When Monya Baker (bio) and I drew the straw of writing “Working With Editors and Their Edits” for The Science Writers’ Handbook, my first response was terror. I imagined one of my editors reading the chapter and chuckling, “Oh, THAT’S what Jessica thinks editors want? Bwah ha ha!” I learned later that Monya had similar thoughts.
To spare ourselves, we decided to actually ask the editors. We brainstormed the nagging questions writers have as we pass our stories to editors through cyberspace, but never have the time or the courage to ask. Things like: What merits a call to the editor? How should we handle edits? What drives editors nuts and what makes them cheer?
We distilled answers from editors at the New York Times, Nature, Slate and more, and combined it with advice from reporters who write for those publications as well as Discover, High Country News, and National Geographic.
Adam Rogers of Wired reassured us, “We tend to think as writers that all editors want to do is rewrite, to step on our art. Nothing could be further from the case.” Laura Helmuth of Slate said that the best writers see every stage as an opportunity to make the story better.
And how do writers keep from bristling when an editor introduces errors or asks for more reporting? “I start with the assumption that we’re teammates, on the same side, and both trying to serve the story,” said Jill U Adams (bio). Kendall Powell (bio) said she views her relationship with editors largely as customer service, making sure her clients are satisfied.
Both writers and editors had plenty of concrete suggestions. Now it’s your chance to pick the brains of a new batch of top-flight editors and writers on this subject at the upcoming NASW meeting. Jennifer Bogo of Popular Science, Siri Carpenter of Discover, and Stayton Bonner of Men’s Journal will join writers Helen Fields (bio) and Bryn Nelson (bio) in answering questions about how to make the best of the writer-editor relationship.
We’d like to kick off the panel discussion here on the blog. Whether or not you can make it to the meeting, please post questions, anecdotes, and other comments about writer-editor interactions. We’ll bring your comments to our session on Saturday morning,
November 1 (Sorry, that’s November 2) and report back here after the meeting.
Image credit: Pearson,KyleD