Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Publishing 101

For the past month I've been revising a short story based on feedback from the editor of a literary journal who has been dangling the carrot of publication. The first round of revision requests were an interesting batch of additions that had me looking at my story from a slightly new, or rather expanded, angle. One change was a simple search and replace. Elsewhere, I added needed shading to a couple scenes. One of the additions was too difficult to work in; there was so much going on in the story that another layer toppled it.

When I was done I felt the story benefited from the revision. They liked my additions but sent another round of requests. I was happy to make those first rounds of edits. This round seemed more subjective. They mentioned phrases and words that struck them as cliched or pedestrian. They also recommended the reorganization of certain sentences. Again, I took the suggestions and looked at my story from another new angle.

I reorganized the series of sentences as suggested, but I couldn't tell if it made that page better. I know it didn't make it worse. I took out the cliched idea of one of my characters'. Once out, I couldn't think of a replacement, so I reworded the preceding sentence. It changed the meaning a little, but I think the result in the reader's mind remains as intended. I made a few more clarifications, and that finished the second round.

The last time I had a story published, the editors told me they were making small edits and sent me the changes for my review. I couldn't tell what they had changed. The requested edits of my current story were unexpected but not surprising. The editors' reasoning behind them was so thoughtful that I was honored they had given my work such a close read and taken the time to try to make it better. I felt I was in good hands as I made the changes. I expect every journal editor has an idea of what works and what doesn't for his or her publication. Maybe the changes I made better reflect the attitude of the journal.

It's still my work, and I wouldn't have made the changes if I had felt strongly against them. My writing group read the same story earlier in the summer, and I incorporated many of their suggestions before sending it out. If I weren't open to others' ideas I wouldn't be in a writing group or participate in intense novel workshops where a thin critique skin leads to hard feelings and misunderstanding.

I'm excited to have another story published*, but don't feel I sold my soul to get it done. I told a writer friend about the edits, and he told me about an editor who once asked him to change the tense of one of his stories. Did that make it a better story? Who knows, but maybe it fit in more with how that editor wanted to present his publication. What are some of your experiences with journal editors? Were you ever asked to make a change that you didn't agree with? Did the changes make the story better?

*Pending final approval.


Liz's Mom said...

This is like a 'How to revise a story to suit the publisher' Workshop in one excellent blog post.

The back and forth, the difficulty of finding the new phrase, did the changes make the story better ? All these are part of a writer's experience. You explain it all so well.

Robin said...

Dell -- I think the editing process you're going through with your soon-to-be published story is interesting and timely. Another key aspect is to get your work done sooner than later. I once had a literary journal express interest in one of my poems if I deleted the last stanza. For some reason, I sat on that poem for two years. When I finally resubmitted the poem, a new editor had come onboard and wasn't interested. I learned a valuable lesson: Don't procrastinate! Good luck with the second round of editing.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's mom. Robin, don't make me cry with that story. Now's the time to send it out again. Right now!

Tim Carrier said...

I just wanted to complement both the Grub Street and this blog for the work all of you do to inspire both young and old writers. One of the Joys and heartaches for a writer in life in understanding that we can always learn, grow, and expand our creativity by both our own experiences and the experiences of others. I think that Boston is well-served by having this much creativity and critique available to all.
Good luck and to all writers and would-be writers and I would say constantly challenge yourself and others.
Tim Carrier

Robin said...

Thanks for the support! Maybe I will send it out:)

Dell Smith said...

Hi Tim. Thanks for reading. Your words are equally inspiring.
Robin, let me know how it goes.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Being open to comments and suggestions to make our work better is necessary in the world of publishing. :)

Dell Smith said...

It's true, but it's not always a bad thing. These editors have come back with a couple more suggestions since I wrote this and I realized I've never had such a close reading of my work before. It's hard to say no to an editor when they are obviously passionate about your story--yes yes yes.