5 Things that Make an Editor See Red

by Jennifer Silva Redmond

The question this month was what makes me “see red” as an editor. All of these might be able to be lumped under one heading: Being unprofessional. Writing can be fun, but being a published author is a job, and, as such, it should be taken seriously. So, here are the top five things authors do that make them seem unprofessional.

1. Being sloppy and/or lazy.

Before you send your manuscript out to be read or evaluated, please read it through one last time. You’ll be glad you did if you spot chapter 5 missing, or notice that a main character’s name is misspelled.

Attention to detail is also important from the very first contact with an agent or editor—spelling someone’s name wrong isn’t a great way to start off a relationship! All it takes is a quick check of the publisher or agency’s website to get it right. While you’re there, double check the submission guidelines and follow them exactly. If it is stated clearly in their submission guidelines that they don’t accept certain genres, don’t send queries for books in those genres!

2. Being paranoid.

Don’t ask me to sign a confidentiality clause so I won’t steal your novel’s premise, or worry about protecting your copyright. Writing instructors (and publishers) will assure you that your work already has your legal copyright by virtue of you having written it. The author of a nonfiction work may have reason for being protective about her ideas, but even in that case, it is the writing/style/structure of the manuscript that makes ideas come across and be absorbed easily, causing the eventual book to sell well.

3. Being unprepared.

I assume that writers have shown their manuscript to at least a few friends or Beta readers, if not had it workshopped before they hire me. If the first pages have a number of obvious, major errors in them, it becomes clear that they have been afraid to let anyone else read their “precious baby” (perhaps for fear of thievery; see number 2).

There is nothing wrong with errors in early drafts, but I’ve seen manuscripts where the document’s margins and indents were not even consistent from page 1 to page 2, or where the paragraphs were indented and had spaces between them. Make sure your manuscript follows your editor or publisher’s formatting preferences—or at least industry standards—before you send it to them!

4. Being unable to take criticism.

If you have paid me to read and evaluate your book, why would you want to spend time telling me how wrong I am rather than listening to what I have to say? If I point out that something was not found in the manuscript—on the page, as it were—then you telling me it is on the page, I just didn’t see, understand, or “get” it doesn’t help either of us.

Listen politely, go home and digest the info, calmly re-read the chapter or section, then see if you still think that I am wrong.

5. Being unclear about their project.

Being able to quickly and succinctly tell someone about your novel (including what genre it fits into) is a must. There are classes and workshops on how to pitch, but like most difficult things, it gets easier each time you do it, so it is up to you to practice.

You should know the length (in word count, not pages) and also be able to tell the entire story smoothly and succinctly, if asked. No one expects you to do it right the first time, but no book industry pro wants to be stuck there as you ramble incoherently, trying to figure it out while face to face with them…then it smacks of cluelessness.

In Conclusion

When taking your manuscript out into the world, do it with professional attention to detail. Remember, first impressions are hard to forget. The more seriously you take your work, the more likely someone else will want to work with you.


Jennifer Silva Redmond, Editor

Jennifer Silva Redmond is a freelance editor, publishing consultant, writing instructor, and speaker. Formerly editor-in-chief at Sunbelt Publications, she is on the staff of the Southern California Writers Conference, teaches at San Diego Writers, Ink, and was prose editor for A Year in Ink Vol 3. Her essays, articles, and fiction have been published in anthologies and national magazines, including Latinos in Lotusland, Books & Buzz, and A Year in Ink, Vol 11. A list of books she has edited and her client testimonials can be found at www.jennyredbug.com

5 thoughts on “5 Things that Make an Editor See Red

  1. Wonderful information! Thank you. The explanation of copyright was very helpful: “…your work already has your legal copyright by virtue of you having written it.”
    I’m wondering about your view on putting chapters of your book up at a place like Wattpad or other websites for Beta feedback before submitting to an editor. Ironically, I happen to be a slow, sub-vocalizing reader and am hesitant to offer to read someone’s novel in exchange for them reading mine. Do you have any recommendations for that first or second draft of a writer’s novel before submitting it?

    1. I write the first rough draft in pencil on a legal pad. After typing it into the computer, my wife reads it and critiques. I go over that, critique it myself, correct and print another copy which goes to my critique group of 6 who each go over it. After correcting that, I leave it alone for a couple of months, then go over it again. Probably 5 or 6 more times before I feel it’s ready. Works for me.

  2. Hear, hear! As someone who spends a lot of time critiquing others’ writing (both at work and for fellow writers), I’ve run into just about all of these problems. The worst, for me, is #4 — not being able to accept criticism. I totally understand, having been on the other side so many times: as the writer, of course that paragraph / motive / plot point is *totally* clear to me! Look, I hint at it right here in this one sentence! But if the reader/critique partner/editor didn’t pick up on my subtle hints, well, maybe they were too subtle after all.

    Thanks for another great article!

  3. This information is helpful on so many levels. Even in business correspondence and preparing documents, such as contracts, sloppy and unprofessional presentations speak volumes.

    On one of your other points, I am in favor of finding a good writing group with a sound leader. My writing has improved by being part of such a group. It helps with criticism and technique.

    Keep writing.

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