Friday, June 19, 2009

Editors don’t like...

...all kinds of things, apparently.

Have you ever had a writer, who was commenting on your work, slip that into margins or onto the page?

I’m always slightly awestruck by the omniscient knowledge implicit in that comment. This person must actually know every acquisitions editor in every English language publishing house on earth. Not only do they know them, they know them intimately enough to know for a fact what they don’t like.

Editors (all editors since there is never a qualifier on that comment) don’t like adjectives or adverbs or explanatory dialogue tags or first person or present tense or back story or novels that open with description or passive verbs or dream sequences or single POV or multiple POV or omniscient POV or poetic language or plain language or lots of characters or too few characters or...

If it was as simple as all that, then why does this universal pool of like-minded acquisitions editors keep contracting fiction that contains all of the above?

How can that be?

Go to the library or the bookstore and pull ten recently published books of different genres off the shelf. Read through the opening page or two of each. I bet every “mistake” in the so-called writing lexicon of what “not to do” will be there.

I don’t know about you folks, but even if I wasn’t an editor myself, logic tells me that acquisitions editors like all kinds of stuff. In fact, it looks like they actually like things they don’t like. If you pick fifty or a hundred books to peruse, it looks like they maybe even like those things they “don’t like,” a lot.

Don’t fall for it when someone tells you you’ve broken a writing rule. If they can direct you to that one set of rules that all publishers and acquisitions editors keep open on their desks, then please share with the rest of us. But they can’t do that, because it doesn’t exist.

Write the novel or short story that you’d like to read. And you know what you like to read because it’s published and you buy these books. So someone else likes to read what you like to read as well, including an acquiring editor.

Forget the rules; write from the heart and the gut. If it feels good in that secret place all of us writers have where we read something we’ve just written and it makes us smile, then it will make someone else smile. That someone is likely the same someone who buys and reads the same kind of books that you buy and read—and the acquiring editor who snapped them up.

Try not to get caught up in the world of opinion on writing that proliferates on the internet and in how-to writing books. It’s all opinion and nothing more. Some of it may work for you and your manuscript, some of it won’t work at all. Just remember that if this set of absolute “rules” existed, it would be published somewhere. This magic book would be on the curriculum of every creative writing class in the English speaking world. Every aspiring writer would be directed to it as soon as they typed “creative writing” into Google, right?

There is no such set of rules and no credible list of what editors don’t like.

Give yourself the freedom to plaster the page with words. Colour outside the lines. Be messy.

Be you.

I’ll have another post coming up on what it is that writers can give you that editors can’t, and vice versa. It will be entirely my opinion. :-) Like everything on this blog.


  1. 100% true, all of it.

    I think the big difference is that some writers know the rules and bend, break or twist them to their work, creating a style that stands out (in a good way, of course). Others might not have the knowledge necessary to choose when to apply rules or not, so they hear 'Do this, don't do that' and it becomes gospel.

  2. Amen! If we followed every "rule" of writing, then all our work would be the same. Creativity requires some sort of flexibility somehwere.

    Nice point, Angela. :D

  3. Perfect timing! I was just going through some crits of my work and thinking my writing sucks. You know what? It doesn't. The story is great, even if it doesn't follow the exact formula. I believe in myself as a writer and in my story. Sometimes, I just need a little reminder. So, thanks.

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. You are so right! Over and over I read from other WRITERS (who are published and famous) write from your heart, your gut. Write what you want to write and full steam ahead. I. e. don't write for editors and agents, write for yourself.