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The Editor Ruined My Article!

Question and Answers for Freelance WritersHi Anne,

I sold an article to what I guess is a mid-range national magazine. I was paid on acceptance and eagerly waited to see my name and my article in print!

Well it happened. And I was horrified!


The editor changed my irony to an attempt at blunt humor and, in my opinion, it didn’t work. Oh the information in the article is okay, but the whole tone was altered. Frankly, I think it makes me look stupid.

Can they do that? What can I do? What should I do?

Help!

DB

Hi DB,

Ugh. Isn’t it awful? I’ve had that happen and I too was mortified. Like you I asked a more experienced writer what I could do and he wisely suggested I do nothing.

Sure, he pointed out, I could write a nasty letter or even a letter for their Letters to the Editor section, but it wouldn’t change what was done. Instead I’d look like whiner and make an enemy of a magazine editor, something to be avoided.


Of course, if they caused a substantial error, that requires correction. You see those notices all the time. But as far as the writing style goes? Well, you sold the article and they bought it so they can do what they want, including change it in ways you don’t like.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often. Most editors work to make their writers look good, and do a much better job than apparently this one did. The top tier of magazines often ask writers to approve any changes, although they aren’t usually required to do so.

I ended up doing nothing except claiming the magazine as one of the places my articles appeared. I didn’t use the article as a writing sample and eventually almost forgot about the whole incident.

I strongly suggest you do exactly the same thing.

Have you had this experience? What did you do?

[askanne]

[sig]

Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Tom

    I just wrote an article and the editor changed it and now it’s factually incorrect. It’s about a scientific invention, for a magazine about scientific discoveries, so it needs to be factual and precise. Editor is refusing to change the wording of it, which alters the meaning and makes it less accurate. What do I do??

    • Tom, what a shame… does the editor give any reason for refusing? Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot… unless there’s an Editor in Chief or a Publisher who is above the editor giving you problems. If the magazine has been published (printed) the change can’t be made, but an errata can be published in the next issue. If they have a website a change can be made there of course.

      You know, if you can’t reach someone above the editor you might try sending a snail mail message and request a return receipt – just so you have proof you’ve attempted to change it.

      How inaccurate is it?

  • jorgekafkazar

    Oy! An early magazine piece of mine started with the “build a better mousetrap” quote and used it as a metaphor throughout. The editor (or some second year journalism student) struck the opening, but left ill-fitting fragments of the metaphor in and added numerous grammatical errors. I fixed the errors on the proof and didn’t complain about the loss of unity. Then the editor called me and said the article was now too short, could I add another 500 words? Well, I thought I needed the money, so I gave him another paragraph, though the temptation was huge to tell him, “I’m a much better editor than whoever futzed with this article; just print it as I wrote it.”

    • Anne

      At least you got to edit a proof… that doesn’t always happen.

  • This is good information for those of us who’d like to break into magazine writing. That’s too bad that editors will completely change articles. Like you said, they bought the article so they can do what they want with it.
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  • This reminds me of the first article I published in a local English daily. There was one preposition wrong, but even that little thing left my face burning! Over the next four years, I published 50 odd articles with the same paper (joining their staff for the last two years), and that was when I discovered myself.
    The first25-30 articles were often horrible enough to make me swear not to look at them twice. Major edits, changes in formats, misprints…in short, quite a lot of embarrassment.
    But that’s how editors work- they have limited space, a definite format for their publication, etc. And they definitely have a better knowledge about their readership than the writer does, so the article is often tailored to suit the tastes of the readership. Most of all, they try to make your article look good, so that their publication can sell. So, apart from the misprints, any changes are ultimately for good. (Yes, maybe they don’t look good to the writer, but 2 years later, when the original is not fresh in your mind, if you look back, you’ll find that the story actually reads good.) In such a situation, it’s wrong to attack the ed or anybody else associated with the publication, plus the writer would only be burning their bridges. Mistakes requiring a “Corrigendum” notice are, of course, a different matter.
    My later articles were different, because I grew close to the ed, and she discovered that I had a strong penchant for editing. After that, she’d always make me edit my own articles, and when the final copy was done, it would go to print without a single edit on her part. The last story I did was 4000+ words in the original, but she made me bring it down to approx. 1000 words!!! 😀

  • I agree to do nothing, but it really puts a bad taste in your mouth. I had this happen on more than one occasion. One editor tried to take out the “he says” and “she says” to make the voice more authorative. It totally didn’t work. Frustrating, but let it slide off your back. The battle scars just give us more stories to share.

  • Editor note–make that readers, not headers LOL! 😀 See, I do need editing!
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  • I do so much ghostwriting, that it is rare that I am in direct contact with the editor, which can be scary. Knock on wood, I have had limited changes that were a problem. I have had some editors actually make incorrect grammatical changes. Shocking, I know. 🙂

    The worst that I had was when I submitted a ghostwritten article that had “Mind Your Ps & Qs” as a part of the title. I did a bold, drop case to emphasize the introduction of each point that started with a P or a Q (Policies, Planning, etc.). It was for a print magazine that often used the style.

    You can probably guess what happened. They didn’t emphasize the Ps & Qs, so the title probably left most headers going, “Huh?” That’s what I get for trying to be clever. 🙂

    I’m with Anne. You have to let it go. I do think some-not all- editors don’t feel they are doing their job if they don’t change something.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Writing LinkedIn Recommendations You Actually LikeMy Profile

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