Don’t Whine to Your Editor

Some time ago, while I was working on a collaboration project, I happened upon a pitch that seemed totally awesome. But when I got the actual submission, it was boring trite and the subject matter wasn’t what was promised. So, naturally, I rejected it and cited why.

The response I got back was (edited, emphasis mine):

This is surprising and disappointing. I believe that my article was faithful to the pitch I submitted. I worked very hard on this. If you choose not to include it, that’s your business, but I would like to have some more specific reasons as to why it has received an outright rejection.

Here’s how this person (let’s call this person Kris) failed:

  • Kris wasn’t graceful about being rejected. If he was, I might be willing to hear a pitch from him in the future. But he wasn’t, and I remember his name, which means this exchange will be in my mind if I’m ever again in the situation of dealing with him. (And understand that being rejected isn’t always about absolute quality — relative quality is a component. If you are good but not as good as other submissions and space is limited, then you don’t make the cut. This time. But if you’re good, you’ll be remembered.)
  • Kris said the very words that tell me she’s a complete amatuer. She said “I worked very hard on this.” What, does she want a gold star for participating? Congratulations, this person did the bare minimum I expect out of someone who gives a shit about being a creative: working hard. You’ve gotta do more than that — you’ve gotta pay attention and get your skills up to par. That wasn’t happening here. This is a business, and I have demands in time, quality, and so on that I have to meet. If you can’t meet those demands and aren’t willing to be a decent human about it, I have no use for you.
  • The last sentence’s sense of demanding entitlement rather than civility and respecting of my time more or less is the nail in coffin. It’s extremely easy to see that the author just said “fuck you” to me, with a side of “I’m not done with you yet.”

Why post this? Because as an editor, sometimes I have to deal with writers who whine. I didn’t want to use anything recent regarding the subject, but I needed an example that I can point to in order to say this:

If you whine at me like Kris did above, I will fire you. My time is more valuable than that. Granted, I’m far more likely to have a conversation first rather than immediately can you or walk, but it’s important to understand that if you whine at me, and I let you get away with it, then I’m doing myself a disservice. And I may far too little money doing freelance editing to short myself on that.

How could Kris have done better? Try this:

I’ll admit that I’m surprised at this news. Thank you for your time.

Since you were interested in the initial pitch, perhaps we could talk about where I went wrong and possibly letting me take another stab at the project? I understand if you don’t have the time; I’m still eager about this and think I can deliver what you need. If nothing else, maybe in talking with you, I’ll learn what not to do in the future.

That’s how to do the same thing, and not whine. That tells me you want to work hard, you’re willing to accept that you missed the mark, and want to show you’ve got what it takes to hit it.

Kris though that his/her version of “working hard” meant an automatic in, and whining when that falls; the one above is someone showing that working hard is the barest of criteria. And even if I couldn’t because of time grant such a request, that response would leave a positive impression, not a negative one.

– Ryan

Edit: some people are apparently getting all bent out of shape because I wrote about shitty writers. I’m just going to assume that everyone who is is a shitty writer who sees themselves in Kris, and is combating self-reflection by complaining about me. <a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/115238641855986579653/posts/FefFbr8H1d7″>If you don’t like that, that’s life.</a>


9 Responses to Don’t Whine to Your Editor

  1. blackcoat says:

    I’ve frequently found (in my semi-creative work environment) that when new people (interns and entry level people mostly) say “I worked really hard on this” in response to criticism what they really mean is “wow, this is a lot harder than I thought it would be going in”.

    My typical response is “Welcome to the minors, kid.”

  2. Gabrielle says:

    In general, it’s best to only say “I worked really hard on this” when someone LIKES it. As in, “Thank you. I worked really hard on this. I’m glad that it shows.”

  3. I think the editorial relationship works best when a writer isn’t afraid that they’ll be fired for expressing the feeling that the work can be hard. Sometimes the job doesn’t allow the time between emails that it takes to heal the sting of a good edit and, so, gripes and whines get through. A sentence like the one emphasized in the first quote can be included in a message for a lot of reasons and doesn’t scan to me as a fire-worthy whine, personally.

    The sentence after that one tripped my sensors more potently, FWIW.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I’m more or less with you. I think there’s a difference between expressing that the work is hard and asking for help or understanding and what Kris did above. The difference I see is using “I worked hard on this” as an excuse and expressing that “the work is hard” to start a conversation.

      And yeah, that last sentence was certainly a veiled spit back (with the “that’s your business”), which certainly colors everything else. That’s what tells me “I worked hard on this” is about entitlement, not about being earnest.

      – Ryan

  4. Marquez says:

    Seriously? You’re an editor? I…I have no words.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      No words? That’s understandable — literacy might not be your thing. The first step is admitting it. Good for you. :D

      – Ryan

  5. Ryan Macklin says:

    So folks so inclined know, I’m starting to spam the hate comments because they’re pretty much been the standard, boring fare. Been getting that from people who aren’t willing to accept that rejection is a part of life, and that if they maybe aren’t dicks in response to a rejection letter, they might not get rejected in the future.

    But it’s easier for some folks to throw tantrums on a blog comment than it is to do hard work. shrug

    – Ryan

  6. While working on the Marvel Heroic RPG, I got plenty of “Well, we won’t be using that,” or “change this” or, unbeknownst to me, simply changing it without letting me know. Why? Because the editors and designers had a much better idea of what they were going for than me. Did I whine or complain? No, because I know that it’s their product, and they know what’s best for it. Most of all, they were right! Don’t bitch and moan about it, understand that they know better than you and are right about the decisions they’ve made and move on to the next product.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I should also add that you can (and, yeah, probably should) certainly ask why changes were made — not in a way that’s being a dick, but to say “hey, I want to better understand what’s up here, because I might work again in the future.” Whether that work is on a similar project or just being a writer in general, feedback like that’s useful.

      So, certainly ask for it… but it an unentitled manner that will cost you rapport. :D

      But, yeah, developers and editors look at projects from a much higher view. And sometimes being rejected isn’t even able you, but about the space for the work.

      – Ryan