Copy Editing Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Make an Art of the Query

When editing copy, sometimes a lot of questions come up — about usage, clarity, consistency, etc. It’s often necessary for the editor to ask the author to clarify something. Sounds like a simple enough process, right? Ask a question, get a response.


I bet you’ve received an email that rubbed you the wrong way or put you on the defensive. That’s exactly what editors must avoid when making queries to authors. Heck, I recently wrote a short story, and when my husband and daughter didn’t understand what I was trying to convey, I hit the roof. What was wrong with them? Were they too stupid to see the brilliance of my words, my sentences, my ideas, my characters?!

The act of writing is rife with vulnerability, you see. The writer has pored over the piece, and they want the work to be appreciated, understood, enjoyed. Maybe a ton of time-consuming research was involved. At the very least, time was indeed involved, and that’s a precious commodity.

To get positive responses to queries, editors should appeal to the author’s readers. When changes are needed, editors should explain why and offer suggestions (without bogging a writer down with explanations about small changes).

Here is a sample query: “Your ideas here are important for your readers to grasp; what about making this transition more apparent by moving paragraph 9 here?”

Remember the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? Well, I didn’t attend kindergarten, and I don’t know what the book says, but all I really need to know I learned from the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, do a great job while being sensitive and empathetic with queries.


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Filed under editing and writing, life and literature, queries, writing

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