Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Breaking Up With Your Editor, Part Two

To continue with Friday's post about sticky situations with editors, I thought I'd offer this story.

I received an email from an editor at a huge magazine, one that I'd never written for, and though I wasn't such an avid reader of the mag, I was flattered that they'd thought of and approached me for a story.

The editor laid out what she needed pretty clearly: this wasn't rocket science, rather a dating piece that I could handle without much of a problem. (I think it was on ways to spice up those first few dates or something like that.) She asked, however, that I submit a list of 20 or so scenarios for the story, which they would then whittle down to five to ten. Oookay. Whatever, I did it. I called top dating/relationship experts, got their opinions, came up with a list, and fired it off to my editor.

I got a note back a few days later saying that they'd changed the angle of the story (the story idea that they had come up with in the first place!), and could I come up with a new set of 20 asap, which meant, literally, within a day. I gritted my teeth and made another round of calls, to the previously-used experts, as well as some new ones too.

Guess what? After 40 scenarios - all supplied by experts - my editor still wasn't satisfied. She asked me to scratch all of the already interviewed experts/authors and find new ones who might present different ideas/situations/scenarios. Think I was annoyed yet? They were only paying me about $1.50 per word, and already, the money wasn't worth my time. But, because this was my first time working with this publication AND because they had approached ME, so I didn't want to mar their good impression of my reputation, I kept going.


I made frantic last-minute calls, prodded busy experts, and finally resubmitted some ideas to my editor. Now, keep in mind that at this point, she had well over FIFTY different situations from which to choose - all of which came from or were, at times, pried out of, Ph.Ds and other experts, who seemed to know what they were talking about. So after all of this, my editor gets back to me with a list of ten or so dating scenarios that SHE and HER OTHER EDITORS have come up with - screw my research or what the experts had to say - and she then wanted me to get the experts to agree with what the editors thought.

For example, "Making Yourself Seem Less Intelligent On a Date Will Turn a Guy On."

Ahem. I'm not kidding.

Well, needless to say, I couldn't get the experts to back up most of the editors' ideas. Hell, I was mortified calling these people back for what was now the third or fourth time and saying, "um, is there ever a time when you might advise a patient to tone down her intelligence?" When I explained to my editor that none of the experts were willing to corroborate her (and her other editors') opinions/examples, she told me that I must be a shoddy reporter. Seriously. And then she told me to continue hunting down other experts until I found some who DID agree with her ideas.

Huh.

So I tried...I think we went through three drafts in which the experts' opinions still weren't emphatic enough for my editor. Could it be because, hmmm, her ideas/scenarios were inane and no reasonable expert could support them? You think??

After yet another snarky note by her with yet another last minute revision/request for additional interviews, I'd had it. So, rather than continue on this fruitless quest, what I did instead was send her a note requesting a kill fee, explaining that I couldn't possibly continue with a story that I so strongly disagreed with, and asking that my byline be removed from anything that they might publish in relation to my research. I said it all very politely and professionally, and kept my swearing and vitriol for the ears of my husband and a few writer friends.

In retrospect, I've spoken with another editor at this magazine who said this was a common problem with said editor, and I've spoken with dozens of writers who claim this is status-quo for the mag in general.

All I know is that I'll never write for them again. I have no problem writing fluffy, fun dating pieces. I *do* have a problem with degrading messages, ridiculous editorial demands and condescending editors who ask you to pull a rabbit out of a hat when there isn't a hat there to begin with. (In other words, ask you to invent a story and theories that no reasonably intelligent expert can agree with.)

-Loss of lifetime income from burning the bridge at this magazine: at least several thousand
-Kill fee: $500
-Maintaining both my professional and personal integrity: priceless

5 comments:

Dawn Weinberger said...

Allison, I thought this might be the story you were going to share for "part two." I'm still unbelievably appalled by the whole situation, but really want to applaud you for handling it the way you did. I know it was a while ago, but it still inspires me.
-Dawn

Trish Ryan said...

Life is just too short for that kind of madness...not to mention the horror of being interviewed for the launch of your bestselling novel and facing the question, "So...do you really think only stupid girls get the guy???"

Avoiding that scenerio: priceless

larramie said...

Good grief, who's the stupid one? How pathetic!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Dawn-hee. Such a memorable story, right?

Trish and Larr - Word. It was truly unbelievable!

larramie said...

Allison, we know from the comments that you're not the only one who's gone head-to-head with these editors and that's even more bewildering. How do these seemingly indecisive, unproductive people keep their jobs?