5 things that irritate editors & agents
by Jennifer Silva Redmond
People often ask what my pet peeves are as an editor. All of these might be able to be lumped under one heading: Being unprofessional. Writing can be fun, but being a published author is a job, and, as such, it should be taken seriously. So, here are the top five things authors do that make them seem unprofessional.
1. Being sloppy/lazy. Before you send your manuscript out to be read/evaluated, please read it through one last time. You’ll be glad you did if you spot Chapter 5 missing, or notice that a main character’s name is misspelled. Attention to detail is important from the very first contact with an agent or editor—for example, getting someone’s name wrong isn’t a great way to start off a relationship. A quick check of the publisher/agency’s website will yield the correct spelling of their name. And if it is stated clearly in their submission guidelines that they don’t accept certain genres, don’t send queries for books in those genres.
2. Being paranoid. For example, demanding that I sign confidentiality clauses so I won’t steal your novel’s premise, or worrying more about protecting your copyright than about your writing itself. Writing instructors (and publishers) will assure you that your work already has your legal copyright by virtue of you having written it. The author of a nonfiction work may have reason for being protective about her ideas, but even in that case, it is the writing/style/structure of the manuscript that makes ideas come across and be absorbed easily, causing the eventual book to sell well.
If you have paid me to read and evaluate your book, why would you want to spend time telling me how wrong I am rather than listening to what I have to say?
3. Being unprepared. I assume that writers have shown their manuscript to at least a few friends or beta readers, if not had it workshopped before they hire me. If the first pages have a number of obvious, major errors in them, it becomes clear that they have been afraid to let anyone else read their “precious baby” (perhaps for fear of thievery; see number 2). There is nothing wrong with errors in early drafts, but I’ve seen manuscripts where the document’s margins and indents were not even consistent from page 1 to page 2, or where the paragraphs were indented and had spaces between them.
4. Being unable to take criticism. If you have paid me to read and evaluate your book, why would you want to spend time telling me how wrong I am rather than listening to what I have to say? If I point out that something was not found in the manuscript—on the page, as it were—then you
telling me it is on the page, I just didn’t see, understand, or “get” it doesn’t help either of us. Listen politely, go home and digest the info, calmly re-read the chapter or section, then see if you still think that I am wrong. A big plus to this approach is that you won’t have to eat crow when you decide to take the editor or agent’s advice.
5. Being unclear about their project. Being able to quickly and succinctly tell someone about your novel (including what genre it fits into) is a must. There are classes and workshops on how to pitch, but like most difficult things, it gets easier each time you do it, so it is up to you to practice. You should know the length (in word count, not pages) and also be able to tell the entire story smoothly and succinctly, if asked. No one expects you to do it right the first time, but no book industry pro wants to be stuck there as you ramble incoherently, trying to figure it out while face to face with them … then it smacks of cluelessness.
Jennifer Silva Redmond is a freelance editor and publishing consultant, as well as a popular writing instructor and speaker. Long-time editor-in-chief and acquisitions editor at award-winning Sunbelt Publications, she teaches at the Southern California Writers Conference, San Diego Writers, Ink, was prose editor for A Year in Ink Vol 3, and co-founder of the critically acclaimed Sea of Cortez Review. Her essays, articles, and fiction have been published in anthologies, magazines, and books, including Latinos in Lotusland and A Year in Ink; More info, a select list of edited books, and client testimonials can be found at www.jennyredbug.com.
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