Back to Basics: 5 Things Editors Expect You to Fix BEFORE You Submit

You might not even realize you’re making these mistakes.

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Writing on your own, it’s easy — and acceptable — to leave small errors and ‘iffy’ sentences alone until you decide to edit later (if you ever get that far — let’s be honest). This doesn’t fly when you’re submitting your work to an editor, though. There’s a certain level of “polished” editors expect from anything they consider for publishing, and if you’re not willing, or don’t know how, to get to that stage, you’re going to have a hard time getting published.

This goes far beyond basic spelling and grammar. (If you can’t fix these obvious errors on your own, you’re probably not quite ready to submit to editors — and that’s OK.) Here’s what to make sure you’ve revised/rewritten before you send off that piece of writing.

1. Unnecessary words

Fluff is not at all an impressive thing. For many people, it’s a leftover bad habit from meeting word count or page requirements in high school English class. Even if it’s something you still do automatically, practice correcting your temptation to add extra words to every sentence. An editor would much rather read 300 words of quality, easy-to-read content than 600 words of fluff. While it’s better to write too much at first and cut it down later, if you can’t fill a word count requirement with good information, maybe don’t submit that piece of writing just yet. Or at all.

2. Hard-to-spot errors

SpellCheck doesn’t pick up everything, but 99 percent of editors do. Unfortunately, even an innocent typo can make you look careless and unprofessional, even if your writing is phenomenal. Sometimes you just don’t catch things. But the chances of this happening decrease significantly when you take the time to read and reread your content before you submit it. It is not appropriate to submit a first draft. The most common yet surprisingly helpful editing tip you’ll hear is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. Read it out loud, too, if you can; this also forces you to pay more attention to what the words on that page actually mean.

3. Passive voice

Editors are thrown off by excessive usage of passive voice. See what I did there? That is a horrible sentence. How many times did you have to read it before you understood what it meant? Passive voice is another one of those hard-to-kick writing habits, but it’s one you need to teach yourself to break. Always keep your writing active. Active voice impresses editors. They aren’t impressed by it. Words like “by,” “of,” and “from” are common warning sings that your sentence needs a quick makeover.

4. Complex language

Big words don’t make you sound smarter. Sometimes transitioning switching from academic formal to more familiar informal writing is challenging. But in general, you shouldn’t use words more than three syllables long if you don’t have to. Those of you whose first language isn’t English actually have a small advantage over the rest of us! You’re less “tempted” to use overcomplicated complex words because your brain is wired to use the simplest English term you know. (I wish I had that magical ability had a brain like that some days …)

5. Formatting and style

Each publication generally has their own style guide — usually a hybrid of AP Style and their own brand/company specifications. Not all editors expect you to have these rules mastered with your first submission, but it’s definitely an effective strategy for making a good first impression. Do pay attention to submission guidelines, though — if they give you a link to their style guide, or specify exactly how they want something formatted, follow their directions. I used to review applications for an online writing internship. After awhile, I started throwing out sample pieces that didn’t follow our style guide. Even if you don’t have their guide in front of you, at least follow the format of the content they’ve already published.

Good writing isn’t good enough if you continue making careless mistakes (whether you know you’re doing it or not). Impress your editors. Don’t give them any reason to doubt your skill. It’s not an editor’s job to “fix it for you later.” Never assume you have that kind of safety net. Ever.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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