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3 Constant Struggles Between Writers and Editors

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

In this industry, there are editors and there are writers. Some editors work as writers and some writers work as editors. In addition to much of the work overlapping, we face many of the same challenges, and share many of the same joys. Why, then, does there always seem to be a constant struggle between writers and editors? I, myself, have had my fair share of incredible editors that I've worked with — but, there have also been editors that made me wonder if I'm living in a Twilight Zone.

Although I have worked an an editor, too, I definitely consider myself more of a writer. And, while I am certainly biased based on my own experiences over the last five years, I have also heard from editors that have had similar frustrations on their side.

All in all, these struggles tend to fall in the same categories:

1) Lack of Communication

The number one problem in any business is a lack of communication, but it's a real issue when it happens among writers and editors. On my side as a writer, there's nothing that frustrates me more than an editor who does not answer their emails. I'm not talking about replying to pitches - I understand editors cannot respond to every single pitch that turns up in their inbox. I'm talking about when you've already been commissioned a piece, the details are covered, the deadlines are set, etc.

But, then, you have a question. Or, you have no questions, and you submit your article by the deadline like you're supposed to.

Then, nothing. Radio silence.

Your editor has essentially ghosted you. Now, you're getting worried because you were hoping, first and foremost, that your hard work would be acknowledged. But, you also want to get paid. Time goes by, and time gets wasted. You're not sure if you have to begin sending threatening emails, thereby ruining the relationship.

Of course, editors have experienced this with their writers, too. They expect their writers to get the article in by a certain time, but then, perhaps, the writer had an emergency come up, and instead of letting the editor know, they don't say anything — or, they say something at the last minute. Now, the editor can't meet their publication schedule, and they are scrambling, looking for another writer at the very last minute.

2) Unclear Expectations and/or Objectives

It is so important that an editor makes the guidelines clear from the get-go. Likewise, it's important that writers are transparent about their skills and experience when contacting the editor with a pitch or when applying for a job. Thankfully, there are many editors I've worked with that produced very clear guidelines, regarding everything from the article's format, to SEO keywords that should be included, and even payment schedules. But, I've had editors that either a) provided no guidelines b) their guidelines were contradictory or c) the person in charge of writing the guidelines was not supposed to be in charge of that, creating problems later on.

For example, I once had an editor tell me an article was "on spec" after commissioning my work and after I submitted it, etc. She refused to pay me. Another time, an editor read my draft and approved it, saying it was great. When the article wasn't published after some time, I asked her why and she said I didn't follow through on her requests — What requests? — It was already approved! Finally, I had another "editor" who was an HR person — not an editor — who gave me guidelines that the company had created by a third party, only to bring in another third party that said I shouldn't have followed the original guidelines in the first place.

Again, these are just small circumstances that haven't impacted my entire career. But, I also wondered about an editor's experience with this.

Elen Turner, a contract editor of various travel publications with experience editing academic publications and feature journals said, "As an editor, I provide my writers and prospective writers with guidelines that answer most of the main questions they have before working together, things like expected word count, pay scale, payment method, that kind of thing."

"While these guidelines don't cover absolutely everything a writer might want to know, they are fairly comprehensive. So, there's absolutely no excuse for asking me (or editors more generally!) questions that are addressed in the guidelines. It makes me think they haven't read them or taken the care to find out what it is exactly that I'm looking for. Not all publications provide guidelines, but when they do, make sure to follow them."

Woman writing in a notebook with her laptop on her lap

3) Payment Problems

The last major struggle between writers and editors is a sensitive one, and that's pay. After five years, I'm still learning about this myself.

Ultimately, editors aren't necessarily in charge of payment, but it is there job to let their writers know how to go about getting their payments processed or to connect the writer with the appropriate party. There have been several circumstances in which I've written something, submitted it, told I'd be paid upon submission (after sending my payment details), only to have to chase down the editor to tell me, "Well, you never filed an invoice!"

Is it my job to file an invoice? Of course. But, not all institutions do invoices. And, the worst is when you are meant to file an invoice through their system, which they have never given you access to at any point. Now, you have to wait another 30 days before getting paid. Which, as freelancers, we don't really have time for.

I don't know too much about the editor's side of this, but I can imagine a few things happen for them, too. One, is that they did provide the writer with payment details, and when the writer checks their bank account a few weeks later, they contact the editor angrily wondering, "Where is my money?" Or, the editor wants to pay the writer on time, but they have to face problems from accounts payable, which is taking forever. This can make the editor look bad to the writer even though they are really trying to help. (Hence, why communication is so important.)

There are other issues with pay, too.

Kill fees.

Publications deciding they don't want to publish a piece, but refusing to pay, even though the work was done.

Or, the work not being done the way it should have, and the editor now has to do 95 percent of the work themselves, not wanting the same writer to do the edits and not wanting to pay for edits, etc.

A Never-Ending Struggle

At the end of the day, I'd say writers and editors are good friends. They have to work together no matter what. Sometimes, writers are much more likely to pitch to editors who they know are good to work with. And, sometimes, editors will only work with writers not necessarily based on their specific experience or whether or not their pitch is amazing, but if they put time into it and they seem to be a reliable person to work with.

There are other issues that come into play, and the list could go on for days: Not enough experience (on both sides), inability to follow the work through to the end (on both sides), and basic incompatibility (on both sides). There's also a sense of seniority and a hierarchy, and the debate regarding what role is more important - the editor's or the writer's.

Writers and editors both need to do a better job of communicating, being clear about expectations and guidelines, following those expectations and guidelines, and making sure the work is done correctly and thus paid for promptly. If not, there will continue to be an obvious (yet, unspoken) struggle between writers and editors.

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