Yes boys and girls, it’s time to talk about the dreaded “E” word. The word that strikes fear into the heart of new writers and sometimes makes more experienced writers roll their eyes.

Yes children, it’s time to talk about those perky purveyors of  pencils, pens and power … your EDITOR. The folks that take a good story and make it better. The folks that take a great story and make it amazing. Yes, those folks who take a real stinker and send it back to you.

Have you ever stopped to think about what an editor really does? I mean after following the Brinks truck to the bank when they cash their paychecks (we’ll pause here a moment while the editors in the group stop laughing and/or crying)? Do they spend hours on end going through the slush pile digging through the drek until they find your jewel?

Probably not.

An editor spends about 25% of their time reading those masterpieces. The rest of their time is spent trying to turn the masterpieces they have accepted into honest to goodness books. There are meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Then there is the travel to various conferences when they are looking for new writers to bring into the fold.  So they won’t even see your manuscript until a second or third reading. The gatekeepers get first crack at it. Then, if it passes certain standards, the person on whom you have attached all your hopes and dreams gets a crack at it.

And that’s just what they have to do when dealing with YOUR manuscript. The hard cold fact is, you ain’t the only one sending in the next Left Behind or Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies (yes, there is such a book, Craig Shaw Gardner wrote it, and it’s really good). There are other writers, agents, and colleagues all vying for your potential editor’s attention.

Then there are the other meetings and the new emergency meetings stacked on top of the regular meetings and other emergency meetings they still have to deal with.

So, how can you help the process?

  • Be polite. A well placed Thank You goes a long way.
  • Use the editor’s correct name. Time for a little honesty here. If you don’t care enough to get an editor’s name right, or if your work habits are sloppy enough that it never occurred to you, then don’t be surprised when you get (1) no response or (2) a NO response.
  • Get the sex right. And no, that doesn’t mean read the Masters & Johnson report while you craft your query letter. (Well, OK.You could do that, but it has nothing to do with this particular point). If an editor’s name is John, Robert, Sally, Rebecca, etc. you can be pretty certain whether they are male or female.   However, in the case of people with names like Chris, Kim, or other names that can be used for men or women, take a moment to call or email a secretary, etc. and just ask. Otherwise, your submission may not even be read. If all else fails, simply start with, “Dear Kim Rogers …” or whatever the full name is and at least show that you’re not making assumptions.
  • Give them what they ask for. If an editor asks for something specific, give them what they asked for. Nothing more. Nothing less. They know what they need to evaluate a project and that’s what they expect to receive from you. And if it is something you can’t deliver in a timely fashion, tell him/her immediately.
  • If you become partners on a project, don’t be a jackass. As the folks in the Mighty Marvel Bullpen used to say, “‘Nuff Said.”

‘Till next time, in the immortal words of Ludlow Porch, “You find somebody to be nice to.”

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    Hi Paula. Thanks for the great response. I imagine there are a number of people with the same question.
    You can do a couple of things. You can simply start the letter Dear Acquisitions Editor (or whatever title they use). You can also invest in a phone call and ask a secretary (NEVER the editor) if it is appropriate to send the manuscript to the editor by name. Many times an assistant actually reads the letter/manuscript before the editor does, so sending it to an individual without checking first simply slows down the process. And many editors are not bashful about responding by reminding you to use the title ij the guidelines and not a name. So, call if you have to and go from there.

  2. Paula Petty says:

    Editors have to look at what we write in different ways. They have to be able to sell it, as well. Being courteous goes a long way. If we have researched and exhausted every means including on-line, market listings, etc and guidelines say to find a person to address with no luck and the guidelines say to address manuscript with the words “Acquisitions Editor” or something very similar, how do we address this (Dear ___) in a query or cover letter? This is not an isolated case. If I do happen to find a name, do I use the name instead of a department if they say to address it to the department? Thanks for the post.

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