5 Things You Never Say to an Editor

Picture 1We all joke about crazy editors and their goofball demands. Editors, for the most part, have a good chuckle too because they know some of their peers are pretty nutty. Here at FWJ we often reinforce a writer’s right to push back – professionally – against edits, cheer on as they ask for more work, better pay, etc., however sometimes a writer can take things too far. There are a few things you should never say to an editor, especially if you ever want to work with them again.

5. “You’re just a frustrated writer.”

It could be true, it really could be your editor doesn’t have it in them to formulate an article from scratch, but they have no qualms about taking your article and reworking most of it to fit their own voice. Saying so, however, is not only rude, it is also a baseless accusation. Not cool.

4. “So-in-so at (competition publication) would love this piece.”

“Perhaps they would, good luck with that *click*,” would be my response to a writer pulling that low brow threat out of their butt. There are ways to negotiate and there are ways to make an offer more appealing, a threat like this will land you and your piece in the permanent slush pile.

3. “I know what the readers want.”

No, the editors know what the readers want, you may have a pretty good idea which is why your pitching your query, but ultimately the editor has a better understanding than you. No one wants to hear you are better at their job than they are it is never a good way to make waves.

2. “I was so sick it was coming out of both ends, it looked like…”

TMI or too much information is an epidemic in this share all, instant message, Facebook society and too many writers damage their professional relationships by rushing into a awkward, often one-sided relationship with editors. If we only talk via email about queries and payments, I don’t want to suddenly become your best friend and become privy to your non-work related exploits. Yelk!

1. “I’m going to miss my deadline.”

This deadend line will quickly turn you into the ‘not go-to-writer.’ Missing a deadline is serious business. Do writers miss deadlines? Yep. Do they have to tell their editor? Yep. Should you do everything absolutely possible to make sure it never happens to you? Absolutely.

There’s this thing called ‘burning bridges’ and people are always advised against doing so. I tend to agree, the writing community is small and rude or outrageous writers are likely to earn a reputation that matches their unprofessional behavior.

Want to add to the list? Give your tips below!


  1. Phil says

    As a former newspaper reporter, there was a time I could say I never missed a deadline. Now, however, certain assignments rely on certain key interviews, and people are much more difficult to contact than before. Despite making myself available around the clock, being a bulldog about contacting people, using various communication methods, etc., sometimes assignments are given without enough time to meet the given deadline. A critical contact may be unavailable for more than a week (with no adequate substitute).

    I start assignments when I get them, shoot to beat deadlines by a lot in case something falls through and jump through a lot of hoops to make a high 90 percent of deadlines, but sometimes it’s just unworkable.

    If this happens…let the editor know ASAP, not a few hours or a day or two before deadline. Make sure you’ve exhausted all avenues, including offering alternative ideas. And, perhaps most important, LIE to contacts about your deadline. Yes, LIE. If your deadline is Thursday, tell eeveryone you need to contact it’s Monday or Tuesday (depending on time needed to write and your own schedule). This is critical because if you give contacts your actual deadline, they will wait till the last minute (or later) to provide you with what you need.

    • says


      I’m totally with you about giving sources an alternate deadline – I give them what MY deadline is, because you are absolutely right, they will wait until the last minute.

  2. Tania Mara says

    Re: #2

    I’ve had just the opposite happen to me: as time went by and I did repeat work for her blog, an editor started treating me as we were good, old friends. I found it a bit embarrassing–I always try to keep friendship and business apart–but let it be.

  3. says

    Yes, I am a frustrated writer, but aren’t all writers? That’s exactly why I took an editing class in college to improve my chances of finding work while I write.

    I haven’t had to deal with the other four on this list. It’s the advantage of not working with freelancers on deadlines.

  4. says

    I always fudge deadlines with sources, too! You have to, or they will wait until the last possible second.

    In fact, that happened to me this week. I called people last week on Monday and Tuesday, told them that my deadline for interviews was end-of-business Friday. Guess who was on the phone doing an interview this morning for a story due by end-of-business today?

  5. says

    Who are these writers and why are they giving TMI? I wouldn’t dream of telling an editor that the competition would appreciate or want my article. I certainly wouldn’t give TMI about why an assignment was not completed. Perhaps the downside of being a freelance writer is you do not know how to be professional. Thank goodness I have common sense and my experience in Corporate America!

    • says

      Rebecca, they are all around and some have listened to business experts or even sales people and try to use the same techniques to land a writing gig. The trouble is a lot of these practices don’t work in real life or translate to the writing world.


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