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WRITE: Arguing with the Editor: Yes or No?

Posted by on November 7, 2013 in editing, WRITE | 10 comments

Editing“I can’t believe it! They changed the whole meaning of that paragraph!”

Had you lived in the Pieper household during the first few years of my professional writing career, you’d have heard many similar rants. If my long-suffering husband disagreed, he never told me. In fact, he did everything possible to sympathize with his wounded writer wife.

What I did wrong: I failed to recognize the value of the editor’s work. What I did right: I never took my comments to the editor.

Everyone needs an editor, as I mentioned to one of my blog regulars who found an error in a recent post. “Develop rhino skin,” the more experienced among us like to tell new writers. We mean it. Even the best writer or the strongest grammarian needs a second pair of eyes. An editor provides those eyes along with the experience to know what to cut, what to change, and when to cut or change it.

“So what?” you may wonder. Today, I want to encourage acceptance and adherence to an editor’s fixes, critiques, and comments because on too many recent occasions, I’ve witnessed a dangerous syndrome: arguing with the editor. This happens when a writer (usually via e-mail) takes the rants from the privacy of home or office back to the editor’s desk. She complains about the removal of sentences. He moans about the lost voice. She whines, “But I thought you’d work with me.” He grouses about the posted editorial guidelines. And everyone loses.

Since I sit behind both writing and editing desks, I experience this issue from each side. But whenever I consider it, I land on the side of respect. As an editor, I respect the writer’s expertise on a story, a subject or situation. I recognize the source of the story, and I’m not it. When I work with experienced writers, I recognize that their voices won’t—and shouldn’t—sound like my own.

But as a writer, I must also respect my editor’s expertise. If eliminating a word here or a phrase there helps communicate truth, so be it. If reworking a paragraph or changing a chapter makes the teaching or story flow, let’s do it.

In the end, both editor and writer must respect the reader. If we can work together to produce a product that lives, moves, and communicates truth, we’ve both reached our goal.

Yes, minor changes can seem major. Some editors are less sensitive than others. Your article may not seem as much your own work after editing, and your book may not appear in print quite as you had envisioned it. But remember that someone cared enough to edit it. Someone also cared enough to publish it. And, as any writer knows, a published piece beats a WIP (“Work In Progress”) or perennial query every time.

Editors can make mistakes. On my book projects, I’ve come back to my editor to discuss decisions that affected meaning (not grammar). But I only did so after years of experience and after building relationships that allowed me this privilege. Professional writers trust their editors’ wisdom.

Don’t argue with the editor. Close your mouth (or your e-mail) and keep writing.

Have you argued with an editor? Do you agree or disagree with my advice? Please share your thoughts. 

(Note: This post is repurposed from a 2010 entry because of several recent questions. The old post lost its formatting when I changed blog hosts, so I wanted to include its contents here.)



  1. Ugh! Needed this. I’m finally taking the plunge into the writing world; it’s always been a dream of mine to write. My editor has worn many different hats in my life – mentor, CASA to my youngest son, spiritual mama and most importantly, dear friend. It’s been hard submitting just paragraphs to her and have her critique them. Sometimes they come back with a well done, other times I wonder what in the world I was thinking to subject myself to her mighty pen!! So thank you Marti, once again you’ve come thru with a timely word!!

    • I’m so glad to hear you’re writing. And submitting your work to someone else’s scrutiny is a GREAT step, Angie. Blessings to you as you move forward on the writing journey!

  2. Marti, I’m developing rhino skin! Can’t believe God turned my complaints into your very helpful blog. Proves how God turns everything to good. I re-read this morning through the eyes of an editor and it didn’t seem near as bad (with a couple of exceptions). I write for the glory of God, so I bow to the editors expertise

    • You go, Shirley! And I didn’t think you were complaining. As you can see, I have faced (and will face) the same struggles. I know your heart is right, and that will go a long way in any relationship, editorial or otherwise. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  3. Great advice as always Marti! Thanks for the words of wisdom.

    • Ahh, and thanks for the blog (and other) support!

  4. Your post made me think of my post in which I say, discussion is fine and welcome (…). It’s a partnership. Arguing may not be as productive as discussion with the intent to understand. Key word: respect (on both sides). Great post.

    • Thanks, Jevon. And of course I agree: mutual respect is critical. I appreciate you taking time to comment.

  5. The one major time I complained about the editing job on my book, I did so respectfully, and stopped talking once I started to sound strident. It was a good thing. The supervisor (of the freelance editor who did the job) reluctantly agree to review it. I soon got a phone call with an apology and a promise that their senior editor would redo the whole book — and I was pleased with the result. A lesson I constantly have to relearn is that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

    • Dave, I had a similar situation with one of my ghosted projects. A free-lance editor had suggested some changes that went contrary to the purpose and target audience of our book. I waited and prayed but felt I couldn’t comply. So I RESPECTFULLY emailed the editor (as with yours, the supervisor of a free-lancer). The end result was not just agreement between the supervising editor and me, but a good relationship made better and, I believe, a better book. You’re so right: respect makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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