Editors are rude (Mistake #122)

Believing that editors are rude is much like believing that people are rude — most are not, but a very few are.

But really this is about all sorts of editorly behaviour which is taken to be rude by writers new to the game of writing.

Being ignored by editors is widely perceived to be peak rude, of course.

Not acknowledging a pitch, not rejecting an article, not accepting an idea. Rudeness like no other, right?

Not responding, full stop. RUDE.

It’s not rude. I’ve said it before, but will repeat: editors are busy, and are under no obligation to respond to your offer of services, in much the same way that you are under no obligation to respond to marketing mail.

If you’re thinking ‘manners cost nothing’ then you’re wrong.

In this case, they cost the editor time to do her job; they cost him time to spend with his family. Some editors get hundreds of emails a day. Not all will be articles or article ideas, granted, but still if they replied to every one, they’d have little time to edit.

Or to have a life.

When might they actually be rude to you?

The odds begin to increase if you commit any of the following misdemeanours:

1/ Getting their name / publication wrong
2/ ‘Hi there’ / ‘Dear Editor’
3/ Demonstrating beyond doubt to never having read the publication.
4/ Making demands (‘my rates are £x per 1,000 and non-negotiable’ / ‘please respond within 48 hours’)

Do several and on a bad day I might give you short shrift, as well — and I’m an absolute delight.

While giving writing advice to a friend recently, I was reminded of an editor for whom I used to work and from whom I learned a lot, who would fire me brisk emails that appeared to spare no thought for my feelings.

“Intro boring — rewrite”. That was one of them, in response to a submission.

(The intro was boring. I did rewrite. Pretty quickly too.)

I met that editor for coffee on a number of occasions, and she was never rude. She now writes about a controversial subject, is a prominent figure in that area, and is subjected to a lot of rudeness online, but I’ve never once seen her return in kind.

Editing is a job. Publishing is a business. Admittedly, there are harder jobs and tougher businesses. And I’m not going to tell you to toughen up, because how you wish to be as a person is entirely up to you, and how you wish to react to some of the situations described here is, again, entirely your call.

But editors are trying to do their often stressful jobs in an often stressful business.

Consider keeping that in mind, as you travel the writing road ahead.

And expect to be regularly — unrudely — ignored.

Found this mistake useful? There are lots more on dealing with editors in the second of my ‘Mistakes Writers Make’ guides — 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make — available via Amazon worldwide. 

Comments 8

  • Great post, Alex. I was routinely ‘ignored’ by the editor of a magazine for months. I sent pitch after pitch into what seemed like a big black hole. ‘That’s it!’ I thought to myself, ‘No more.’ And then what happened? I got a PHONE CALL from the same editor, apologising for not replying, telling me he liked my ideas and wanted a series of articles from me. He just wanted to be sure I had plenty more ideas, so could I email some over to him? Subsquently I had about 20 articles published by that magazine and the door’s still open, I reckon, for more… ! Not so rude, after all.

    • Haha – you wore him down with brilliant idea after brilliant idea! But seriously, which is the better way to respond to an ignored pitch – submitting another pitch, or taking to social media to complain about the ignored pitch? I think your account answers that perfectly …

  • Editors are human. Who knew? I’m also having problems extracting payment from an editor of a foreign-based publication. While the editor has been rude on occasions, I’ve remained polite at all times and, as a result, the editor is still engaging with me … so I still hope to extract payment. Even if you *think* the editor is being rude, that’s no justification for replicating that behaviour.

    • Urgh, overseas payment can be tricky – though I think NUJ can help if you’re a member – but distance makes things difficult. A future Business of Writing column perhaps? Generally I agree with you regarding mirrored rudeness, but I was once rude to an editor who implied I was being mercenary for expecting payment for an article … I’ve never regretted it …

  • Excellent post as ever, Alex. Your comment that it is new writers who are most likely to complain of perceived rudeness rings true – certainly in my early days I was guilty of this misconception. Experience toughens us up but also makes us more humble. We start to realise that we are not the brilliant writer that editors have waited all their careers to discover. We start to treat it as a job, with realistic expectations and become more aware of our own abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

    • Thanks, Bea. Think those last few words of your comment nail it for me – becoming more aware of abilities, strengths / weaknesses is the eventual making of any writer. Learning to play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses is what helps you make that step into turning hobby or aspiration into success and business … And with that, and an understanding of the business you’re now in, you begin to better appreciate the role of the editor.

  • I can see it’s not deliberate rudeness which stops editors replying, but it’s still jolly frustrating for the writer. We don’t know if the piece has been considered or even arrived, so we have to ask – and that gives the editor another email they don’t have time to deal with.

    An automatic response saying our message was received, that they’d be in touch if it was accepted and if we didn’t hear back within a specified period we were to consider that they were unable to use, it would be really helpful. And polite!

    • Yes, can be very frustrating. Think the trouble with an automated message (if that’s what you mean) is that it would be sent to all who contact the editor – and that would include interviewees, printers, photographers and various other non-writers. I guess it would require a separate email for submissions, which some publishers / editors do have.

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