Thursday, June 4, 2009

Scrutinise Your Published Pieces

When you are lucky enough to have a piece of work published, do you crack open the champagne, dance a merry dance and then count the days off until the cheque arrives?

No? Well you should do! But you should also take a look at your piece and see what the editor has done with it. Compare the printed version with the version you submitted. How does it differ?

"What do you mean - how does it differ?" I hear you cry. "Surely if the editor buys it, they buy what I've written, don't they?"

Well, yes they do, but remember that an editor is God and therefore God can do whatever he or she likes. Editors are wordsmiths and no one knows their magazines as well as they do, which means that they know what tweaks and amendments to make to really make the piece fit their readership. Alternatively, they may suddenly run out of space, but really like your article but only have room to use two thirds of it.

So, whenever you have anything published, sit down and see what has changed. I'm not saying that editors always make changes, there are many pieces of my work that get published as I submitted them. But there are pieces that are 'tweaked' from time to time. If your work is 'tweaked' look to see what the editor has done. Try to learn from this.

Some of you may recall that I produce a regular column for Country & Border Life magazine. In the early days, I noticed the editor was always changing my introductory paragraphs. When I realised what was happening and appreciated the style she was trying to achieve with the introductions, I tried submitting future work with my introductions written in that same style. A few months later I received an email from the editor thanking me for doing this. She'd spotted that I was constantly trying to improve my submissions.

Sometimes the changes are for production reasons. I've written articles for example publicising a literary festival, which an editor has accepted and then for various reasons not been able to use. But they've held onto them for another year and used them 12 months later. The editor went through and changed all of my references to the various talks and events that I'd advised readers were going to take place - because obviously they were now a year out of date!

Editors changing your work can also have other positive effects. I've sold a couple of short stories to an Australian magazine. These have been rejected by a British magazine. However, when I saw the published version in the Australian magazines I spotted the changes that the editors have made. Often, they're only subtle but it can be enough to make a huge difference to the story. For example, where I may have used 'he ran quickly', the editor may have changed this to 'he dashed' which is more exciting - and uses fewer words. What I've then done, is rewrite my English versions of the stories to include the changes made by the Australian editor and then resubmitted them to the British magazine. Hey presto! Two of my stories that the British mags had previously rejected have since been bought and published.

So scrutinising your published work can help you improve your writing technique, and also your own sales!

Good luck!