How to Survive Submitting Your Writing to Editors

Jul 06, 2016

Sharing new work is always agonizing. There's just no way around it. But here are some ideas so you survive the process:

1. Articulate your goal

Are you looking for deep revisions? Help with a particular issue? A pat on the back? Granular, sentence level work? Do you need someone gentle or can you handle someone who goes straight for the problem areas? It's important to articulate your goals clearly--your professional goals and your emotional needs. That way, you can be armed with specific questions and ask for specific follow up. You can only advocate for yourself when you know what it is you want from the experience. You'd be surprised by how many people go into this process and are unclear about what they hope to get out of it.

2. Pick the right editor

Often we are too close to our own work to be able to tell whether it is having the effect on readers that we intend. We need good readers to help us achieve our goals. The key is finding the right reader at the right stage of the process.

When you workshop material as you go along, you’ll essentially be writing by committee. Make sure you trust your peers, or take their feedback with a grain of salt. Same goes for beta readers (who you can find, by the way, on Goodreads). You do need “regular” readers, but be aware that they are hugely swayed by personal taste and are unlikely to offer you an actual critique. My advice is to pick carefully, and find someone with industry experience. Jane Friedman has a great checklist here.

3. Don't jump the gun

Do not submit your work before it's ready. Now, this is obviously easier said than done. How are you supposed to know when it's "ready" and what does being "ready" actually mean?

    • You have read it as a reader not as a writer. You are asking yourself: Does this make sense? Is my point clear? What is my point, exactly? Am I engaging the reader's interest?
    • Time has passed. You did not just finish the draft yesterday. You have slept on it. Preferably, you have worked on something else before returning to your piece in order to edit it again, with fresh eyes.
    • The copy is totally clean. You have read it a thousand times and there are no spelling or formatting errors. Do not underestimate how badly minor errors undermine your work.

4. Be proactive--but don't be defensive

By all means, engage your reader with thoughtful questions and ask for clarification about advice that you don't quite understand. It makes sense for you to make the best use of this opportunity, so don't come away with a foggy understanding of the reaction to your work.

However, don't use this interaction as an opportunity to push back. It's often tempting for new writers to try to persuade editors of their point of view. But your goal is not to convince the reader that you are right, it's to get a good understanding of a professional's opinion of your writing. The reader is giving you his/her subjective--and seasoned--feedback. You don't have to agree with what is said (and you certainly have a right to keep your piece as is), but you've asked for this person's opinion, so respect it.

5. Take copious notes

Professional editors usually offer phone or in person critiques, and often write editorial letters. I advocate asking for both. When you discuss your work, make certain to write everything down, and then read through your notes carefully afterwards. 

6. Keep your chin up

Sometimes expert readers can be very blunt. Be upfront about the kind of feedback you can handle. You have to keep the faith. Dreaming is what fuels creative fires. If you're prepared for an emotional and informative experience, you're likely to get much more out of it. 

And again, remember that ultimately, all feedback—even from professional editors—is subjective.

7. End on a positive note 

Whatever the reaction to your work, even if the feedback seems overwhelming or unconstructive, express your appreciation for the advice. Your reader put time and energy into forming an opinion, and you may want to contact him or her again sometime down the line. It's in your own interests not to burn bridges.

Good luck!