The Business of Writing

Simon Whaley's Resource For Writers

What The Editor Changed

What do you do when you see your work published in a magazine? Do you buy an extra copy and frame it on the wall? Do you pass it round to friends and family, insisting that they read it? Or do you file it away in your achievement files of published work?

Have you ever thought of sitting down and reading through the piece yourself? Have you ever played the ‘What The Editor Changed’ game?

Oh yes, editors do change things. (Well, it is their magazine, after all.) But have you ever considered what you might learn from comparing your submitted version with the final published version?

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you might be surprised by what you spot.

Fiction writers may be frustrated when the editor changes the name of their main character from Sally to Nelly. Now it could simply be that the editor has selected three other stories for the same issue that also have main characters called Sally. That could confuse readers, so a name change avoids that.

But could it be that your choice of name wasn’t quite right for the era in which you’d set your story? Or perhaps the editor thought their readers may get Sally confused with your other characters: Cally and Talli? Or Susan and Sophia?

In a recent published story of mine I spotted the editor had emphasised a key plot point. In fact, I felt it had been over-emphasised. But as I read through the story for a second time I realised it only felt over-emphasised to me because I knew what the plot was. To a reader caught up in the story for the first time, this key plot point could easily have been missed.

Sometimes, house styles and preferences become clearer when you analyse the changes an editor has made in your work than when you sat down and studied the publication. Such an exercise illustrated to me that one publication prefers dialogue tags whereas another uses fewer of them.

Sometimes with non-fiction, the editor may rewrite the opening sentence, or paragraph. Or they may even restructure the article, moving paragraphs around. I spotted one editor rewrite my opening paragraph to link it with a news item that had happened after I’d submitted the article.

And then there was the time when I noted how one editor had changed all of my imperial measurements to metric – something I hadn’t spotted during my initial market analysis.

It’s often these points that become clearer when you sit down and make comparisons.

One way to do this is to use Word’s Track Changes facility. Open up a copy of the text that you submitted and go to ‘Review’ in the Toolbar …

 

 

and then click on the Track Changes button to turn it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, with your published piece beside you, make whatever changes you need to your Word document so that it matches the published piece.

When you’ve done that for the whole article, spend a few minutes analysing the difference. Are there any big structural changes made? If so, why do you think this might be? Are there any common mistakes? Did you use double speech marks when the publication only uses single? Has the publication changed any of your words? Were you using multi-syllabled words when there were shorter, easier-to-understand words?

You may surprise yourself with what you spot in this exercise. (And feel guilty about using the wrong sort of speech marks, knowing that the editor had to change them all.)

So the next time you have a piece of work published, why not sit down and play the ‘What The Editor Changed’ game? You might be surprised by what you discover.

Good luck.

6 Comments

  1. All good advice, but important to remember that some changes are made through no ‘fault’ of the writer, and from which there will be little or nothing to learn – for example, if the designer can’t squeeze all of your text into their design of the page, a few words or lines may have to be cut by the sub-editor. Other changes may have to be made to account for the pictures used, and their position on the page. Would advise new writers not to get *too* hung up on each and every change made, if any change can’t be explained by one of your many good reasons!

    Alex

  2. I was very happy to find my article copy-pasted in one magazine in my country.

  3. I had a letter published in the Independent and was astonished at the number of changes. Subjunctives were removed, and my rather starchy ‘proper’ prose was turned into something more fluid.

What are your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: