“That’s What Editors Are For”…NOT!

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“That’s What Editors Are For”…NOT!

The first time was quite a few years ago. A fellow writer showed me a manuscript he had written and was getting ready to submit to an editor. I noticed a number of typos and other errors right off the bat and asked him wasn’t he going to clean up his misspellings, punctuational goofs, and other errors before sending it in. “That’s what editors are for,” he replied blithely.


Yes, a part of editors’ jobs is to edit, sure, but we (I wear both hats—I’m both an editor and a writer) who edit for publishers as opposed to freelancing (again, I do both) do much more than just edit. And the more editing we have to do on a manuscript, the less time we have for our other tasks.

Now, suppose an editor, whether he or she is a magazine editor or a book editor—it makes no difference in this case—has two manuscripts to choose from. Both are suitable for the publishing house or the magazine in question. Both are reasonably well written. But the editor has room for only one article in the issue of the magazine she’s working on. Or she has room for only one more book in her fall lineup. Which book, or which article, is she going to accept, and which of the two is she going to decline? (“Decline” is the industry term for “reject.”) Since both are of interest, both are reasonably well written and both are suitable for the publisher in question, she’s going to accept the one that needs the least work. (In industry parlance, it’s the one that’s the cleaner copy.)

In fact, sometimes even when it’s not a case of having just one slot left, an editor will still decline a manuscript that’s laden with typos, misspellings, grammar goofs and gaffes, and other flubs that will need editing.

Other writers have made similar pronouncements to me: “It’s the editor’s job to correct my mistakes.” Only up to a point. Too many strikes and you’re out. Submit a manuscript—book, article, short story, even poetry—with too many mistakes in it and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Why do that? Take the time to go over your manuscript and vet it for errors, then run it through Spellcheck to catch the errors you don’t see, but don’t depend on Spellcheck alone. Spellcheck won’t catch it if you type “their” for “there” or “your” for “you’re” or “spit” for “spite.”

You do want to sell that book, story, or article, don’t you? Then don’t burden an editor with catching all your mistakes, or you’re dooming your prospects to begin with.

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