That publication you always wanted to write for. Its prestigious name. Your reputation after your byline is published. That familiar feeling of excitement you get every time you see your story published in a publication or on a website. This is exactly how I felt when an editor working for a magazine’s website I always wanted to write for said yes to my pitch.
The day came when my story was to be published. I woke up, turned on my laptop, and Google-searched my full name next to the magazine’s title. There it was.
Or…there it wasn’t.
Because, my original story had nothing to do with the one my editor published. My story was my editor’s story under my name, expressing views I never was a fan of, and a writing style I would never suggest to anyone.
I was furious. And sad. And disappointed.
Dealing with a heavy editor is not only frustrating but it’s a process that can definitely hurt you as a writer as well. Writers already have to deal with insecurities the industry fills us with. We will read a book, a short story, a feature. We may feel down because another writer has written something at a level we believe we will never reach. We will hear about a six-figure author and disappointment will knock on our door, especially when we are dealing with a cash flow issue.
Long story short, a heavy editor is another pain in our bruised butts. But, to be honest, we can learn from them.
First of All, Study The Edits
The first thing you have to do is to study what the editor has changed in your story. No matter how angry the edits will make you feel, take a deep breath and just read the final product and compare it to the first draft you sent. Did it have grammar issues? Did you pay attention to its construction? Did your tone really match the publication’s tone?
For example, when I wrote an article for Popular Science’s website, Sarah Fecht, assistant web editor, was in charge of my story. Even though the edits were not so many, she took the time and explained every single one of them to help me get PopSci’s tone, and show me how a proper science article has to be…well, as she says, the edits were really just the tip of the iceberg since her grad school program spent a full 16 months teaching them how to be science journalists. But still, she took the time.
Ernest Hemingway has said that “the first draft of anything is shit.” That’s my desktop background actually. How was yours compared to the final product?
Understand an Editor’s Role
Writers think of editors as their bosses. What they forget to realize is that editors also work for someone they have to be accountable to. Most editors would never purposely edit a story to make it read worse, but there is a chance he or she will edit a story to make it feel like they have written it. Don’t forget – editors have the writing bug in them, too.
On the other hand, what an editor should never do is to change the story’s perspective, reach a totally different conclusion, and express views you would never express. As a matter of fact, this is what happened to me, and if that has happened to you as well, you have three ways to deal with it:
Take The Money
To be honest, this is what I chose to do. I know that careers are built with “NO’s” but a writer has to eat as well. The money was good, the opinions voiced did not make me look like a total baseborn, and, most importantly, I had to pay my rent. So, I took both the vow of silence and the money. What I did, though, is to let the editor know that she should have sent me the final piece to approve the edits.
That was the last email I ever sent to her and I never pitched her a story again.
There’s nothing wrong with defending yourself, or your work. Let your editor know that you don’t feel comfortable with their edits and feel free to suggest some alternatives. This way, you will appear professional and the final product will still have your voice in it.
Plus: You don’t know whether your editor is experienced or not and they may need some of your help. Give it to them while defending your work, too, and you will establish a more personal relationship. Win – win!
Kill The Story
No. Getting a story killed is not just an editor’s privilege. Before it’s published, you should be able to kill your story if the editor has changed your opinions, facts, or other important factors through editing. Editors are not entitled to harm your reputation, or to put you at risk for libel accusations or worse, with their red pen. It’s your story. They’re your words. So, if you feel like you are talking to a brick wall when you are talking to your heavy editor about the edits he or she went through, just say goodbye.
You will just end up with a complete story ready to be placed elsewhere. After all, someone has already assigned it in the first place, right?
Aris Apostolopoulos is a full-time freelance writer and journalist. He has written (and still writes) profiles, stories about science, world news, and he works with magazines and websites all around the globe. Plus, he never sleeps. His work can be found at ArisApostolopoulos.com
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