That's Not What I Wrote! What to Do When You're Hit With Heavy Editing - Make a Living Writing

That’s Not What I Wrote! What to Do When You’re Hit With Heavy Editing

Carol Tice | 89 Comments

Surprised businesswoman at computerBy Sophie Lizard

You get childishly excited the day you know your writing’s being published.

Your morning starts with a birthday kind of feeling – you wake up with a smile, and rush breakfast because you can’t wait to check out your latest work.

You’re still smiling when you open it up and start reading… but it’s all wrong.

This isn’t what you wrote. It doesn’t even look like your work anymore.

Boom! You’ve been hit with a heavy edit. And it doesn’t feel good.

Hey, I’ve been there. It might not feel like it at first, but this experience is your springboard to better, faster and more lucrative writing.

How’s that? Here’s how to handle it when your published article barely resembles the one you submitted:

React Like a Professional

The first thing to do is calmly ask the editor to debrief you on the changes. If you’re lucky, you’ll find your editor has the time, patience and teaching skills to help you understand why changes were necessary.

An editor like this is an invaluable asset to your freelance writing career. They’ll become your mentor and editing surgeon, giving you the writing equivalent of work at a teaching hospital. You’ll improve with every bit of feedback you absorb, so make the most of this opportunity and learn all you can.

Learning why an editor makes changes doesn’t only improve your writing. It also helps you to understand your client better, which makes getting repeat assignments easier.

Learn From Those Who Won’t Teach

Not every editor is an ideal mentor: they may be too busy to explain the changes to you, or they may make changes that you truly hate without giving you a reason. That’s OK – you can learn even from an editor who won’t teach you!

Don’t argue with your editor about changes unless they’ve accidentally distorted the facts of your piece. Editing is their job, and they’re doing it, so keep the focus on how you can deliver what your client wants.

If you’ve taken some heavy editing, then your work may not have been perfectly aligned with the publication’s editorial objectives. Analyze the changes, and you’ll start to see potential reasons for your editor’s decisions.

Know Your Editor’s Motives

If you work with one editor repeatedly, your mission is to learn to read the editor’s mind. Instead of writing something they’ll change, you can predict the changes and make them yourself.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are opening and closing paragraphs redone, but the midsection is unchanged? If so, they may be aiming for stronger reader engagement, and it’ll be well worth your time to figure out what tactics they’re using.
  • Are paragraphs reshuffled? Then learn the structure they prefer, and apply it to your writing for this project. They may want an article with an inverted pyramid structure, one that always presents facts before opinions, or one that follows a problem-solution-instruction sequence, for example.
  • Have personal anecdotes or opinions been cut? Writing from personal experience works well for some projects, and may save you a bit of research time. But if this happens, try making a fact-focused submission to this editor next time and see what happens.
  • How simple is the final vocabulary and structure? Many editors have a target reading age or other readability criteria to consider. If they’re switching long, writerly words and sentences for short, simple ones then you need to adjust your writing to match.

Once you’ve learned how your editor thinks, you’ll be able to write on-target first drafts and spend less time on each piece. That means you can earn more, and faster!

Guide an Inexperienced Editor

On some freelance writing projects, your “editor” may have zero editing experience. It happens more often than you might think: You could be working with a small business CEO, a designer, or a fellow writer taking on their first editing role. If an inexperienced editor makes a lot of changes to your work, you have two options:

  1. Take your pay and take the edits. As long as they’re not damaging your reputation as a writer, the changes matter less than the money!
  2. Politely argue against edits you think are detrimental. This can benefit both you and your client, but it means spending extra time on the project, so keep your argument concise.

Remember, if you spend a lot of time discussing your writing with an inexperienced editor or offering them editing advice, you’ll need to charge a higher fee to cover the extra hours and added value!

Let’s be honest: Almost every freelance writer has had their work changed by an editor. Think of it as a badge of experience and an opportunity to show your worth.

Because if there’s one thing editors love, it’s a writer who can learn to adapt.

How have you dealt with major edits? Leave a comment and share your strategy.

Sophie Lizard is on a mission to help you increase your income through freelance blogging. Find her at Be A Freelance Blogger and grab your free copy of The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More!

89 comments on “That’s Not What I Wrote! What to Do When You’re Hit With Heavy Editing

  1. Rebecca Klempner on

    I’ve both politely discussed changes & left scalpel-happy editors behind. But I also try to turn in assignments a little early, with a friendly note, “Let me know if you’d like me to make any tweaks.” Then we can work on a mutually acceptable final draft.

  2. Shane Arthur on

    I tell students,”Language follows rules; it doesn’t follow orders. Please feel free to disagree with any of my edits.” Seems to set the right tone. And lately, I’ve tried to include more positive comments along with my suggested changes.

  3. Angela on

    What should you do if your entire article was practically scrapped in favor of what the editor wrote? I wrote a 1400 word article, when it was published it was shortened to 600 words and the editor had written half of it. Only 300 words of my article had been used.

    I just feel that if the article is really that bad, or in such dire need of change then send it back to the writer and have them change it.

