I’ve danced around this subject, hinted at it, and addressed the margins, but it’s time for a rant.
The past month has set a record for writers I really like trying my patience and ones I’ve never met trying my nerves. So here’s the unadorned version of what’s really in my head (and sometimes in my e-mails) when professionalism goes down the toilet.
I’ve been one of you, dear freelancers, and most months I’m still one of you. I still write for others on a semi-regular basis. I too have deadlines, commitments, things I promised that I need to deliver. And I too have a family, a real life, and other things that get in the way.
So I feel your pain, but much of your pain is self-inflicted.
These are all excerpts from actual e-mails or conversations, but names have been withheld to protect the guilty. Here’s how to really piss off an editor, for sure.
1) Don’t meet your deadlines. Better yet, don’t even come close.
“Yes, I know I said I would get the article to you [two months ago], but I’ve been incredibly busy.”
The translation of that is either a) You’re a total f&#k-up or b) what you promised me is last on your list of priorities. You know who in this world is NOT busy? People who don’t have any work. People who can’t understand why that editor they used to work for won’t reply to their queries. Keep making excuses. Somebody someday will care about why you can’t keep your promises, I’m sure. They might even marry you.
2) Fail to figure out how to format your photos.
“I’m sorry for all the problems with the photos over the past two weeks for this story, but I’m just not techie enough to figure out how to reduce the resolution like you’re asking.”
Once upon a time you could be a writer who just typed out text, leaving those pesky photos to a pro photographer. Why act like things have changed? Who has time to learn how to edit, crop, and reduce your photos for the web, then upload them to the cloud?
Hey, just send a 20 mb e-mail to your editor, who is on a slow connection in Bolivia right now. She’ll get it sometime tonight if she stays plugged in. Keep doing that and I’m sure the 21st century can wait.
3) Don’t read the guidelines, then complain about them.
“You’ve obviously got some kind of hang-up about accepting articles from writers who don’t fit your narrow requirements, so I’ll take this somewhere that it’ll be appreciated.”
We love it when you submit something totally contrary to what we’ve said we’ll look at, then ask us to make an exception for your brilliance because you couldn’t be bothered to read the guidelines before sending your query. Insult us on the way out for good measure and say we suck because we didn’t see how great you are. You’ll get lots of work that way because editors never talk to each other at conferences, on message boards, or by e-mail. And it’s not like we can do a search in our e-mail when you query again later, at this publication or elsewhere.
4) Overhype your greatness.
“This will surely rank as the greatest travel story you have ever published. Everyone I have shown it to is in awe and can’t believe it’s not already in a major magazine.”
Sure, you could send me a link to a portfolio page showing the articles you’ve published, the awards you’ve won, and some statistics about your influence, but why deal in dry facts? Instead tell me over and over how great you are and how the article you’re going to send me will be so fantastic it will make me bow down in wonder as heavenly light hits me from overhead. We editors love unsubstantiated hyperbole. Especially from someone we’ve never heard of, whom nobody we know has recommended.
5) Show you clearly don’t understand the publication’s slant.
Sent to me at Luxury Latin America: “Please publish this story on my latest foray into Thailand, where I explored the hill tribe areas and stayed in local villages.”
The day is short and you’ve got 50 blasted queries to send out. Who has time to read guidelines, or even the name of the publication? Time is money. You’ve got to get a lot of nos to get to yes. Always be closing. It’s a numbers game.
6) Leave all the editing to the editor.
“I know you said a maximum of 2,000 words, but I just couldn’t figure out what else to cut in this. Right now it’s at 3,700.”
Don’t just assume wiggle room of 10 percent or so, go all out and just submit whatever the hell you feel like sending! The editor’s got nothing better to do than deciding which half of your article to send to the scrap heap. Heck, leave a bunch of typos in there too while you’re at it and be sure to put two spaces between sentences, just like you were told in typing class when using those IBM Selectrics.
7) Whine about rewrites.
“For what you’re paying me, I really don’t want to have to do any more work on this. The piece was excellent as I submitted it and shouldn’t need any rewrites.”
Yes, everything that has flowed from your fingertips has been perfect. It’s not like any famous writers have ever had to go back and rework an article or book, right? When it’s done, it’s done! How dare that editor suggest improvements! Puff out your chest, stick to your stance, and go elsewhere if they don’t see the benefit of publishing your raw genius.
8) Do nothing to promote your work.
“Sorry, but I’m a writer, not a salesperson. I’m happy to submit stories, but I’m not active on any social media platforms and I don’t have any site of my own where I can link to it.”
Hey, Faulkner and Hemingway weren’t on Twitter and they did just fine. Paul Theroux didn’t need 2,000 Facebook friends. Pico Iyer doesn’t have a blog. That stuff’s all a distraction and I’m sure it will pass. People will just discover and share what you wrote because it’s so great. That always works, for any kind of art.
9) _____________ (Your turn other editors!)
Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel is the editor of two webzines and three blogs. He has won some awards for his own writing and what he has edited.