Keys to a Successful Writer-Editor Relationship

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Writing has been part of my professional life for several decades. I’ve worked on both sides of the table as both an editor and a writer (staff writer and freelance). So I’ve had the benefit of experience to talk about the writer-editor relationship. A good writer will make an editor’s job easier, and a good editor will make a writer’s work really shine.

“Writer-editor relationships walk a fine line between familiar and professional,” writes Chels Knorr at Clear Voice, a content agency. “They’re built on mutual respect. They’re transactional, but also because they involve something subjective as writing, deeply personal. The writer must trust the editor’s fresh eyes and insight. The editor must trust the writer’s voice on a deadline.”

Like any relationship, they bring different strengths into the mix. Each has certain responsibilities to make the relationship work. Here’s what writers and editors can do to maintain a strong working relationship.

For writers:

* Be reliable. Meet your deadlines, and follow instructions and style guidelines. When working for an editor at a publication, pay attention to their instructions. Is there a certain format you need to follow? Then follow it. Are there certain phrases and terms that must be included in your piece? Be sure they’re in there. If the publication editor asks for something specific, be sure to do it. Doing so establishes your credibility in the editor’s eyes, and improves your chances that they will want to work with you again. And of course, make sure you turn your work on time, which proves to editors that you are reliable and take your work seriously.

* Be thorough and conscientious in your work. Proof your work before submitting it to the editor. If you don’t know how to proofread, take a class. Also be your own fact checker. Confirm quotes with your sources. Look up statistics to make sure they’re accurate and the most current. When you submit work that is clean and accurate with few errors, it saves the editor time and effort to correct them for you. Editors will love you for it.

* Don’t phone it in. Give each assignment your all, even if you don’t feel well or have too much on your plate. Treat clients as if they’re the only client you have and end the message that you’d like to work with them for the long-term by giving them a strong representations of your skill. If you really are too busy to take on an assignment, say so. Honesty is better than doing a crappy job.

* Develop a tough skin. It can be demoralizing to receive a piece back from an editor with a ton of red marks on it. Learn to accept feedback with grace and an open mind. Try to look past snarky comments, which isn’t always easy to do. Whatever feedback you receive is meant to help you become a stronger, better writer.

For editors:

* Communicate expectations clearly. Most editors and publications I’ve worked for/with have a source sheet that outlines what the assignment is and what the editor is looking for. However, there have been times when even those instructions were vague. Make sure you are clear about what you want the writer to do. Even if it seems clear to you, it may not be clear to them. If you aren’t clear, the writer may submit something that was not what you expected, which means more work for the writer to fix it.

* Respect the writer’s time and expertise. Be kind to your writers, writes Sarah Gilman at the Columbia Journalism Review. They’re providing you with a valuable service, and most of them are professionals with a history of success. Treat them as professional colleagues and remember that they’re human beings too. Remember they have personal lives and go through rough times too. A messy divorce or a sudden illness, for example, might disrupt their work. Be kind to them, just as you would want another editor to be kind to you.

* Provide helpful, constructive feedback. Avoid hurtful criticism and personal attacks that can be demoralizing to writers. Stick to the work at hand. Explain what needs to be changed. Sometimes explaining why helps writers understand what is expected for future assignments.

* Pay writers on a timely basis – and pay them WELL. Most freelance writers have sporadic incomes, often getting paid at publication time, not upon acceptance. That can put them in precarious financial circumstances. Paying on a timely basis shows your commitment to them. It earns their trust in your publication so they will want to continue working with you. If payments are delayed, it sends the message that you either don’t care or have cash flow problems – a red flag for freelancers who depend on you for income.

More important, pay writers well. A well-paid writer is a happy writer, and they’ll be more apt to turn in their best quality work to your publication to show they are worth the investment. Underpaid writers feel undervalued and unappreciated. If your fledgling publication or content agency pays peanuts for the people who write for you, expect the submitted work to be subpar and you might have to continually replace freelancers who leave for higher-paying gigs. For information about writers’ rates, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association and Writer’s Digest, which both provide updated rates for freelancing services.

When both writers and editors understand the needs and expectations of the other party, they can look forward to a long, productive relationship.