    At least give them a CHANCE to fix the mistakes. Especially if they sent the article a whole week before deadline.

    • Carol Tice on

      We might wish for that, Angela…but editors are often very pressed for time. Just because you sent it a week ahead doesn’t mean they ended up getting to look at it much before their deadline.

      The only thing to do in this situation is reach out to the editor and ask *why* it was so edited, and see what you can learn from the experience. You may learn you don’t want to work for that editor again. 😉 Or you might learn something that improves your writing.

  4. Kate on

    Thank you. I asked for a correction and told him I wouldn’t be writing for his paper anymore. Seems like the simplest solution!

  5. Kate on

    I need a bit of advice and this is the best result Google has turned up. I write a monthly column for a newspaper and this month the editor changed my column so much that it misrepresented my stance on the matter. I was not aware he’d made any changes before he sent the paper to print. Do I have any recourse?

    • Carol Tice on

      As I think the post outlines, your options include politely asking if you might review before publication if there are substantial edits, asking for a correction, deciding you don’t care as long as your checks clear, asking to have your byline taken off, and deciding not to work for them anymore if you feel strongly about it.

      If you’re asking if you could sue the editor over it, I don’t recommend that.

  6. Nick on

    Hi All and thanks for the reality-check.
    I just had my very first piece published, and it received a “heavy edit”. At first I was shocked, and asked “Can they do that!?” but reading this really put my feet back on the ground. I am a rookie, and I need to write “on-target”, not just on time. Great to get my head back in a space where I can function as a (aspiring) professional, and great to get this advice from the professionals.

    I asked politely for some feedback regarding my work, and learnt something about my writing straight away. It’s hard to take that initial blow after working so hard on something, but I will always read it as I meant it to be read, others will read it as it is.

    Great public service announcement. Cheers.

    • Carol Tice on

      The fact that you asked why there were so many changes and learned from the answers sets you apart right away, Nick — and means you’ll be able to improve and move forward.

      That happens to be how I learned nearly everything I know about writing articles, by the way. I’d quiz my editors about everything they changed. “Why is this lede better than my one?” What I learned made my whole career possible.

  7. Makro on

    I love the suggestions you give for dealing with heavy editing. They are all spot on. one thing i would like to add, don’t just passively accept all changes. It’s your writing. If you disagree strongly with the changes made, you can take your piece back. Yes, you won’t get paid, but sometimes there are good reasons to do that. I had one editor on a technical piece swear that what I’d written was wrong (she was not the technical reviewer). I finally got tired of arguing and let it go through, and I was the one who had to take the flak for writing the wrong information. Not her.

  8. Nicky K. on

    I agree, the editors have contributed a lot to make things better, not just in writing/journalism, but generally in art. For example, take the Terry Gilliam movie ‘Brazil’. Gilliam’s own cut was rather shabby, not to mention too long; however, after the studio execs worked on it, it resulted in the masterpiece known as ‘Brazil – Love Conquers All’. No one can deny the importance of editors after that.

  9. Alicia on

    This is such a great topic (and has happened to me more than once). Most of the time I let the edits slide and realize that it does help the piece, but I really like the tips you offered, Sophie.

  10. Taylor Gordon on

    Thank you Sophie for this post! I just had my first paid blog writing assignment a few weeks ago and almost had an anxiety attack when I saw the edits. As a freelance newbie the changes made me second guess my ability as a writer. Thanks to your post and the comments shared by others I used it as a learning experience to improve my future pieces. I’m still fearlessly (ok maybe with a little fear) applying for other paid posting opportunities and I was even offered a second writing assignment from the same editor.

    This post potentially saved my career. LOL. Cheers!

    • Carol Tice on

      That’s awesome Taylor!

      I know so many writers who implode when they get edits, not realizing that that’s how editors justify their jobs. 😉 And a good editor does make your piece better, and you can learn a lot if you’re open to it.

  11. JessieB on

    Thank you for this piece. One thing to note though– for people who write but aren’t getting paid for their work– being heavily edited is bad form on the part of the editor. I’m an academic writer and often my only pay is a contributor copy of my work. I rarely get paid for my work, so the first rule in my field for editors is– apprise your contributor of your changes. I’m also an editor, having 2 academic collections under by belt plus over a dozen journals, and one thing I learned from my editors– heavily editing or rewriting what is a donated work is just not acceptable.

    That being said, today started as you said in the beginning of the piece– our article was to appear today in a much anticipated pop cultural volume (my husband & I are longtime writing partners)…. and we turn to the page…and we see a title that’s not ours, and a sorely truncated piece that is just not what we intended and actually doesn’t make sense (the entire opening and closing had been removed & the result is an essay that just doesn’t seem finished).

    Since that was a slap in the face from a newbie editor and since we didn’t even get contributor copies of the piece, I was professional but did give the editor a piece of my mind. His excuse? I’m a newbie and didn’t realize how much work it would be. He didn’t even remember how heavily he edited our piece until after reading my email and reading the piece himself.

    Lesson learned. I will never work with a new editor again. I know there’s a learning curve, but when my work is donated– and my time is donated– the rules are a little different.

