Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When an Editor Screws Up

Random thought of the day: Am I the only person in this country who doesn't find Borat just frickin' hilarious? My husband tried to drag me to that movie, and since I can't even sit through a 30 minute episode, I swore to him that I'd walk out. He's there now with my brother. Seriously...what am I missing? I Can. Not. Stand. The. Guy. (Borat, not my husband!) :)

Question of the day: I'm a new freelancer, working hard to build some decent clips. To that end, I recently did a piece for a small-but-national niche magazine. Having read an issue, I knew that the editing was pretty sloppy, so I made sure to have an editor friend review my piece before I sent it in.

After I submitted it, I spoke to my editor at the magazine only briefly. I asked about changes, and she told me generally about one small change they were making. Well, I've got the published book in hand now, and I'm seething. The one omission they told me about resulted in a lack of transition (forgivable), but they also added an erroneous comma in the first sentence of the second paragraph! Then, farther on, they made some cuts that resulted in unclear antecedents and a clear run-on sentence. So I'm mad, but trying to be constructive about this.

Here are my questions:1. In the future, should I demand to see final copy before it goes to press? 2. Should I mention my discontent (politely) to my editor? Frankly, I don't want to work for them again if I risk this sort of thing happening. However, it could behoove my career to get a couple of more clips this way. 3. Most importantly, is there any way I can use this clip now? The errors are really glaring from an editor's perspective (I was an editor, though not an assigning one, for several years). Is there any standard means of saying "these aren't my fault!" Or is it possible that editors are unlikely to actually read my clips?

Whoo boy. First of all, I'm so sorry. This really blows. Really, really blows. Let's answer your questions in the order received and see if we can't make this a little better.

1) Yes, you absolutely can ask to see a galley of your article before it goes to press. I know several writers who insist on this - they might even put it in their contracts - because they've been burned in the past or because they want to ensure that they're happy with the work that will carry their byline. I don't demand it, but many of my editors do send me a Word file and ask me to approve the piece before it gets printed. And clearly, you can and should do the same, should you continue working for this magazine. You can ask nicely but firmly without coming off like a pain in the ass.

2) Oy, this is a murky area, so I'd love to hear how other readers would handle it. I'd probably take one of two routes, assuming that you decide to keep writing for them. 1) I'd wait until I landed another assignment and then, once everything was hunky-dory, just ask to see the final copy of the piece. Why piss her off by pointing out her errors when you're capable of policing them on your own? Or 2) Send the editor a very gracious note, so she wouldn't in any way take the tone to be accusatory or hostile, and say something like, "I was so thrilled to receive the clip of my article on How to Fly to Space. Thanks again for assigning it. I did notice a few changes in the piece, such that some of the sentences were slightly askew or could be misinterpreted. It's not such a big deal, but I know that you guys are committed to putting out a top-quality magazine (which is why I love reading it!), so thought I'd mention them as something to be aware of in the future." I wouldn't make the note about YOU; rather, I'd make it about helping HER, without sounding condescending, if that makes sense.

3) Ugh, geez. Again, I'd love to hear what other people think about this. Well, one thing I wouldn't do is send out your clip with the disclaimer that the editor added in several errors. I mean, if you're sending this to other editors, they're going to think it's pretty lousy of you to throw your editor to the wolves. (That said, if you already had a relationship with these editors, then it might be worth mentioning. I'm friendly w/a lot of my editors to the point where quick publishing gossip is occasionally exchanged - i.e, how is this magazine to work for, etc - so I think in that circumstance, I could probably point out the errors, but I wouldn't do so to a stranger or a new-to-me professional contact.) If you think the writing really isn't top-notch, then I probably wouldn't use it, sad to say. You could still list this magazine in your credits in your cover letter, but it wouldn't be the first thing that I'd send into editors. If they pressed you for it, hmmm, I dunno, I guess maybe you could send it over with the disclaimer that "a lot got cut, so it reads differently than the version you sent in, but that you did want to give them a feel for what you can do." This is different than placing blame on your editor, and I'd think that an editor wouldn't read too much into it.

I dunno, but I do know that I'm sorry that this happened to you...thoughts from readers? What would you do?


Anonymous said...

This same scenario happened with my first assignment, however, it was worse. The editor changed (yes, you read that correctly)a quote from one of the people I interviewed to conform to the editor's prespective, not reality. The editor even went so far as to interview another subject and include his comments in my story, again to suit her perspective. The whole scene was ugly! I later found out she did this regularly.

I called her, and the conversation started out politely, but then quickly devolved. Editors can be quite confrontational, they don't get those positions by being meek.

That said, I would not use the clip, but would state in queries, "my work has appeared in..." Instead of working with this editor again, I would solicit another editor at that publication. Build out to other markets from there.

And, yes, you've learned the hard way to always ask to see your work before it's published.

