Monday, August 30, 2010

The Editor Has Changed My Work!

Maria contacted me recently to tell me that one of her articles has just been published in The Lady. So firstly, congratulations on your success, Maria! But when Maria read the piece, she noticed the editor had changed a few things, raising some questions including:
  1. The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?
  2. Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?
  3. Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?

 The simple answers to these questions are:
  1. Nothing.
  2. Yes.
  3. No.
 Let me explain further.

The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?

Absolutely nothing. As long as you've delivered what was agreed, then you've done nothing wrong. When the time comes for an editor to use a piece they've commissioned, they may suddenly discover that there isn't as much space available as they thought. Perhaps the advertising department have done well and sold more advertising space. Perhaps, the picture editor has found an amazing image that would illustrate the article well, and to do it justice it needs to be a certain size. Perhaps a news item has just come in which needs space and your article is the easiest to cut. Perhaps the editor got out of bed the wrong side this morning.

There are numerous reasons why space for an article is cut and why an editor may need to edit a feature to make it fit the space available. As long as you've provided what the editor has asked for, then you have delivered your side of the contract.

Putting it bluntly, an editor is King (or Queen) at the magazine. Once you've delivered your text, the editor can do whatever he or she likes with it (within reason). And that includes the title. Titles are commonly changed. You need to title an article to grab the editor's attention and make them read it in the first place, but for the printed version in the magazine an editor may have better ideas. If you don't like the title they use, tough. Don't worry about it. If you want, try to learn from it. Is it better than yours? Why do you think the editor changed it? Does this new title follow a similar theme to the other titles in the same issue?

Look at the rewritten text too. Is it tighter? Does it read better? Has the editor cut a specific paragraph or subject from your article?

Maria finishes this question with, what should I do? And my answer is nothing. The only time it may be appropriate to contact the editor is if the changes made alter the FACTS of the article. If you said the theme park cost £20 for an adult to get in and the editor has changed it to £50, and after double-checking you know your facts are correct, then a polite (yes, polite, not a rant) email pointing this out may be appropriate.

Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?

Yes. If that was what was agreed and you've delivered your side of the contract, then you should be paid, even if the editor only uses 100 words in the end. It's not your fault if the advertising department sold more space this month, which meant that your feature had to be cut, is it?

If you've been commissioned to write to a specific length on a specific topic, and the editor isn't happy with what you've supplied, then they'll be in touch asking you to amend the text.

Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?
No. What's that going to achieve? The editor may then decide not to accept any more of your work, if you're going to be one of those 'troublesome' writers. If you really do not like what the editor has done, then ask yourself if you want to supply anything to the magazine again in the future. That's your choice. But you need to accept that editors can change details. I've had editor change the names of the characters in a story, and one the other week, changed an Almond Slice to a piece of Carrot Cake! Lord knows why! But, that's what the editor chose to do. They paid me for my text, and to use a well-worn phrase, the editor's decision is final.

If you wish to continue writing for the magazine then examine the text and see what you can learn. One editor annoyed me at first, because they were always rewriting my opening paragraphs. But I soon learned that actually, my paragraphs were not quite right for the magazine's style. Once, I'd learned this, I began writing opening introductions that the editor did like, which meant she didn't need to change them. So, look at changes to your text as learning opportunities.

Remember, you are the supplier of words. Supply them to the best of your ability, but accept that some of them may be changed by an editor. (The clue is in the job title - they edit from time to time.)

I remember a friend from school who bought a well-known brand of cola because she liked it, but she always 'improved' it by adding more sugar. (I don't think she has any teeth left now.) Should the manufacturer have been knocking on her door telling her to stop playing out with their product? No, because at the end of the day, the customer is always right ... and an editor is your customer.

Good luck.

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