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.