Good luck!

Amie Stuart said...

I totally don't get Borat but I'm not big on that kind of comedy either

Renee said...

The same thing happened to me once! In an article I wrote for an airline magazine, an editor changed my spelling of "achievement" to "acheivement" in the final copy. I was furious, but I wrote a very polite e-mail to the editor alerting her to the mistake. (She politely apologized.) I wanted to be able to send the clip to others, so I scanned it as a pdf file and changed the spelling myself. (Acrobat allows you to do this.) I'd suggest doing the same so you can still use it. Have them send you the pdf file.

Larramie said...

Renee had the solution to my thought of changing/correcting the errors, though I don't know how this would work on something major. Much good luck in avoiding such problems in the future.

As far as Borat is concerned...he's frightening! And -- even worse -- his schtick is plain STUPID. What's funny about that? (sigh)

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I'm anal, maybe it's because I'm both a writer and editor myself, but I make a habit of going through all my articles and comparing the published text to the text I submitted. Most of the time, I'm glad to say the changes are minor (and having working as a copyeditor myself, I know that the changes are not always minor) and I find it instructive to note any phrases the editors may have changed or deleted - often because that means the word wasn't suitable for that particular magazine.

I can sympathise with the letter writer though - something similar happened to me recently, where an editor added commas in the wrong places and deleted phrases (I expect for space, given the lay-up of the story in question) that left the article not making a whole lot of sense in parts. I dealt with it by doing a minor re-edit myself (no one would notice the difference unless they compared the stories as closely as I had) when I uploaded the text of the story to my website. Obviously this wouldn't work if I was sending out photocopied clips though.

Weirdly enough, I can only think of two editors who have ever asked for clips before assigning me a story though (both major women's glossies), and I write almost exclusively for national magazines. It might be an Australian quirk. ;)

Jocelyn said...

Have you ever had an editor cut someone you interviewed out of an article? If so, how do handle letting that person know?

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, Borat has been banned here in Russia. Kazakhstan is our sister country, you know. So I haven't seen it and probably never will, it's going to be released only on DVD.

Anonymous said...

After I left a job on New Year's Day, 2000 (I fired my employer by e-mail), I wrote a by-lined article that had been, more-or-less, solicited by an editor in the same field. I was flabbergasted when I received my copy that instead showed he had incorporated the article as a subhead into his longer story with HIS by-line! Ouch..
Happy to say that publication is no longer around.
Who's this Borat fella, by-the-way, is he any good? Never read him....

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Ugh, Douglas, that really is the height of amorality.

Thanks to all of you brilliant readers for your PDF suggestion! I'd never have thought of it. You guys rock!

Anonymous said...

As an editor and writer, here's my opionion.
When I've heard I've made a editing/copyediting mistake, I am usually apolgetic. However, it's the context of how the message is given. Start off with a positive "Great layout," or somethine like that, then lead into the "but..." If it's grammar, then all you can do is change it in the pdf file if you want to put it on your website or print it out. I've even marked a clip of mine once to show the error (and say it wasn't mine.) If its a factual error, then you should ask for a correction. To be honest, noone reads them, but if it makes the person's name you spelt wrong, etc. feel better.

Per quote that has been deleted: as a writer, its your responsibility to call the person and tell them that the editor, for some reason (it may had to do with something as little as space), cut the quote.

Being a writer, I've had editors in my own company change copy into something wrong. I am lucky enough to read the proofs before it goes to press and I usually catch them, but sometimes you don't. So don't always rely on seeing the final proof before it goes to press (though its a good idea to ask for it). If the editor change something factual (like a direction, name, etc.) call and ask why. Because sometimes the writer is wrong (and I can't tell you how many times that has happened when I'm editing copy, i.e a name spelled wrong and the writer insists they've known the person since they were 4.)
Good luck.
And don't ask on a Monday (bad mood because of first day after weekend), Friday (can't wait for weekend to start), on a day you know the magazine goes to press, and if you see them out at a bar.

Anonymous said...

If you have a cllip that's a well reported and/or well told story in a good national magazine, forget about comma oddities. Most experienced assigning editors know that copy editors, not writers, have the final say. Furthermore, editors who would notice misplaced commas also would know how to fix comma problems. It's one thing to ask to read the edit to catch any last-minute problems, it's another thing to "demand" to see it. If you feel you must "demand," promise yourself not to bicker and quibble about every little change. Otherwise, you will come across as both an amateur who belongs in the kiddie pool, not the mainstream, and also as a lot of trouble when there are plenty of writers more fun to work with.Be sure to thank the editor for any fact corrections, improvements in wording, clarifications, and so on. You'll be happiest writing for magazines if you see yourself as part of a collaborative effort to present material interestingly and wisely for particular audiences. As for reading the published version word-for-word against your original, well, why not just get onto the next instead?