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10 Things Editors Do That Piss Off Writers

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September 22, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower

There is a plethora of advice out there on how writers must follow the rules of the game if they want to get published in lit mags. Last week, I posted 10 things writers do that piss off editors. This week, I’m turning the tables and looking at all the things the editors do that piss off writers.

As both a writer and an editor, I admit I’ve done a few things from each list, and I’ve gotten pissed about some of these things before. Here are the things that really get a writer’s goat:

1. Taking Forever To Respond

You probably figured this would be first on the list. What’s worse than an editor who makes us wait eighteen months to hear, “Nope, this isn’t good enough for us.” Tools like Submittable have made the process of collecting and responding to submissions a breeze. Yes, it’s still time consuming to get through that slush pile, but what’s the point in hanging onto something for so long when you know you don’t want it?

2. Asking For Unreasonable Edits

Writers love it when a publication shows good editorial foresight. However, when an editor accepts your work and sends you a list of rewrites longer than your original story, you feel a bit cheated. If the story needs a total overhaul for it to work in your magazine, then maybe you should just pass on it. Don’t make writers go through seventeen rounds of edits for the 300-word story you aren’t paying to publish.

3. Publishing A Piece Without Proofreading Or Formatting

On the flipside of the coin, some editors throw up a writer’s work without any changes at all. Yes, the writers need to take responsibility for their own words, but an editor should be able to fix a spelling error. Copying and pasting a Word document into your magazine’s WordPress WYSIWYG can hardly be considered publishing.

4. Un-Accepting A Piece Or Backing Out of An Agreement sledgehammer-151228_1280

Once an editor accepts a piece, he or she should be committed to it. On more than one occasion, I’ve had editors change their minds right before the publication date. While I was waiting for you to not publish my story, I could have been sending it out to other lit mags. If you offer us contributor copies or a token payment upon acceptance, don’t pull the old bait and switch when the piece goes live. Give out what you promise.

5. Sending Completely Generic Rejection Letters (Or None At All)

As mentioned before, Submittable makes this process pretty easy. Press the decline button and choose your ready-made template. It’s fine if you don’t want to give feedback, but you can at least use the correct format for auto-generating the writer’s name. “Dear Writer” is not a way to start a rejection letter. Even worse are those editors who decline without sending a message at all. If I have to log in to Submittable to see you rejected my story, then I’m going to be pretty annoyed.

6. Not Promoting Published Work

If you are going to run a lit mag, you need to commit some time to promoting the words you publish. It can be as simple as a Facebook post and a Tweet on publication date. At least tell the world you just published something. If you aren’t trying to drive more readers to your lit mag, then why do you even have it?

7. Telling Writers To Do It All

Some editors out there won’t do a damn thing. They make the writers do all the edits, all the formatting, and all the promotion. It’s fine to require writers to do some of the work. But if your acceptance letter has detailed instructions about how I need to format the story, find three royalty-free images to go with it, and plan a six-month daily blog tour, then you aren’t holding up your end of the deal.

8. Having Ridiculous Submission Guidelines

If it takes longer to follow the submission guidelines than it does to write a story, it probably isn’t worth the effort to submit. We’ve all seen this before: “All submissions should be in 10.7 Helvetica font, with one hard return between paragraphs and 1.25 spacing after each line within paragraphs. Indentations should be six spaces, not a full tab. Do not use any “smart” quotes. Save your file as an editable PDF with your bio pasted backwards on the seventh page of your manuscript. Contact information should use 128-bit encryption and be included in both the attachment and the cover letter.”

9. Making Writers Pay Full Price For Contributor Copies

Most writers understand that the majority of lit mags are “for-the-love” markets. As such, we expect not to be paid for many of our publications. However, if you are charging your authors full price for the book that features their writing, then you are taking advantage of the people you are publishing. Lit mags shouldn’t be making money off their writers. That’s what readers are for. If you can’t provide a free contributor copy, at least send contributors a digital version and let them purchase print versions at cost.

10. Publicly Humiliate Writers

Most editors are good people. Yes, editors get frustrated and occasionally post something snarky on the internet. But an editor should never publicly humiliate a writer. If part of your editorial mission is to attack a writer or story, then maybe you shouldn’t be in this business at all. That’s fine if you want to make generic comments on Facebook or Twitter. But never give a submitter’s name or bash a story in a way that makes it obvious who wrote it.

When it’s all said and done, pissed off writers and and pissed off editors don’t accomplish very much. The focus should be on producing and promoting great work, not on getting on everyone’s case about the mistakes they are making. Still, there are plenty of things we can do on both sides to make it a little easier on everyone.

What else pisses you off as a writer? Who do you think has it worse: the editors or the writers? Sound off in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “10 Things Editors Do That Piss Off Writers

  1. M. Howalt says:

    Good companion piece to the other post! The only thing I’ve tried as a writer is the lack of response. I don’t mind waiting for a bit, but never hearing back is annoying. (The only place I’ve submitted to with several months of waiting time was worth it – they give writers really good and personal feedback from slush readers/editors regardless of whether they accept the piece.)

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree that it’s worth waiting for good feedback. What annoys writers the most is waiting many months to get a curt rejection with nothing helpful–and nothing that actually indicates the editor read the story.

  2. Shannon Parker says:

    In total agreement with everything you posted! To your #3 I would add, not taking time to make sure to spell the writer’s name correctly. It’s happened twice now to my girlfriend. This is especially frustrating in a print publication since the error can’t be corrected after the fact.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Shannon. It’s awful when an editor messes up a writer’s name. I’ve had a few online publications credited to “Nate” instead of Nathaniel. Fortunately, those editors were good about correcting the name. Can’t really do that with print.

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