Writers tend to regard editors with reverential adoration. The relationship between an editor and a writer is a beautiful thing, though sometimes reverential adoration can be a problem, especially when it comes to writers being afraid to challenge editors on editorial decisions when they need to be.
As a writer, an editor can be your saving grace or your worst enemy. I'm lucky that I've worked with a number of fantastic editors, both in journalism and literary magazines, so I'm a little biased in that I expect all editors to be as good as the ones I've had the fortune to encounter. However, this only makes the bad editors stand out more sorely.
I don't recommend challenging an editor on an editorial decision unless you wholeheartedly believe they're making the wrong decision. If there's an inkling of doubt, reconsider.
But there have been a couple of times I've challenged editors and it's gone well. We were either able to compromise on a solution that worked for both of us, or we discovered that one of us was operating under misguided information and it was good to get on the same page.
Although it's been rare, I've challenged editors on things they were DEAD WRONG about and they refused to acknowledge their fault. This happened to me recently with a literary magazine I'd submitted to.
I predominantly write creative nonfiction, so I'd sent a creative nonfiction piece to this particular magazine (won't name names) and promptly received an email implying I was an idiot for submitting nonfiction to a magazine that clearly only accepts fiction and poetry.
Except there's one problem. The fact that they only took fiction and poetry wasn't clear at all.
I know because I read the submission guidelines no less than 10 times before submitting. So I sent them a screenshot of their own submission guidelines and asked where it states they don't accept nonfiction.
Can you find where it says they don't accept nonfiction? I couldn't. And as it turns out, neither could the editors.
Translation: Not even the editors of the magazine realized their submissions guidelines, to which they hold writers steadfast, were not clear.
They've since updated their submission guidelines, though I'll admit to being pretty pissed that they still refused to consider my submission even though I did actually follow their guidelines and even went as far as to help them with their magazine.
But the moral of the story is that writers SHOULD challenge editors when it's right to do so. Here are a couple of reasons why this is important:
- Because editors are human, too, which means that like most humans they can be wrong about something.
- Having a reverential attitude toward editors, even though some might expect that from writers, isn't the best thing because, ideally, both parties should work together to produce the highest quality piece of art. And if that means challenging an editor on an editorial decision or policy, writers should feel empowered to do so.
- The writers name is going on the work, so they need to be proud of what they create.
- It's not like there's a shortage of magazines out there, so if one isn't a good fit, take your work elsewhere.
- If you challenge an editor when they're dead wrong and they refuse to compromise, that's a good sign you don't want to work with them and you don't want your work published in their magazine. If you're not yet contractually bound to let that publication have it, consider pulling it and submitting somewhere that's a better fit.
Ultimately, the writer/editor relationship should be a mutually beneficial one. The editor is looking out for the magazine's best interests and you have to look out for your best interests. In an ideal situation, those best interests align. But in the event they don't align, don't let your fear or reverence of editors keep you from standing up for yourself.
Because, believe me, nothing makes you more thankful for the good editors in your life like dealing with a couple of bad ones.
Now I'm not going to name names with the literary magazine I had a bad experience with (unless you reach out to me on Twitter because I'm not giving them airtime on my blog), but I will tell you the literary magazines I've had excellent experiences with:
- The Missing Slate
- PANK Magazine
- Entropy Magazine
- Deep South Magazine
- New Southerner Magazine (I've got a piece forthcoming in there that I can't wait to share with you!)
- Lunch Ticket (even their rejections are kindhearted!)
There are more, but those are the ones that really stick out in my mind as having star editorial teams.
Have you ever had a memorable experience with an editor, be it good or bad? Share in the comments below! I especially want stories of good editors so the writers reading this post will know what magazines are best to submit to.