Mutual Respect between Editor and Writer: Maria Schneider.

In Business of Writing, Craft, Interviews, Profiles on January 27, 2010 at 7:58 pm

In this Writers on Revision series, we’ve heard a lot from the writers themselves this past couple weeks. Now, I bring you Maria Schneider, former Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Digest magazine, creator of, and current Lifestyles Digital Content Manager at the Cincinnati Enquirer.  For anyone who believes that a magazine editor is some kind of power tripper who just wants to shred your work, let Maria’s point of view forever change your attitude!!

From your perspective as an editor, what would be most useful for writers to understand about revision? (What would make your job easier?)

 That it’s almost always necessary and not a condemnation of you or your writing. For magazine writing in particular, every publication has its own house style rules and space constraints to consider. And getting the tone right for your intended audience is so important—it has to fit into the whole of the magazine.

 Where is the line between an editor revising a writer’s work and re-writing it. What should a writer expect in magazine writing?

 This really varies from editor to editor. But in general, I’d say that most magazine editors will ask for at least one rewrite and may ask for more specific detail, a stronger lead, or just an overall tightening of the piece. It’s true that some magazine editors will rewrite a piece to the point that it’s almost unrecognizable. As a writer, you should always ask to see any edits and have final approval of anything with your byline. It can be a tricky situation to confront an editor who’s rewritten your piece too zealously, but I would definitely recommend speaking up if the piece has your byline but no longer has your voice, or if there are factual errors. Otherwise, you’re better off letting it go—editing is just part of the process.

 Do you have any tips or approaches on how to make revision “easier”?

 Knowing the tone of the magazine you’re writing for is so important. If you read the publication and get a strong sense of its tone you’ll have a much easier time with revising the piece to make your editor happy. If your editor requests a revision, try to get her to be as specific as possible: If she’s asking for a new lead, would an anecdotal lead fit better? If she’s asking for the piece to be tightened, is there a specific section that she’d like to see cut back or sections that could be fleshed out with more detail? Editors are very busy people so you might have to reach out to get specific feedback on what she liked or didn’t like about your piece.

 In order to be published in magazines, what kind/how much revision can writers expect to do both before submitting ideas and after acceptance?

If you query with a story and the editor assigns you the piece, you’ve already won her over with your idea, your voice, and she already has confidence that you’ll be able to turn in a good piece. But don’t be surprised when you submit a story and are asked for substantial revisions. New writers often don’t realize that it’s just a part of the process of making a magazine—they tend to take it personally. You should expect to be asked for at least one revision, perhaps two, and if it’s still not quite right in the editor’s eyes after two revisions, most likely she’ll either reject the piece or have an in-house editor rewrite it. 

 What’s your own approach to revising your own writing?

 I tend to edit as I go. I really like to get the lead right before I dive into a piece, so that can take a lot of writing and rewriting time. So I’d say my typical process is editing in waves. It’s always useful, if you have the time, to finish a piece, and leave it for a day or two before you go back and try to revise it. And if you’re stuck, printing it out and reading it with fresh eyes and a pen is always helpful.

  1. What I’m walking away with after reading this interview is — ironically — comfort and reassurance. It’s always so much easier to face the beast if we know his nature. Thanks so much for the insight.

  2. As a person whose essay was edited and published by Maria while she was at Writer’s Digest, I have to affirm the credibility and tangible positive effect of good editing. Maria asked me to clarify or tighten my piece in several places, with specific suggestions, and when I came back with the rewrite—which by no means was a uprooting of the work’s core—she asked for a couple of minor clarifications and voila! A sharpened and improved piece.

    A good editor is a good thing.

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