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What editors say and what they really mean

by Leo Wiles
08 February 2019

When I was an editor on a monthly mag and lacklustre copy crossed my desk, I’d often make the broadest of brushstroke changes, perhaps fact-check a few glaring areas, cut it down to size if I had time and then send it to the patient subs desk who would work their magic.

These days, time is short and and editors’ patience even shorter – so crappy pitches or sloppy copy may zing its way back to you with a few, well, zingers. Let’s face it: what editors say can be worlds apart from what they’re thinking, so here are a few translations I’ve yanked from the cranial archives of my time as an editor.

PS. Editors are not actively trying to pierce a writer’s thin skin. They’re generously trying to shape you into a better writer.  (Sometimes with a little dose of passive aggression thrown in for good measure.)

“Thanks for your pitch but we ran something similar in our December issue.”
Translation: “FFS. Do you even read the title that I spend 14 hours a day pouring blood, sweat and tears into?”

“We already have something in the pipeline.”
Translation: “Yep, even the unpaid interns spotted this story idea.”

“This really needs a new angle”
Translation: “You’re flogging a dead horse, don’t you have something newsworthy?!”

“Please clarify this entire section”
Translation: “If I don’t understand what you’re saying and I wrote the brief then what hope has our audience?”

“Do we need a quote here?”
Translation: “Are you making this shit up or was it what the interviewee intended?”

“Any facts to support this statement?”
Translation: “We’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting this past legal without any actual statistics.”

“The tone could do with some work”
Translation: “You’ve completely misunderstood our title. Go and read 100 back copies at the library and re-file.”

“You’ve buried the lead” 
Translation: “…and your career along with it if you can’t work out that THIS would be the most interesting angle to catch the reader’s attention.”

“Got any more colour…?”
Translation: “I won’t lie to you, I’m bored as batshit by your copy.”

“Refer to previous comment”
Translation: “Cannot face repeating myself for the eighth time, banging head into keyboard instead.”

“Breakout box?”
Translation: “WTF? This anecdote definitely does not belong here.”

“Tighter / stronger”
Translation: “Your waffly phrases are out of step with our house-style / my patience!”

“Has this been said before?”
Translation: “Umm, I Googled the quote you used and it was lifted it straight from a 2007 Vogue article.”

“Is this what you intended?”
Translation: “I’ve given up my weekend to rewrite this and if you don’t accept this change there’s quite a large chance I will never commission you again.”

Which ones did we miss? Share your translations of what editors say (or have said to you!) in the comments.

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

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