When Editors Behave Badly…

picture-8Editors and editorial assistants hold a lot of power. They have the power to say yes to your query or they can stab your carefully crafted piece in the heart with a kill fee. This power can sometimes have the ability to corrupt even the nicest, most well-behaved editor, but what can a lowly writer do when faced with an editor whose behavior rivals a 5 year old’s?

First of all, stop thinking of yourself as lowly. Writers are an essential part of a magazine/publication/web site. The editors and editorial assistants can’t write the entire publication on their own and need writers to help come up with ideas and obviously, write pieces.

Next, try to define the behavior. Is the editor really bad at communicating in a quick and clear way? They may be busy and distracted which could explain why your email query or question hasn’t been answered. A quick and polite email saying, “Hey, I know you’re busy. I just wanted to check to see if you received my email, etc,” might help out the situation.

If it’s more serious – rude behavior, demeaning behavior or just plain old nastiness, then you need to decide if it’s something you can put up with or not. Honestly, sometimes you have to cut a publication loose. It takes a lot of gump sometimes to say enough, but when trouble is  outpacing the paycheck….

I write a lot here about what writers can do to become more professional, how they can make themselves indispensable to editors, but I would be remiss in not talking about times when there’s really nothing you can do with someone who is on a power trip.

Late pays, no pays, a billion rewrites, dismissive or rude comments…it all happens and the best thing you can do is remain professional and make a break for the hills.

So now it’s your turn – dish! What’s your favorite story of bad editor behavior?





6 responses
  1. Phil Avatar

    This goes back nearly 25 years, but I had an editor at a local newspaper (I was on staff) who would:

    “Dumb down” articles and make them wrong. This was during S&L crisis. I wrote an article explaining the purchase of one small bank by another with a brief explaination of goodwill — I was taking accounting courses at the time (had my other degree for 10 years already). She felt explanation was too complex and made it wrong: upsetting some local bankers, who had every right to be upset.

    Would leave early with work undone. There were only two of us on the desk, so I’d finish the work — working unpaid overtime — then she’d rake me over the coals for some small item that wasn’t in there.

    Would stomp around the office when upset, prompting me to bring up “If xxxx stomps in the forest and no one is there, does she make a sound?”

    One of her superiors was a managing editor who (after her departure) had me write a story on a utility budget plan. He had gotten socked at the end of the year with a huge bill. But anyone with a brain cell can follow where they are on a budget plan and know they’re ahead or behind and by how much. He changed the article, basically blasting the utility. Utility came to paper looking to have me (because my name was on it) fired due to blatant inaccuracies/falsehoods. Luckily, I had gone to college with the utility’s PR person. He told management he knew I didn’t write the story that day.

    Two days later, editor was gone. I was still there.

    Editors I deal with now are wonderful compared to that.

  2. Irene Avatar

    I have somewhat of a story about a bad editor, but it’s something that’s still ongoing and I was wondering if you had some insight into this matter.

    In 2008, I was a freelance copy editor for a music magazine. The magazine had three regional editors and a publisher, who acted more as a senior editor and, actually, the publisher is who I have the issue with. While I was copy editing, the regional editors often submitted articles to me right before deadline — or after deadline, in some cases — and I was expected to have all articles proofed and edited by deadline regardless of how soon the editors submitted the articles to me or how well they were edited prior to my receiving and, often, they weren’t edited at all.

    At the end of 2008, the magazine realized they had no more money to pay three full-time editors and a freelance copyeditor, so they were all laid off and I, after being told “maybe we’ll use you, and maybe we won’t,” was also “laid off,” in a sense. However, I was not paid for the last two issues I copy edited, which were for January and February 2009 but were completed in December 2008. It’s the middle of June and I still haven’t been paid for two months. Whenever I contact the editor/publisher, I’m told they still have no money to pay me yet, but they’ll send me a partial check in the mail. I’ve been hearing that since April, which, prior to March, all of my requests about my pay to the editor/publisher were ignored. At this point, what should a freelancer do to get paid? I want to stay in good terms with the magazine to receive work in the future, if they get their finances straightened out.

  3. David Avatar

    When I wrote that a “big cat lunged at several downtown doors before breaking through a doorway at…” an editor changed my A-1 lead in the state capital daily to “a cougar that busted through a door…”

    This particular editor used a surly persona to discourage my involvement during editorial review. I saw the word “busted” on screen, but the surly persona discouraged me from challenging what I presumed was the editors first revision and would never appear in print.

    Not only did the editor’s slang appear in print under my byline, the paper then printed a letter to the editor that named me and ridiculed my use of such slang in a lede. This was just one of many infractions against my intellectual integrity I suffered while working for “the oldest newspaper in the West.”

    I offered a business editor 10 years of compiled real estate data that demonstrated the dramatic downturn at the start of the crash in comparison to the one-year trends based on Realtor’s press releases, which the life-long editor preferred to report. The editor asked, on behalf of the newsroom and in reference to my more careful research “do you know how that makes us feel?”

    I left that newspaper, after their staff inexplicably refused to restore my access to databases where I was compiling in-depth research on a variety of topics related to ongoing assignments. Behavior toward me by an obviously offended editorial staff was seldom overtly demeaning — it was more often a posture that indicated my legitimate professional interests were bothersome and irrelevant — even when my interest was focused on widely accepted usage guidelines related to a slang term in a front-page lede.

  4. anjeeta Avatar

    I went through this recently when an editor of a popular travel blog that I used to write for decided for no apparent reason that I wasn’t worth publishing any more. Oh she coated it with the usual their editorial policies have changed, they arent accepting any queries for the moment. I was gutted when I got this email as I had been with the blog since the beginning and it seemed that my posts generated a lot comments always a sign that someone is reading them.. anyway I took the knock on the chin and moved on .. luckily I have landed some good gigs since but I do get the odd twinge when I read the said blog today. needless to say not much has changed there.. can’t really see any change in the direction of the blog or the contributors.

  5. Jeanne Grunert Avatar

    I stopped writing for an online source for a while because an editor sent me a terribly rude request to revise an article. She actually mocked a typo I had made. At first I thought she was trying to be funny, but after a while I realized she was being super sarcastic. I eventually went back and am glad I did – she was let go, and there are new editors who are much easier to work with. Although anyone can have a bad day, sometime behavior is over the top. You have to decide to give venues a second chance or not.

  6. Brandi U. Avatar

    Thank goodness I’m not alone! I’ve had several instances where I’ve had to constantly contact editors after they published my article and didn’t pay me. One publication didn’t even tell me that they published my work. I found out only after I googled my name and saw it. They also didn’t pay me either and was 6 months late. They did eventually pay me but then didn’t send me a copy like they said they would. Another time, I did a summer internship where the Editorial Assistant contacted me twice and then after I submitted 3 articles never emailed me again. Now I’m always worried that I won’t get paid and wondering what other writers do to prevent this kind of behavior?

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