C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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How to be a Bad Editor

The phrase that pays.

Image by pirateyjoe via Flickr

Most editors are pretty good to great. Then there are the others. Here’s how to be one of those bad editors:

1. Edit without being asked. A copy editor I knew came up with a detailed critique of small advertisement I had for one of my businesses. I hadn’t asked and his manner was that he had caught me out at something. He hadn’t, actually. He didn’t like the paragraph’s wording but everyone else was okay with it. At best, his editorial suggestion was a lateral move. Worse, when I gently brushed him off, he didn’t have the grace to shut up. Then I had to brush him off with force.

2. Treat catches like a moral victory. A newspaper editor descended on me because, on my first day, I wrote Sidney instead of Sydney, Nova Scotia. I thanked her for catching my error. “This is not a minor error!” she said. “I said thanks,” I replied. “Were you looking for? Blood? I’m fresh out.” Mistakes happen. It was her job to catch my errors. I owed her my gratitude, not an apology.

3. Be very sure, and pissy about it, even when you’re wrong. A teacher, who was presumably responsible for helping generations of students, circled a word in a business document. She used her red pen as if I were one of her unfortunate, young charges (though I was about 30 at the time.) “You got this wrong!” she said with delight. (See #2) By that time I’d already edited and/or proofread hundreds of books. I knew what I was talking about and here’s the rule: You affect the effect. This is a common mistake. She stayed sure I was wrong. It was just too delightful to think she was right, I guess. That’s another common mistake.

4. Treat your writers like crap. (And refer to them as “your” writers, as if we’re owned.) Working in a big daily’s newsroom was an intense environment, sometimes unnecessarily so. For some reason, the air was also very dry. You’d think all those tears would be humidifying. Anyway, I had a nosebleed and some assignment editor (who was all of a year or two my senior) walked up and dropped an assignment on the keyboard upon which I was trying not to bleed. He didn’t say a word about my hemorrhage and went on about his work. A year later I was working in publishing with someone who had worked at the Toronto Star and she told me she’d experienced the exact same story with a person who was just as uncaring about her welfare. Weird.

5. Be a strict grammarian. Insist on obsolete rules. Insist the legendary “to boldly go where no one has gone before” was a mistake in two Star Trek series, a crime worthy of beheading. And never allow anyone to start a sentence with “And.” Also, grow visibly nauseous when anyone dares to end a sentence with a preposition. That’s something up with which you will not put.

6. Insist that new word usage is the cause of all our economic, political and moral woes. Insist we should freeze the language at some arbitrary point that makes you comfortable. Verbing nouns particularly irks you. Exclaim your objections and try not to faint with the vapours when someone says, “I’ll google that.” Civilization began to end when we started using “impact” as a verb and texting abbreviations are not analogous to a new language. Texting is a sign of End Times.

7. Be a tyrant. Change your mind. A lot. This is particularly fun for assignment editors. Expect writers to read your mind about how you want the story to go. Don’t tell them what you want. That would ruin your fun. Instead, get angry when they guess wrong. For extra bonus douche points, decree that you loathe simultaneous submissions and take forever to answer queries (or don’t answer them at all.) Pay a pittance on publication. Better, pay in bird-cage liners and tell seasoned writers they should be grateful you’re allowing them to “pay their dues.”

8. Be cruel in your rejections. When work you’ve turned down succeeds elsewhere, never doubt your judgment. Sniff at the plebian tastes of the masses instead. Better, put up examples of queries you find execrable and hilarious on your website. Mock it mercilessly. Sure, you’re a ball breaker and a soul crusher, but if you call what you do helping, it’s okay.

9. When you edit, don’t focus on making the text better. Focus on making yourself feel better. It’s that kind of prioritizing that can make you a famous infamous editor. Be sure to crow to everyone how x,y, and z author owes everything to you because you gave them their big break. Act as if you did them a favour (instead of the business decision it really was.) When your fledgling authors come to their senses and flee to work with someone sane, declare them a bunch of ingrates and try to have them banned from ever making a living or even having lunch in your town again. (Yes, these legends aren’t just in New York. I’ve met a couple of these demons in Toronto’s publishing houses,too. They’re people who never figured out that it’s not how you treat your superiors and your supposed equals that defines you. How people see you is determined by how you treat your assistant and those lowly writers.)

10. Be a frustrated writer. I once knew an editor who worked in educational publishing. She was a nice person, or at least I thought so until I saw an example of her work. While it’s true, particularly of educational publishing, that there is a style to follow, her changes to copy were gratuitous. She wanted to write, not edit. It showed. 

Follow these ten examples and you will soon be recognized as an editor to fear, loathe and avoid. Congratulations!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, Horror, publishing, Rant, Top Ten, , , , , , ,

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