The Etiquette of Editors


Most published writers, in one medium or another, will have a “mean” editor story. If you’re a writer, and you don’t have an editor story then, believe me, you will have at some point. Why do I say this? Because of the sad fact that so many “editors” are unnecessarily rude to writers.

What do you call a good editor? Is it someone that will cosign your bad work? Is it someone that knows good grammar and syntax? Is it someone that breaths down your neck like a Marine Corps Sargent and screams at you when you make a typo? I can tell you that I’ve had all of the above, and more. None of these is a good editor. A good editor knows grammar, but also knows how to help a writer develop better flowing, more meaningful writing, and they do so with respect for the writer.

If you look at famous writers like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, most of them have an editor that’s been with them for a long time. That’s not because their editors cosigned their crap, but it’s usually that the editor can connect to the writer’s core beliefs and can dream that writer’s dreams. When an author finds an editor that helps them become their best, that writer and that editor become a dynamic team. Editors aren’t just good grammarians; they are great at helping the writer to produce their best. It’s a respectful relationship that is win-win.

I’ve written blogs and essays in the past on the topic of editors and what defines a good editor, but I’ve never actually touched on what makes a bad editor. I think it’s needed since I have a couple of fresh experiences with bad editors myself.

One recent experience was with the assistant editor of a blog. I was tasked to write a few blogs for this company, and as I went along, I noticed that this particular editor not only verbally attacked me in the comments section on Track Changes but that she suggested so many changes to my writing that it was no longer mine when we were through. I may not be the next James Patterson, but my writing isn’t that bad (shaking my head). I felt like I had ran through some sort of grammarian gauntlet by the time I was done with this editor. I finally had to approach the managing editor, the boss, and politely bow out of writing for them. I could not connect with the assigned editor. We could not produce good writing as a team.

The most recent experience was a real zinger. I was writing a press release for a company on a volunteer basis. So, here I was, writing copy for this firm for free, and when I received the suggested edits from the editor, her tone was snarky, her comments were unnecessarily personal, and I felt like throwing the work in the trash and telling her off. There were about four typos and one awkward sentence in a 350-word press release and this editor ripped me to shreds, and I’m not joking.

Okay, before you think I’m one of those writers that are thin skinned, let me clarify my position on this by asking a simple question: what is the sole purpose of an editor? Editors are wonderful if they know their purpose and are good at it.

The purpose of an editor is to make writing grammatically correct, better developed concerning a plot, narrative, motifs, themes, and other characteristics of writing, and they can see the writer’s purpose and help them achieve it in a clearer fashion. I’m sure there are other definitions, but this one is mine, and I’m sticking to it. A good editor respects all writers because they are people, human beings, with feelings, dreams, goals, and a purpose that may not have developed in full, as of yet. If an editor is overtly snarky and personal, making statements that go past corrections and into personal attacks, they may kill a writer’s dream before that writer comes into his/her own.

Here is an example: I was writing about a group of shady people in the publishing business. I had an editor say to me, “now that you’ve made them out to be monsters…” A better way to steer a writer is to use suggestive verbiage. The editor could have said, “I think the criticisms in this paragraph are pretty sharp. Maybe you should tone it down some.” This kind of suggestive language will make a writer pause, consider the advice, and rewrite that portion. This is an example of good communication between a writer and an editor with the result producing a better piece of writing.

I had another editor call me weird because I kept hitting the accent tab instead of the apostrophe tab. It was a terrible habit that I had to work to break. Instead of using the term weird in the comments section, the editor could have said, “I keep seeing an accent in your contractions rather than an apostrophe, are you aware of this?” This may seem picky to some; however, I believe that all writers deserve respect. Intellectual snobbery or any other severe human ego issues do not belong in this environment if we want to be good editors and help writers to write their best.

Remember: A good editor can sense the writer’s dream and help them to achieve


  1. Good article, Scott. I’m wrapping up a memoir and will need to find an editor soon as the next step in the process. I go to a critique circle frequently and that helps tremendously, but in polishing a manuscript, you need much more.

    Hopefully I won’t encounter any who are snarky!

    • Thank you Mary Jo,
      I’m so glad to know that the article helped you. If you have trouble finding a good editor email me at
      If you look at my resume on LinkedIn, I have plenty of good editing experience as well as layout and Design using the Adobe InDesign program. I’d be glad to give you a quote on editing your manuscript. Have a great day, and thank you for your comments and your readership on our site.

  2. This post makes me feel even more blessed to have Marilyn as an editor. Every time she edits my work, I learn a little more and this is without her saying a word. She has never criticized me or made me feel like crawling under a rock.

  3. Good morning, Scott; pruning too deeply kills the rose bush; it’s the same with writing and editing. While I understand that some writing needs a revision or rewrite, there are ways to convey the problems with the original without the snide comments. “Rejection” alone leaves a writer wondering just as much as the vague positive feedback. I want an editor that, in the beginning, does developmental with me – show me where to explore further, pare down, or delete entirely.

    Maybe that is part of the overall problem. What kind of editor? Developmental, copy, proofreader and line editors perform different functions, and if they and the writer aren’t in sync with what is necessary for that blog or book, there can be confusion and not a successful partnership.

    • It really depends on both the author and the medium as well. That is to say, bloggers generally have to submit posts that are already proofread and copy editied. My job as an editor here is to do “line edits” and make sure no little typos get through (although they still do at times). I see typos in The New York Times quite often. Developmental editing and copy editing are more heavy edits and are generally done in the case of a manuscript or large essay, at least in terms of hiring an editor. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, these are the more comon definitions of the various typs of editing.

  4. I like your definition of a good editor. In a former role I edited an on-line magazine and had to prepare articles for publication, sometimes alterations have to be made to fit the theme of the edition (and under the demands of the publisher). Most writers know this and hate it when any cuts are made to their work, but will understand when you explain why something was done. For that “one awkward sentence” in my mind the best approach would have been to simply adjust it and move on.

    • Thank you Peter, and you totally get my premise, which is that we can tell writers how to change things or help them change things without a snarky, mean, or condescending tone.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Scott

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