Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost Published, Twice.

My last summer at UT, in a class on American Childhood, I wrote an essay about Where the Wild Things Are, reading the book as a coming out fairy tale for homosexual boys. I thought it was original and timely (the Spike Jones movie was about to be released), so I sent it to a couple magazines, and two responded. One wanted me to change it in a way that didn’t feel right to me. The other liked it the way it was and committed to publishing it. It was supposed to appear in the June issue. When I didn’t hear from the publisher by May, I sent him an email. He didn’t respond. I checked the web site, and it hadn’t been updated since the spring. The magazine has vanished, along with the window of timeliness for my essay.

In the meantime, even though I didn’t want to edit my essay for this other magazine, I enjoyed my interaction with the editor/publisher. I sent him another piece, this one about online sex cruising. It would need some work to make it fit this magazine’s profile (it’s a gay and lesbian semi-scholarly journal), but I thought it might be worth it. He was intrigued but had some problems with it that made me think he didn’t “get” it, and I wasn’t sure if that was a problem with the piece or with his reading of it. At any rate, this was around the time of the New York production of Lizzie Borden, other stuff was happening and I let it go.

But a few days ago, he sent me an email. He’d gone back to the essay and found he liked it more than before. He’d done some editing to make the essay flow without the illustrations and he wanted me to take a look. From his email, I understood that he was open to another round of edits. I liked what he’d done, but he had downplayed an idea that was central to the whole point of the essay, so I restored a couple sentences that he’d taken out. Besides that, I made several small changes where he had used words and phrases that I would never use. Basically, I liked the shape of what he had done, but I wanted to return it to my voice. I still think I have something unique to say about the subject, and in the months since I wrote the essay I’ve continued to think about it, to research, and take notes. So I also made some changes to clarify and strengthen my argument.

Well, he wasn’t happy at all. He was dismayed that I’d made so many revisions and that I had restored some of his changes back to my original language. His deadline for having the essay ready for publication is this week, so he suggested we call it a day.

It was an interesting episode for me. These were my first couple of magazine submissions, so I have nothing to compare the experience to. In all our correspondence, he has been generous, appreciative, smart, and interested. But it seems awfully weird to me that an editor would make changes which alter the character of a writer’s work and then be disappointed to get some pushback. We didn’t have time to get into specific changes, why he made them, why I didn’t like them, etc., so it’s hard to assess what happened.

I’m disappointed. This was going to be my first published magazine article.


xoxoxoe said...

I hear what you're saying, but...the journal has its own voice, too. And lots of writers are trying to get published and never get a chance, so you changing back what he already edited - well, it's kind of bratty. Sorry. I edit the Smithsonian Libraries blog and I try to respect the authors' (staff, mostly) writing, but the blog has a style and I will change structure, add words, etc. as needed to fit the blog's voice. It's hard for the writer the first time (or maybe every time) to see what I've changed. You might want to rethink this, send him your suggested additions but based on his already changed/edited text and maybe you both could give it one more chance.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but...why pick up the piece to begin with if you don't think it fits your publication's voice? If you have to drastically alter what an author is saying in order to make it acceptable to the publication? I get that editing has to be done, but no, there's no brattiness in wanting what's published under your name to actually reflect what you intended to say. Particularly since the WRITER, not the editor, is going to get all the criticism in response to the piece.

lady of Luella said...

I had two pieces of mine accepted this past year. One, the editor changes so completely that the voice sounds nothing at all like mine. I gave her free rein, but was really dismayed at the results. That was a lesson. The other editor made great suggestions, I made the revisions, and he published it as I revised it. I guess I am happy to have both pieces published, as they lend to my credibility as a writing teacher. On the other hand, I understand your point. It's really about what you think is worth compromising. I have also had several, maybe 12, letters to the Star Tribune published. The way they titled some of my letters sometimes shocked me-- they seemed to totally miss the gist of the opinion. Congrats anyway on the invitation to publish and good luck with the big move. Karen