10 More Annoying Things Editors Do That Make Writers Want to Scream

By Yael Grauer April 23rd, 2015

Singing the praises of my favorite editors—the kind souls who provide invaluable research tips and make my copy shine—has never made my inbox explode the way it did after last month’s post on “The 10 Worst Things Editors Do That Drive Freelancers Nuts.” Perhaps this is due to the same phenomenon that causes that one negative comment on an article to stick with us for longer than dozens of positive ones. Whatever the reason, I’ll indulge your inner whiner momentarily by breaking down 10 more things editors do that writers hate. Just promise me you won’t forget the good ones—there are a few of them still out there.

1. Not quite give you a rewrite, but still making you rewrite.

Sometimes an editor sends back your post with a slew of very detailed requests. So detailed, in fact, that it’s almost as if he’s rewritten the entire piece—except that he hasn’t. Instead you’ll find a list of suggested edits, asking for revisions followed by brilliant prose you could replace specific sections with. Perhaps this is supposed to be a learning experience, where cutting and pasting suggestions into your story will imbue you with magical writing skills that will transfer to future work. Often, though, it just seems like busywork that an editor could have done himself.

2. Making you work in another unfamiliar CMS.

It’s not totally their fault—editors don’t frolic from site to site the way most freelancers do—but even if the CMS they use is the only one they know, it’s still frustrating for the writer. Unfortunately, more than a handful of sites have decided to play the roll-your-own-CMS game without even a single UX person to help you. The worst part is spending hours learning an arcane UX for a $250 post that will run on a site you’ll never write for again. But trying to determine whether a potential client with a crappy CMS is one you’ll want to stick around with is like trying to figure out if you’re going to marry someone before the first date.

3. Perpetually criticizing all your writing.

One of my best editors at the moment reminds me of my favorite college professor. He’s critical, which can be frustrating, but has the long-term advantage of helping me take my writing—and thought process—to the next level. But, like the teacher who is both tough and fair, he’s not afraid to say something positive that doesn’t make me want to cry at my keyboard and, in fact, makes me stand a little taller.

Unfortunately, some editors never get to the second part of that equation. They don’t have a problem doling out critique after critique, but they’re never satisfied with any aspect of a post no matter how much time you put into it.

This isn’t to say that editors should stick to the proverbial shit sandwich, peppering their acerbic comments with insincere compliments to even things out. But an editor who wants to be like J.K. Simmons in Whiplash will always drive you insane.

4. Giving props to the other guy.

Freelance writers are notoriously thin-skinned, so it’s probably more than a little unfair to begrudge our colleagues their well-earned props. But reading about fellow writers who have knocked it out of the park day in and day out can get old. Whether it’s a stream of accolades on HipChat or Slack, or a list of top performers being emailed out each week, hearing about how great everyone else is can make even the most confident writer feel a little left out. The worst is when these are tied to insultingly low incentives—five bucks for the most pageviews, gobbled up by that guy who enjoys posting self-promotional threads on obscure message boards. Then you get to read your editor sing his praises the following week. Fun times.

5. Always canceling or showing up late.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve only had to use with two clients in almost five and a half years of freelancing. My patented way to deal with editors who are constantly late for conference calls or meetings is to reschedule immediately rather than wait by my phone. And my way to deal with cancellations is to reschedule for a different day rather than later that afternoon.

Editors are busy. We get it. And sometimes things come up. But that’s no excuse for habitually disrespecting other people’s time. Writers are busy too!

6. Speaking of lateness…

Freelancers have to do an awful lot of waiting—and this includes waiting for official assignment letters and contracts, or even contact information for specific sources editors want quoted in a post. We’ve gotten used to it. But when editors give you that information you absolutely need days after they’ve promised—and when they don’t even change the deadline—it really hurts the team.

7. Disappearing after the pitch.

Editors often complain about writers who pitch great stories and then disappear when the deadline rolls around—or when revisions are due. But editors are also prone to the disappearing act. They’ll enthusiastically reply to a pitch and tell you it’s perfect for them, and then poof, no contract, no response to follow-up emails.

8. Not acknowledging a draft.

A juicy scoop landed on my desk a week ago, and I spent the better part of that morning pitching a quick post on it to multiple sites. Eventually I got a bite from a dream site I’ve been trying to break into for a long time. I spent the rest of the day reporting on the post—sending multiple emails to potential sources and experts speaking on background, poring through documents, and trying to track down research materials. I walked to a café to spend a few more hours converting my jumbled mess of notes into crisp, clean copy. Then I continued editing and refining into the wee morning hours.

I submitted my post at about 4 a.m. for a 9 a.m. deadline, and was rewarded with… well, nothing. This, sadly, is fairly typical. It’s most frustrating when the post is a rush piece or for a new editor. Of course, editors can’t read everything instantly, but a simple thank-you email (or even one acknowledging receipt of the story) would be nice—or at least nicer than the sound of crickets chirping.

9. Twisting scientific facts into misleading copy.

Covering health and fitness for sites dependent on traffic used to be my bread and butter. If you’re an enthusiast, the fun part is getting to write about what you know and love. The hard part, however, is editors sometimes expect you to write copy that misinterprets scientific studies in a way that’s misleading at best.

As much as readers want to read about a surprising new study that allows them to lose weight by sitting on the couch, the fact is that science moves slowly, and posts about newfangled miracle cures don’t live up to the hype. One would hope editors realize long-term loyalty trumps quick hits, but sometimes it’s hard to escape that mentality.

10. Who’s got your back?

Even if you’re good at your job and give it everything you have, sometimes things go awry, often through no fault of your own. Is a bad editor going to immediately cave to a troll mob? Probably. Refuse to moderate increasingly abusive comments? Likely. Defer to an angry exec who is his boss’s boss? Definitely.

If you have more editorial gripes that deserve to make a list, share your thoughts with us at @yaelwrites and @TheFreelancer. With a few more of these, we’ll be able to make a coffee table book that we can all send passive-aggressively to our worst editors next Christmas.

Image by Luis Molinero
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