Annoy the Editor #2: Tips for publishing in magazines + journals
April 23, 2015
I got a new pair of shoes (half-off sale at the thrift store!) and had to write a new post so I could show them off. This post continues my Annoy the Editor series and will help you to improve your writing and also to get published in magazines and journals. It's about detaching from your story and letting the editor do her job, which is, among many other things, edit.
How could these red backless Mary Janes annoy anyone, even an editor?
Take Line Edits Personally. This is a great way to annoy the editor and make the experience of working with you so unpleasant that she won't want to do it again. What can I say to assure you that those deletions and insertions are not about you, that your editor is focused solely on making your story the best it can be? I understand: you've evaluated every word, considered every comma, constructed every sentence just so. Naturally you are attached to them. But they may not come off as you intended. What you thought was intrigue may read as evasion. That bit of slang may sound dated. The confession you made may be over the edge of TMI. What you intended as sophistication might actually be a run-on sentence. Your editor is there to identify these discrepancies, to save you from yourself, to help your story say what you want it to say.
Representing the Reader. The editor is also there to represent the reader's interests. And she knows her audience; She is intimate with the expectations and desires of the readers of her particular publication. An editor at a consumer magazine like Health knows that her readers want practical tips, so she may condense two paragraphs of your personal reflections about recovering from postpartum depression. The writer who takes line edits personally will interpret this as callous disregard for an experience that meant a lot to her. The writer who doesn't take it personally will understand that for this venue, two sentences about your own private hell is appropriate.
Well maybe the hard sole makes the tiniest clacking sound on a bare floor...could be annoying, especially to an editor
Trying to Make Everybody Happy. While the editor is trying to meet the needs of the reader, she is also trying to meet the needs of the publication's designers, advertisers, and publishers, as well as the constraints of physics and geometry. Say the art department decides to enlarge an illustration or needs to add a new ad. This may cut into the space allotted to the text. Often these decisions happen at the eleventh hour; I've been there, when I was a staff editor, getting proofs with four lines of run-over text and a mandate to make it fit. It hurt to delete a great line, but it had nothing to do with the greatness or not-greatness of the line.
A Detached Perspective. With literary journals, the work of the editor is more subjective, but still, she is not changing your words to spite you. She is doing it to better the work. An editor at The Sun changed a phrase in No Camping on City Streets, my essay about my evicted family spending a summer at a lake, from "wandering back and forth between liquid and solid" to "... between water and land." I thought my way sounded poetic; he thought it sounded like a chemistry experiment. He was acting in his capacity as someone detached from the work and wanting to publish a great piece, and I believed him. It became "water and land," in the essay, and in the chapter it eventually became in my memoir To Have Not, and every time I give a reading from that section, I cringe at what might have been. I didn't accept his changes 100 percent of the time (just 90 percent), but I always knew they were in service of the story, and had nothing to do with me.