must we overstate the details in our communications with one another?!? We get it already! Library. 5pm. Supervision meeting. Got it.)

My supervisor would say: “OVERCOMMUNICATION IS A MUST!”


Though frustrating as all heck, here’s what my supervisor was trying to teach me: There is a way to communicate our needs and intentions, but these needs and intentions aren’t concretized until both parties firmly understand them. Overcommunication = triple-checking that everyone is on the same page.

When you work with an editor, it is super-important to same-page your perspectives.

Because some iffyness can occur when you get an acceptance. Usually, it’s a straight-forward process (write, submit, wait, get acceptance, question your worth, rejoice, wait, publication, plaster your social media pages with the link to your publication). But there are a number of incidences, where some uncertainty and vagueness can discombobulate the process—which can negatively impact your relationship with the editor and possibly even the entire process of submission. This is no good.

Most of these iffies are because of a miscommunication, which I must admit, is slightly absurd because we’re talking about people who are obsessed with communicating their lives through the written word. Though I’m not going to make you sit down next to me as I show you how to write emails to an editor, I also must admit that putting into practice the art of overcommunication when working with an editor is a must.

Overcommunication is a must!

License: CreativeCommons, derivative of the wikiHow image.

“The art of overcommunication when working with an editor is a must.”

Recently, I had a writer friend who had a solid draft of a piece she wrote. One of the journals she submitted to stated in its submission guidelines to send pitches, not completed pieces. She pitched her completed piece to that journal, but submitted the full draft to other journals. One of the editors of the please-send-a-pitch journal said the piece sounded interesting and that they would send her more information about their style guidelines soon. The next day, a different journal accepted the complete piece. So, being the good and considerate literary citizen that we all need to be, my friend withdrew her pitch. The editor of that journal got super-irritated because he claimed that he had already accepted the piece. She thought he accepted the pitch, but not yet the actual piece, and therefore did not withdraw it from the other journals that were also looking at it.

It’s not the worst problem to have—two journals wanting your writing.

Still, the frustrated editor said he didn’t want her to submit anything to the journal in the future because this incident wasn’t one he ever wanted to face with her again, more or less. Because yes, unintentionally frustrating an editor can be a not-good thing to do in terms of any future pieces you might want to submit to them. Obvious moral of this snippet of a story: in all of your communications with any editor, be clear that you understand what she’s saying and ask questions if you have any.

What sort of questions do you need to consider in your communications with an editor? These:

  • Is my piece actually accepted?
  • What is my deadline to submit revisions?
  • To whom and what email address should I send my revisions?
  • Will you do any promotion for the piece, or am I responsible for all of it?
  • How soon do I need to wait to submit to your journal again?

All of this is to say that when you work with an editor, know that she is invested in your success. Any questions she might ask or concerns she might express are all raised in the interest of making your piece the best piece it can be when it’s published. There’s nothing to question about that.


Next month, we’ll take a look at our choices when it comes to submissions, and how to be true to ourselves and our work.



Chelsey Clammer

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer

Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. She’s offering column readers a Submissions Consultation of up to 12 pages (4,500 words). Find out more.


Previous columns:

Submissions Flowchart

Them Fightin’ Words

Writing Contests: You Have Nothing to Lose

Breathe and Proceed: Poet Tammy Robacker on How to Submit the Hard Stuff

How to Hold Your Horses

Caring About cover Letters (because nothing says “please reject me” like a terrible first impression)

Find or Fling? Figuring Out Where to Submit

Rejection Acceptance: Interview with author/editor Jac Jemc

Hard-Working Writer Seeks Widely-Read Journal

What My Submissions Spreadsheet Teaches Me

Submit ’Til You Make It


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