Confessions of an Editor: The Background Check

Let’s talk about stuff you can’t take back. Like tarting up your writer’s resume to make yourself look a bit more accomplished than you are. Or scaring potential paying clients away by a few ill-advised moves you think are harmless.

I won’t presume to speak for all editors, I’ll just speak for ME. As an editor, especially one who only just recently put out a call for writers, waded through the crap and hired multiple freelancers.

For me, there is a level of inexperience that I feel I can work with if a writer shows promise, or at least a willingness to learn. So at least in MY case, inexperience is not an automatic disqualifier. But what is?

Two things come immediately to mind. The first is when a freelancer comes to me with a resume full of clips designed to make them look like they have a lot of experience. Upon further investigation — about thirty seconds worth — I discover the resume is full of “pay per click” writing and stuff written for free. In fact, the sum total of the resume is this sort of thing.

This is pretty heinous–the mark of a rank amateur with no experience in the business whatsoever. Even so, as wretched as it is, believe it or not I am STILL willing to give this person a chance for another thirty seconds. Sadly for most in this boat, that thirty seconds comes and goes without me doing anything but deleting the resume and the e-mail.


Because the writing in all those freebies SUCKED.

Folks, F. Scott Fitzgerald was told he SUCKED. Ditto Hemmingway. In fact, Hem was told by one publisher that allowing his book The Torrents of Spring to be published would be “cruel.” But when I say THIS person’s writing sucks, it’s because it is full of adjectives, abused apostrophes and purple prose.

So, the resume and cover letter get round filed. What’s the moral of this story? Do NOT “front load” your resume with stuff designed to make you look like you have a bunch of published clips when you actually just wrote up some crap and clicked “send”. There is a universe of difference between submitting material which gets an editorial review and those websites which simply take all comers.

Now let’s talk about scaring away a potential new editor before you even have a chance to say hello. As you know, editors (like me) frequent social media sites, forums, e-mail discussion groups, etc. Some editors (me again) enjoy lurking on these boards, keeping mum, waiting for someone to come out of the woodwork that we might like to bring on for a new project.

I cannot tell you how many people have coiled the rope, knotted it tightly and placed the noose around their own necks in my eyes with simple, seemingly harmless shenanigans in public forums. Given the proper length of rope with which to hang themselves, they dangle about without even knowing they’ve done so. One smashing example, not drawn from real life.

Pretend you are a regular at a writer’s message board where people are invited to post their most recent successes and publication credits. A brag board, if you will. Nothing wrong with that–it’s a great way for people like me to spot up and coming talent. Now imagine if you will that you start noticing two or three people who tend to post more frequently than most. “My latest good news!” and all that.

Now imagine if you will that you are an editor like me who start clicking on the links to the most frequent posters…what would happen in your mind if you were seriously tempted to pay someone for a short-term project only to discover that they are publishing in the aforementioned “no editorial review” types of publications?

You KNOW what you’d do. You’d refuse to pass Go, you wouldn’t collect $200 in Monopoly money, you’d just come full stop.

Ditto for the person who keeps reporting on their publication triumphs, but said triumphs are in excessively flaky-sounding publications. “Astrology For Cats Magazine” or “The Anarchist’s Guide To Violence”. You might not think that publishing in “Mercenary For Hire” is such a bad thing, but a SERIOUS editor with money to spend on a decent writer doesn’t want to take the chance on someone who doesn’t understand that “Door To Door Religion Monthly” doesn’t really sound that great as a credit.

You can’t take this stuff back once it hits the web. But you CAN do some damage control and resolve to do better next time and let those credits fade away. Listen–we have ALL written things for publications we’d rather not be associated with. That includes me. No, make that ESPECIALLY me. The things I have done for money, well…let’s just say that when your rent is due and you really need the money, those ghost-written books with Fabio’s name on them or a CD review of a Britney Spears release doesn’t sound so bad.

Not that I’ve actually DONE those things, but then again…you’ll never know, will you?

Cuz that’s what the SMART writers do…they learn the difference between GOOD credits and BAD credits. And they let the bad ones go.

3 thoughts on “Confessions of an Editor: The Background Check”

  1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA….yes…I am dying for others to chime in on this… I don’t NEED juicy details, I just want to know who else out there has written stuff they will never tell anyone about 🙂

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