July 27, 2016

5 Characteristics of Great Editors

Yesterday I covered 5 Tell Tale Signs of a Bad Editor. Yes, we’ve all been there, but hopefully you’ve worked with some good ones, too. Here are some of the traits that I appreciate in my favorite editors.

  1. They give clear instructions (and a writer-friendly contract) before you start writing. It’s hard to fit someone’s “editorial vision” when you don’t know what it is. My favorite editors understand this, and they don’t expect me to be a mind reader. Instead, they send me their style guide, outline their expectations for the article, and give me a contract up-front.
  2. They come to you with assignments and may even suggest sources (when appropriate). I love it when an editor emails me and says “we have this idea and I think you’d be perfect for it!” Talk about validation! Plus, when an editor gives a few suggested sources, it starts me on the right track and gives me an idea of what she’s looking for.
  3. They allow you enough time to turn in a good article. Good writing takes time! Obviously, there are times when you need an article in a hurry, but in order for me to do my best work, I need time to research, interview, write, and rewrite. I’m a busy girl, so I appreciate at least a week of lead time, although I often make exceptions for “special editors” (meaning those I like).
  4. They edit to improve, not obscure, your writing. How many times have you eagerly waited to read an article you were really proud of, only to find your editor’s words interjected among yours, causing abrupt (and totally inappropriate) shifts in tone? Too many, I’d imagine. There’s an editor I work with who sometimes tweaks a turn of phrase here or adds a little modifier there, but it always sounds smarter and sharper than what I submitted. I generally agree with her edits, because it enhances my voice, rather than removing it.
  5. They make sure you get paid on time and notify you when the article goes public. I hate having to track down a check or beg for a contributor’s copy, because that’s time that I could be writing. Great editors know that you’re a busy professional and they treat you accordingly.

So, how do you get in good with these “golden” editors? Check out 5 Ways to Wow an Editor. As always, please leave your comments below!


  1. I appreciate when editors will return a “Great job” type compliment if they liked the story.

    That’s such a boost to our confidence!

  2. Jen A. Miller says:

    Good points. I have a lot of respect for an editor who warned me in advance that they do a lot of rewrites. Even though it’s sometimes a PIA, she was very VERY upfront about it and said it’s what made the magazine what it was. It’s worked out so far!


  3. Jessica Anne Elizabeth says:
  4. Curmudgeon says:

    I’m not usually a stalker, but I followed you here from Penelope’s blog. I’ve been a writer for many years, though probably not the same content you write. I found that a good editor *always* improves my work, whereas a bad editor usually introduces errors and misstatements. I’ve had too few of the former and too many of the latter.

  5. Amanda Nicole says:

    I especially agree with your last point; I once had to send 3 “friendly reminders” to get an email with the link to my articles, and waited about 3 weeks in total. It can’t be that hard to send a link! Great post!

  6. Susan Johnston says:

    @Jen: I have an editor like that, too. When I see that a piece I wrote has been heavily edited, my first inclination is to try to figure out why they made the changes that they did and how I could improve for next time, but sometimes this can make me a little neurotic!

    @Amanda: when I get antsy, I usually google my name along with a keyword from my title and that often does the trick. But it really bugs me when the editor plays gatekeeper to a publication that is not available online and doesn’t send me a copy.

    @Curmudgeon: welcome! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my post on Brazen Careerist.

  7. The best editor I have worked with thus far recently stepped down from her position. It is always sad to lose a good editor. Anyway, your list pretty much defines her. I wish this were more common!



  8. Susan Johnston says:

    @Dawn: that’s a bummer! Sorry to hear that. Maybe you can follow her to her new pub and land some assignments there?

  9. Emily Willson says:

    When was this article written???