Sunday, December 7, 2008

Overeditors Anonymous

Anyone on the editorial side of publishing knows that his or her work is going to be tweaked multiple times—whether it's to whittle down the word count, clarify a point or make the text fit the magazine's overall tone. But Ed wants to know: At what point does the revising become too much?

Recently, Ed was chatting with a junior-editor friend about how manuscripts are circulated between the senior editors at his magazine. “I write a page and it makes the usual rounds,” he says. “Then I make all the corrections and send it around again. After three go-rounds, it’s supposed to be final, but sometimes my supervisors will make additional changes without telling me. Is that okay?” Ed had to think long and hard before responding because the answer (while seemingly obvious) isn’t really clear-cut.

In an ideal scenario, yes, the junior editor should be advised of any changes made to his/her writing before it goes to print. For one thing, his or her name may be attached to it. Secondly, how else is the neophyte supposed to learn exactly what was wrong with the original copy? Sure, a lot can be learned from careful observation, but no one’s a mind reader!

At the same time, the magazine world moves at an über-fast pace. Even the most nurturing senior editors don’t always have time to explain their notes to newbies, most of whom are expected to learn on-the-fly.

What do you think? If a junior editor writes something and feels the end product bears absolutely no resemblance to what was initially submitted, should he or she speak up or just accept that it's part of the learning process? And if a senior editor rewrites the piece, is he or she obligated to go over the revisions or even give the whippersnapper a head's up that the manuscript was changed?

Share your thoughts!
Ed

55 comments:

Katie Burke said...

I can't stand having any of my writing changed without my knowledge, unless for some reason my name is not attached. Otherwise, I absolutely expect to be informed.

I have spoken up (and would again) when changes to my writing have gone to print without my knowledge.

BeeCee said...

I agree. If a junior editor's name is attached to the piece, he or she should at least be notified that the *final* version has been changed. This also helps with proofing for errors. If new writing is added to the piece, it needs to be read by more than one person.

jen480 said...

I think the senior ed should say something. I had something similar happen to me when I was an EA. The articles editor made a change that completely changed the meaning of one of my sentences. We wound up having to run a correction. And, of course, everyone thought it was my mistake b/c of the byline.

NativeNYker said...

From experience, your supposed to suck it up. Its polite when an copy-editor or such goes over changes etc, with you but its not always the case. & if you speak out on it, you may actually do more harm than good as it is likely to annoy them further given that they felt driven to have to re-write/clarify/clean your work... Its a very sensitive area.

xo
Rants, Thoughts & Merde
http://rantsthoughtsmerde.blogspot.com/2009/01/gossip-wedgie-jessica-szohr.html

Olivia said...

Ed, where are you? So much is happening in the magazine world and we haven't heard your thoughts on the matter. Please come back at us with some news or commentary. Heck, you could even talk about the Esquire cover with ad/content flap.

Anyway, we'd love to hear from you!

T-Payne said...

As a staff writer at a college newspaper, I felt cheated to know that a staff editor changed my work. And on a few occasions, I've spoke up about it (especially when a quote was reworded). Editors often threatened to fire staff writers for poor work. But how was I to know that my work was garbage?

I talked to the EIC about my concern and she reassured me that the job is very fast-paced and that sometimes it doesn't do the writers any justice to edit the piece without giving any notification.

So, working as a section editor, I went out of my way to send my writers my final edits and sometimes call the writer to the office and edit with them (when possible), so that they could see their errors. After this, the writers showed much improvement.

So yes, I think taking just a little extra time to send the marked-up version of the articles to staff writers can make a world of a difference. Not only does it improve their skills, but it also makes it easier on the editor in the long run, as they aren't having to edit as much.

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Writing anything that you want other people to read and enjoy can be difficult. If someone actually improves on your work, then you really should not get upset. If they change your work in a way that diminishes what you are trying to say or alters it drastically, then I would speak up whether it did any good or not.

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