When to Walk Away From an Editor

Andrea Freedman

I never thought I would say this but I have learned that there are actually times when a writer needs to take a step back and consider walking away from an editor, thus forfeiting a chance for an offer to be published in the newspaper or magazine for which that editor works.

It is so difficult to get an editor to notice you in the first place and even harder to get published, regardless of whether or not any of your material has been in print in the past. Until recently, the mere thought of not doing everything possible requested in order to make one of my articles publishable was almost unheard of. That was until an editor enticed me with the possibility of success by almost convincing me to change the entire premise of what I had originally written.

After sending an article I had pitched countless times to yet one more magazine, as I am in the habit of doing after I submit a piece of writing, I checked my e-mail several times a day. Time passed without a word and I assumed I could chalk it up to another disappointment.

And then it finally happened. I walked by my laptop and gasped when I saw the message from the editor responding to my submission. I became excited; so excited that I almost lost sight of why I had written the article in the first place.

When I began writing this piece, it was about something I felt unusually passionate about. After trying for months without success to get even an acknowledgement about it, when I finally did hear back from an editor who expressed interest, I was both elated yet nervous at the same time.

This particular magazine usually made contact with writers only if it was considering publishing a proposed article. However, as I quickly found out, this was not going to be nearly as easy as I had assumed. Although the editor thought my article had potential, he would only consider publishing it if I rewrote it with some of his several, and I will admit thought-provoking suggestions in mind.

For the next few days after I had received his e-mail I thought of little else. Finally, after months of frustration, I would have the chance to see something I had worked so hard on appear in a respected publication, not to mention the opportunity for exposure to a far-reaching audience. Once I got started I realized what a worthwhile exercise this rewrite actually was.

When I was convinced that I had met the editor’s requirements, I sent him the revised version of my article. A couple of weeks went by before I heard anything further on the matter; that was until one afternoon when I received another e-mail message from the man, informing me that while he was pleased with some of what I had rewritten, he was nevertheless still not satisfied. He was adamant that I dig deeper and talk about what had happened in a rather personal story, which I was not so sure I felt comfortable doing.

While I appreciated some of his reasons, and granted it was I who put the story out there in the first place, I found his response slightly disturbing. In fact, he seemed almost angry in parts of his reply and simply would not accept my point of view as I presented it, actually doubting my sincerity.

I briefly considered doing yet another rewrite but then I realized that if I did that, the end result would not be my own words, obliterating the message I had set out to convey.

There are times when an editor can do a writer a favour by forcing that person to strive for greater depth in his or her writing. In fact, there are times when taking professional constructive criticism ultimately could make the difference between a writer being mediocre or really good.

Nonetheless, although I respected this man’s point of view and his feedback, something stopped me from rewriting the article a third time. It was not because I was too lazy or because I did not feel like it, but because I could not in all good consciousness claim a message to be mine that was really someone else’s.

Pushing a writer outside of his or her comfort zone for the sake of better quality writing is one thing, however once an editor requests that we essentially change our opinion or the voice that is telling one of our stories, I think we have to stop and ask ourselves if compromising artistic integrity is worth getting published.

I never dreamed that I would walk away from any chance whatsoever for publication but as it turns out what I value in myself as a writer is more important to me than adding another star to my resume. If I were to recreate my essay according to this editor’s wishes, the meaning of what I had originally wanted to express would be lost.

Yes, there is the glamour and glory of seeing my name in print, but part of that is re-reading my words and being happy with them. Although I do occasionally embellish certain details when I write, if I do not have the freedom to stand by my views, then I will not feel right when I see the finished product as one of my readers would.

Even though my article will not be published in this particular magazine, in my opinion, and in large part thanks to this nit-picky editor’s help, the piece is actually much better. More importantly though was what I learned about myself in the process of rewriting it the one time. Certainly having my work published is my end goal but not at any price. I will not in fact do anything just to see my name in lights.

The work of a writer has value regardless of whether or not someone else finds it worthy of being published. Although of course an editor is someone a writer wants on his or her side, that editor is also just another person and his or her opinion should be considered with that in mind.

On the other hand, if editors, or anyone else for that matter, find themselves so frustrated with a writer for not expressing opinions or ideas in precisely the way they want the message to be articulated, perhaps it would be easier if they just wrote about it themselves.♠

Copyright © Andrea Freedman 2013

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About andfreed

I am a Toronto based writer of articles, columns, essays and novels.

Posted on May 1, 2013, in Weekly Thoughts and Observations and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This was well written and thought out!! Nice job Andrea!!

    Like

  2. Phil and Gloria Freedman

    It’s always good to remember that you are writing your thoughts and not another person’s opinion of them. Stick to your guns. Good for you.

    Like

  3. Good for you for sticking to your guns. I think as writers there will always come a time when a compromise becomes a compromise too far. I don’t think there is any shame in walking away, having integrity and belief in your own ability and sticking to what is ethically comfortable for you. On one hand ethics does not pay the bills but at the other end, you run the risk of feeling that you prostituted yourself.

    I did some copy recently for a service that – shall we say – some people find to be unethical. I was reticent to accept the work but I looked into some independent sources discussing this service and decided that in some cases was being unfairly demonised compared to other approaches taken by competitors of the same industry. In the end, I was happy that I wasn’t selling my soul to satan but it could easily have gone the other way and I might have refused it.

    Like

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