The Writer's Field Guide to Editors

Freelancers are sure to come across every type of editor during their career. Here’s a veteran writer’s catalog of all the types you’ll encounter and how to work with each.

writers field guide to editors - The Writer's Field Guide to Editors

Spend enough time in the freelance trenches, and you’ll find yourself working for an eclectic array of editors. If you’re lucky, the majority will be talented individuals who have your best interests at heart, work hard on your behalf, and use their skills to make your words shine.

Unfortunately, not all editors epitomize the ideal. Some are quirky, difficult to work with, and sometimes just plain weird. Here’s a guide to the different kinds of editors you’re likely to encounter in the wilds of freelancing and how to work with them.

The Withholder. Typically short on details when making an assignment, the Withholder can be among the most frustrating editors a writer will work with. Even if they know what they want, they have difficulty conveying it, frequently leaving the writer to struggle for direction. The resulting article may be in the ballpark but not quite there, forcing the writer to make unexpected and time-consuming revisions that could have been avoided with stronger editorial guidance.

The best way to work with a Withholder is to politely demand specifics about an assignment and push until you receive them. Pointed questions will help: Do you want the direction of the article as proposed in my query, or do you have other thoughts? Are you good with the sources I have suggested, or are there others you would like me to talk to? Can you give me a tentative headline? This last question can be especially helpful because it distills the theme of an article down to a single sentence.

The Tyrant. This particular editor believes they get the best work from their writers by brutalizing them. No matter how good your article is, it’s never good enough. Your lede is horrible, and your sources stink. Then comes the demand for multiple revisions, none of which are really necessary. Understandably, the Tyrant is responsible for driving more skilled writers out of the profession than any other, because who wants to work for a jerk?

The Tyrant is a bully and needs to be dealt with as such. Refuse to put up with their badmouthing, and demand the respect you deserve. Question their demand for multiple revisions, and force them to be specific with their reasoning: What exactly is wrong with this or that? The Tyrant may eventually acquiesce and your relationship may improve, but don’t count on it. At the end of the day, you may have to ask yourself whether the paycheck is worth the abuse. If it becomes too much, walk away. There are many more markets in the freelance sea.

The Ditz. Super nice with a fun personality, the Ditz can nonetheless be a challenge for the writers with whom they work because they are scattered and unfocused. The Ditz will lose your contract or your manuscript or your invoice or all three. They’ll forget to submit your invoice to accounting, so you have to wait longer to get paid. They edit hastily, resulting in factual errors that, unfortunately, carry your byline.

A firm but gentle hand and ongoing communication are the best ways to work with a Ditz. “Just a reminder” emails confirming receipt of everything from your manuscript to your invoice will help prevent time-draining screw ups, and occasional, brief phone chats will help cement your relationship and keep everything effectively moving forward. To prevent editorial errors, ask to review prepublication galleys.

The Micromanager. This editor means well, but can’t help harassing their writers with nonstop advice, questions, and general nitpicking. Often a former freelance writer themselves, they believe they know best about everything and refuse to trust their writers to do their job properly. Freelancers often find the Micromanager so frustrating to work with that they walk away from the market.

Overcoming a Micromanager’s tendency to nitpick every aspect of an assignment can be difficult. However, it often helps to have a deep conversation about a project at the time of assignment to make sure you both are on the same page regarding content, direction, and more. This will help put the Micromanager at ease and allow you to get the job done with minimal editorial interference.

The Ghost. A polar opposite of the Micromanager, the Ghost will give you an assignment then suddenly disappear. Emails go unanswered, phone calls unreturned. After a while, contributors begin to wonder if the Ghost is still employed by the magazine.

The Ghost isn’t a bad person, they’re usually just overworked and understaffed. As a result, communication with contributors suffers. If you have questions or need specific guidance over the course of a project, it helps to let the Ghost know exactly how pressing the situation is, and that you need a response ASAP. Say so in the subject line of emails and when leaving a phone message. Emergencies, when noted as such, tend to get a response much more quickly than what may be considered less important communication.

The Mercurial. This editor isn’t just quirky, they’re literally unstable. Their numbers are few, but when you start writing for one, you’ll realize it right away. The Mercurial can be inexplicably mean and nasty, experience bizarre mood swings, turn wildly judgmental, and change their mind about minor matters without reason or explanation. One day you’re the best writer they’ve ever worked with, the next day you’re the worst.

The Mercurial can be a skilled and knowledgeable editor, but their idiosyncrasies, unprofessional tendencies, and general weirdness often drive away their best writers. If you find yourself working for one, you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth it in the long run. If the Mercurial likes you, the situation could be fine. If they don’t, your life will be miserable. The question then becomes: How badly do you need the job?

The pro. Skilled, experienced, and always at the top of their game, the Pro is the best kind of editor a writer can hope for. They love their job and enjoy helping writers make their work the very best it can be.

The Pro views their contributors as colleagues rather than subordinates and works closely with them to ensure that every article is top-notch. They work hard to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding an article’s direction and content, explain their edits and editorial changes, and ask writers for their input throughout the process. Lastly, they provide prepublication galleys for review, thus giving their writers a final opportunity to make a piece better still.

Working for a Pro can make freelance writing a dream job, so don’t hesitate to show your appreciation by letting them know how much you enjoy writing with them, and why. A kind word will go a long way in making their day. 

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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