Sometimes we writers, especially fiction writers, make our job harder than it needs to be. We would force feed our readers the literary equivalent of chicken Cordon Bleu when they would be happieróand maybe better fed – with chicken salad. The problem isn’t so much style or subject matter. It’s ego.
I learned that lesson well into my writing career. Over six years I’d sent four submissions to my dream, high-paying market, without success. I couldn’t understand why the editors kept rejecting my work. My fiction was as good as anything I’d seen in years of reading the magazine. In fact, it was better: character, theme, descriptions, and dialogue were all superior. The stories they printed were the stuff of made-for-TV movies, 2,000 words wrapped up in a happy ending.
Finally in frustration, I decided: if that’s what they want, that’s what they’ll get. I took one of my richly textured, thought-provoking stories, and gave it a makeover, or, as I see it, dummied it down. I changed the point-of-view character from an ambitious, self-righteous college student to a slightly cynical, middle-aged newspaper editor. I softened some of the snarky humor.
Most critically, though, I lightened the mood. My characters weren’t fighting the external forces of institutionalized injustice; they were coming face to face with their own selfish attitudes. At story’s end, they weren’t on fire to change the world, but they were ready to change themselves.
In a way this ìlite” version was better than the original. It lacked some of the drama but carried the same message. It was easier for my readers to identify with, so it had a better chance of making a real difference in the way they looked at themselves and at others. That’s why I write fiction in the first place.
It was also a case of life imitating art. When I stopped taking my ìart” so seriously, I stopped taking myself so seriously. I’d checked my ego at the keyboard.
It worked. The editors bought the piece. I had a fat paycheck, a sense of satisfaction, and a reminder about respecting your audience.
In 15-plus years as a freelance writer, Christine Venzon has been a major contributor to dozens of high school textbooks, as well as the leading children’s magazines Appleseeds and Odyssey. She also writes monthly features in her local newspaper. She is a certified foodie and passionate about fair trade, which is the subject of her article slated for an upcoming issue of St. Anthony Messenger.
Writing for Trade Magazines
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