Eight tips to get on an editor’s good side

By Velvet Garvey (@velvetgarvey)

Picture a small office, where 3 people sit working on computers. Ping! One of them gets a new email and groans.

“Urgh, it’s Dr Jones. He’s got more amends for his paper.”

“Let me guess, he’s added more commas!”

writers bookHave you ever been Dr Jones, pedantically inserting unnecessary punctuation into an article you’ve submitted for publication? Or perhaps you’ve missed a deadline, or worse, rushed a paper to get it in on time, neglecting your figures and submitting an incomplete reference list?

These are some of the things that pain editors, who work hard to communicate your experiences and opinions to the world as quickly yet accurately as possible. While they are an essential part of the research process, some authors disregard an editor’s role. What many fail to see is that publishing an article in a journal, magazine, newspaper or website is a crucial opportunity for you to build a relationship with that title’s editor.

Why should you care about your relationship with an editor? Not only does it make the publishing process a more pleasant experience, it can also make it faster, giving you more time to write your NEXT paper and get that published too.

Also, because they interact with so many medical professionals every day, editors are usually very connected. If an editor likes you, you’re more likely to be called up for opportunities like presenting at a conference or joining an editorial board.

So, how can you get on an editor’s good side? Here are 8 ways:

  1. Treat them like a person.

If you’re corresponding with an editor, the easiest way to make a good impression is to find out their name. Beginning an email with “Dear Editor” just doesn’t cut it. “Dear Sir” is even worse.

How do you find out the name of an editor? Open up a copy of the publication. The list of staff working on it (called the ‘masthead’) should be printed on one of the first pages. And if you’re not sure if the editor is a man or woman from their name, the friendly guys at Google should be able to provide you with a photo.

  1. Stay in touch

Editors like it when writers communicate with them. It makes the process to print go so much smoother. Do your best to write back to emails promptly, and if you’re too busy to give them a detailed reply, at least write and tell them you’ll get to their email soon. Similarly, if you find that you have over-committed yourself and can’t actually submit the paper on time, tell your editor before the submission date.

If you need to pull out of a paper, you can save a lot of face by suggesting someone else who might be a good fit to write on that topic. From the moment your article is accepted for publication, that article will be entered into an editorial calendar so it’s likely the editor will need to replace it with a paper on a similar topic.

  1. Get your figures right

For most editors working in health and medicine, their single biggest time drain is sorting out the figures that an author has sent in. If you want to stand out and be someone that an editor wants to work with again, send in figures that they can use. This may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how often I’ve been sent figures that are actually just screen shots. For a figure to be usable in a print publication it has to be editable, large enough to print (usually around 1 MB) and you have to have permission to use it, meaning you can’t just take a photo from Google images and submit it. If you’re not sure if your figures are appropriate for the publication, contact the editor early in the process so you can work together on a solution before your deadline. Trust me, nothing gets an editor gushing about an author like good figures.

  1. Format your references

Editorial staff can also lose hours fixing references. Each publication has it’s own style of referencing. This should be outlined in their Author Guidelines, but you can also duplicate the style by looking at a copy of the publication.

You can really help your editor by formatting your references both within the text and in your reference list so that they closely match the style as much as possible. You might think that it’s the job of the publication to edit your references, but chasing up or formatting references can take editorial staff half a morning, whereas it might take you a few extra minutes here and there as you write your paper.

  1. Check your proofs

A lot of work goes into preparing an article for print so if the editorial team send you a proof to check, please, please, please read it carefully and send back your feedback as soon as possible. Mistakes, however small, are the stuff of nightmares for an editor, so help him or her to get some sleep by double-checking elements that often get glanced over such as headings, figures legends and author details.

And don’t forget – if you change the order of any of your text at any time, the order of your references might change too. Don’t assume that your editor will pick this up; by the time your proofs are ready, your editor has looked at your paper so many times that she may glance over tiny, superscript numbers.

  1. Don’t be too pedantic

While editors love it if you look over your proofs with the rigor of a pre-participation examination, they won’t thank you for being too picky with your corrections. Journals have a style guide, so help your editor and their production team out by not being too fussy about things like spelling, capitalisations and punctuation. If they want to spell it ‘CAM’ rather than ‘cam’ (as in, impingement), let them.

  1. Be patient

Editors are usually working on multiple issues and titles at once. While one issue is being printed, another is being commissioned and yet another is being edited. For this reason, the time from when your paper is accepted to the time it’s published can often span many months. You will need to be patient.

If your paper is particularly time sensitive, let the editor know this up front, and mention that if they feel they can not publish the paper by a specific date, you might need to submit it elsewhere.

Of course if you feel a lot of time has passed since you submitted your paper and you haven’t heard from your editor, refer to point 2 – get in touch!

  1. Spread the word 

These days we all want clicks, and your editor is no exception. If your published paper is available online, spread the love by sharing a link to your paper or abstract on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If it’s only in print, perhaps you could take a photo of the cover and share that.

Many publishers, especially book publishers, prefer writers with a strong online platform and while this probably won’t win you any favours when it comes to a peer-reviewed journal, you never know who else is watching you engage with your followers. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to appear on the BJSM Top 10 Articles list. So, get tweeting!

As an editor, the best part of my job is working with authors. Laughing at a funny email, smiling at a catchy headline, nodding along with a conclusion that ties the paper together perfectly – these are the reactions that you can elicit. So don’t get groans; get on your editor’s good side and develop a relationship that will last for the rest of your professional life.


Velvet Garvey is an Australian editor and writer who has worked on publications such as the Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal and Anaesthesia and Intensive Care. She aims to help medical professionals communicate compelling content … and to be sedentary for as little time as possible. Contact: velvetgarvey@gmail.com

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