Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When Editors Overreach

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!
           From Karn Evil 9 by Emerson Lake and Palmer

Well I’m back. How have you been? I’ve been busy. We rebuilt our patio and I rebuilt the fence. We also have a new puppy, EMD Watson. But that, as they say, is a tail for another day.

What brings me here today is that I’ve recently had the dust shaken from my gilded view point of the publishing community. I had to do something last weekend that it never occurred to me that I would ever do. I asked a publisher to pull my story from publication in their anthology.

I’ve worked with many publishers, so far all very small press unfortunately, and everyone has been courteous, kind, and reasonably intelligent. Once you receive the coveted acceptance email from the publisher the next item you will receive is the contract. In it there is usually a line that states “The Publisher reserves the right to make minor edits to the body of text, which will then be presented to the Author for approval prior to Publication.” The key words in this sentence are “minor edits”. Herein lies the problem.

I received a copy edited by the publisher. The email attached implied that the edits were very minor and few except for removing all of the interview portions from my story. Immediately I was on guard. The interview portions were transition segments I was using to let the reader know more about MIS Disposal and the man who created it. I liked these sections and felt they made an interesting switch between scenes, not unlike a relevant quotation before a chapter which you see in many books.

I opened the file not without some trepidation. I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

The first few pages contained many revisions I felt were a bit arbitrary.
Example: revising a minor character from saying “A minute only” to now become “Only a minute”. Okay, fine, not what I wanted, but no big deal. I liked the more formality of the voice of the first one feeling that is the way I thought the character would speak. But in the end, no big deal. I could let him have this one.

In the next paragraph he began to change verb tense and to actually make the action more passive. Example: I wrote “The army pulled in.” He changed it to “The army had been pulled in.” Now why do this? First, it took an action that was happening right at that moment and made it happen in the past. Second, the addition of “had been” also made the action more passive. It didn’t fit with the rest of the paragraph.

So far not too bad. Then I went a few pages on. That is where the editing stopped and the rewrite began.

It started with a paragraph scratched out entirely and replaced with nearly the same wording but different order. Another “have been” was added in along with a “that was”. Much of what was done did not affect the writing for the better. On the contrary it weakened it.

The next page was worse. The entire page was red, the entire next three pages were red. He had rewritten everything and even added in imagery that did not exist in my original story. “A line of soldier moved in tandem like a monstrous centipede.” Huh? No, that’s awful. There was an entire new paragraph about the monster attacking a hospital. What? Nothing even close to this was in my story. WTF?

After 9 pages I stopped writing comments and gave up. It was no longer my story. He had changed the voice of the story, taking me away and putting in himself in my place. I looked ahead a few pages. Page after page had been crossed out and redone. He was making himself co-author and what’s worse, making it a really schlocky story as well.

I saved what I had done and sent the editor an email saying I’d be happy to look at edits to my story but what was sent to me was a rewrite. In the past an editor might say, make this part more exciting or this sentence is missing some color. Then they would allow me the opportunity to revise it. Not take it upon themselves to do it. I told him that if this is the story he wanted to publish I couldn’t allow it and asked it be withdrawn.

He replied stating that due to time constraints on the publication he was sorry but would pull my story. He was totally surprised that I had reacted in such a way. No one else had done so. Many of his comments had come from suggestions by a number of “beta readers”. No wonder it sounded so disjointed now. It had been rewritten by a committee.

Obviously there are authors out there that will let someone else totally rewrite their story and still feel fine with putting their name on it. There are a couple dozen in that anthology it seems. I’m not one of those. For $11 and a free copy it just wasn’t worth it. I want to be able to point to a story, say this is my work, and be proud of it where ever it is published.

I never thought I would do this, it never occurred to me I would ever want to do this, but it’s done. The story has been pulled. I never want to do this again.

Did I do right? Did I overreact? Does this make me a prima donna?
Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget I still have 3 more stories being published this Fall. I’ll keep you posted.
And as always, thanks for reading me.