5 Types Of Editors Who Drive Freelance Writers Absolutely Crazy (And Away)

It’s not uncommon for the writer-editor relationship to devolve into one rife with frustration. It doesn’t have to be this way. Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

During the course of the past six years of my professional journey — much of which has been spent in writing-heavy projects — I’ve worked with my fair share of professional editors.

Some of these relationships have been stellar. In fact, one particular editor has become both a mentor and a continued source of referrals. This, I’d like to think, is how it should be — or at least a best-case scenario. Writers and editors are united through this crazy minefield of getting paid to produce copy. We can be friends. We should be friends.

Occasionally, though, you run into writer-editor relationships that are adversarial and sour from the get-go, poisoned even. I’ve seen a few of those too. I’ve rarely stuck around long enough to see how they might evolve.

The common denominator: the editors seemed to be at pains to justify their place in the content-production process by being as brutal and nitpicky as possible. Such needless muscle-flexing isn’t constructive and usually just ends up driving writers to clients with more pleasant working conditions.

Some specific things that lousy editors do that bug writers and cause them to find better people to work for:

Editors Who Try To Take Over The Writing Process

As a writer, I enjoy working with editors who see the big picture that sometimes escapes me when I’m working at the surface level on the details of a particular project. These editors provide a vital second set of eyes to ensure that what ends up going to the client is likely to be as satisfactory as possible.

Am I missing something important about the client’s value proposition? Did I write something that’s going to sound dissonant with how the rest of this project is being communicated? Like good managers, editors open doors to better performance. Like bad managers, the bad ones tend to micromanage, stifle, and demoralize.

I love editors who help me take a step back from the painting of my own work. I don’t love those who squabble over word choices –interjecting subjective preferences or hang-ups — or tell me that we need to stick in 50 more words to reach an arbitrary word count.

When a piece of copy comes back with some big picture insights and a lot of pedantry, it’s a frustrating experience trying to get the next draft right.

Editors Who Hate Everything You Write

I’ve rarely found working with editors who seem to hate everything that I write a fruitful experience. It’s not something that I commonly see being ‘turned around’ through dint of time spent together. If that’s how we start out, I can say with near certainty that things aren’t going to miraculously turn around. Even if we give it a year.

When it’s immediately apparent that an editor (or client) simply hates the way I write in English, I know the relationship is probably not going to work out.

On the other hand, it’s of course normal for editors to return a draft with feedback and requests for things to be changed.

However those who make very apparent that they hated everything about the piece and the way it was communicated … we seldom have a bright future together. Or any one at all.

Editors Who Launch Ad Hominem Attacks On Writers

You’d be surprised. This really does happen. Sadly.

I’ve encountered a few editors over the years who left feedback that was downright insulting, unprofessional, and way below the belt.

“Did you even read what I wrote in my last email?” is never an appropriate way to vent annoyance.

The relationship between a writer, an editor, a freelance client, and an end client (this is a common arrangement when working with agencies, for instance) is supposed to be a professional one.

None of us are teaming up to perform lifesaving heart surgery. There’s just no need to be aggressive and hurtful. The stakes just aren’t that high. Almost always.

There’s no excuse for insults. Or unfounded accusations. Or other forms of nastiness that sully what can and should be a pleasant shared creative process. The moment an editor begins tearing into you with a series of insults, it’s time to have a head to head.

Editors Who Are Tactless, Mean, And Pass The Buck

An excellent brief is the foundation for a successful writing process.

Unfortunately, far too often, I’ve seen clients get it horribly wrong.

Sometimes, briefs are missing vital information that absolutely should have been communicated but wasn’t.

When editors haven’t actually seen the briefs that were sent to writers (a common mistake; I see it happen all the time), it’s too common for them to offload unfounded recriminations on the writer (“why didn’t you include X? It was in the brief!”) Nobody likes being blamed for somebody else’s error. Particularly when your client is looped into CC.

Other briefs are way too detailed. If your writer is being paid $150 for a piece of collateral, it’s almost always unreasonable to ask them to read a 200 page PDF cover to cover to prepare for the project (see: next point).

In other instances, editors shame writers to their clients (or their end-clients in agency relationships). Or pass the buck onto them for internal disorganization — like briefs that were missing key information or essential expectations that went uncommunicated.

Again, it’s not appropriate to blame the writer for these things, although it sadly quite often happens.

We’re not mind-readers. We receive a set of instructions and do our best to get things right. If the blueprint was faulty, the building isn’t going to turn out the way you envisioned it.

Editors Who Don’t Understand Freelancing … Or Know The Contract

Here’s another annoyance.

As a freelancer, I have to ring-fence my time pretty carefully. Otherwise, I don’t make enough money to pay rent (etc, etc).

Over the years, I’ve learned to use detailed contracts and to spell out with precision to clients exactly how much work is included for a given price. You get one revision. You pay this much. I do this. And if all goes well, we all leave happy.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to encounter editors who are also freelancers but who have no idea what you’ve agreed with the client.

It’s not uncommon to have to (sometimes repeatedly) inform an editor that their requests are out of scope. As a writer, I don’t mind doing this. But it’s not exactly pleasant to keep have to telling your client that they’re effectively asking you to engage in free labor.

In other instances, editors are in-house and have never freelanced themselves. This type of editor is likely to make unreasonable requests of freelancers like invite them to participate in endless meetings.

The best editors, in my experience, either are freelancers or have freelanced.

They’ve taken the time to study the contracts their writers have in place with the clients and have a good handle on what’s reasonable and unreasonable to expect.

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com