    Thanks again for a great piece.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, now you’re on one of my pet peeves…baby editors.

      I had one business magazine I had written for for years with seasoned editors, and then they seemed to change direction and decide their blog should be handled by brand-new editors they would train. They were taking reporters and just sticking them in the editor’s chair, and they would just drown. Believe the first one I got was fired after about a month, she just could not keep up. But then they replaced her with yet another brand-new one!

      However, they didn’t ask me if I had the extra bandwidth to sit around training their baby editors. I actually had no interest in doing that, and it was a lot of extra time on my end, explaining that yes, you’ve just rewritten my headline into something less likely to get traffic, could we change it back?

      I soon left for an opportunity to write for a competing publication and a very experienced, talented editor I could respect and trust.

  12. Jennifer Kyrnin on

    I have to say that I much prefer heavy editing that I can adjust to than no editing and comments like “this is great.” When I first started writing, perhaps, the positive comments were a nice ego boost, but ultimately, even if I don’t agree (and thus don’t accept) the edits I receive, I know there is something about the text that bothered the editor. So it’s something to think about at least.

    I’ve read many books (especially self-published ebooks) that read like their editors were their best friends and relations. In other words, there are few or no grammar errors, but the book itself has no cohesion, the characters (if it’s fiction) aren’t consistent, and the text meanders in a boring or confusing way. I think the problem is that receiving criticism is hard. And your friends don’t want you to stop liking them simply because they didn’t like how you structured the chapter. Even when I tell my editors “be tough, don’t spare my feelings” I often get back responses like “please don’t be mad, but….”

    I love the suggestions you give for dealing with heavy editing. They are all spot on. The two things I would add are:

    1. Don’t just passively accept all changes. It’s your writing. If you disagree strongly with the changes made, you can take your piece back. Yes, you won’t get paid, but sometimes there are good reasons to do that. I had one editor on a technical piece swear that what I’d written was wrong (she was not the technical reviewer). I finally got tired of arguing and let it go through, and I was the one who had to take the flak for writing the wrong information. Not her.

    2. Don’t take it personally. Speaking as an author who has been getting unsatisfactory marks in the “accepts constructive criticism” category since I was five years old, I can tell you that this is very hard to do. But it’s important to remember that your work is not you. Someone can suggest that you swap paragraphs around or remove your stories or make your words more stilted, and still be your friend (or a good editor).

    • Carol Tice on

      Got to agree that books are ever more casually edited these days. Many seem like they’d be better off with 100 or more pages trimmed out. But I believe the balance of power has shifted, especially once an author hits it big, where the editor doesn’t dare suggest the sort of major surgery they might have done back when.

      And of course with self-publishing there’s even more loosely edited work in our futures…

  13. Sophie Lizard on

    Sounds like you did the right thing there, Lisa! I’m glad your heavy edit was almost entirely painless . 🙂 Keep on stepping up your game; I’m convinced you’re going to be a rockstar.

  14. Lisa Baker on

    This is timely for me too, because I just had my first really heavy edit ever (on my highest paying piece ever, appropriately). I *loved* the job the editor did, except for one thing where she changed some (minor) facts very significantly. Fortunately, the fact-checker sent me the most recent version, so I told her about the discrepancy and made a rewrite suggestion. I don’t think it’s a big deal if they don’t use it. Like I said, the editor made my piece much better, and I will definitely be sitting down to study my submission next to her edit so I can try to get closer to the mark next time!

  15. Rehmat on

    A good editor shines your writing and yes, it really surprises when your first writing is published. It is not childish, indeed is natural 🙂 Good post Sophie

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Thanks, Rehmat. I agree, it’s natural for a writer to be dismayed at a heavy edit. I wish that more editors had the time to explain the changes, because that really helps you as a writer!

  16. Kathleen Curry on

    A few years back, I wrote for free for a music magazine to get samples.

    The only time I got annoyed with a rewording is when they chose to end my story by saying the band was “too cool for school”. I don’t know where that phrase came from, but I’ve never said it in my life. It was their discretion, but I don’t feel it added anything but ‘cheesy’ to the piece.

    As I’ve learned in office jobs, some people have to add something, to ‘mark territory’ to make it theirs, no matter how much it stinks. That’s life….

    • Carol Tice on

      Ooh, I hate that, when they use some slang or expression and it just goes “Ka-Klunk” in your mind.

      But yeah, that’s why editors almost always change your headline, even if it’s good. Because writing headlines is their job. 😉

        • Sophie Lizard on

          Yeah, I’ve had that kind of edit. When your editor’s turn of phrase doesn’t fit with your usual tone, it feels weird to read the two mixed together. I think the best thing to do in these cases is chalk a one-off up to a crazy moment in the editor’s head, but if it happens often you may want to adjust your tone to match their idioms.

  17. Janet Hartman on

    I haven’t have a major edit in terms of quantity, but I did have one that made me look ignorant. I submitted an article to a boating lifestyle magazine and used the term “rhumb line” which means the straight line distance between two points. An editor (not the main one) changed it to rumba line.

    I just wrote a letter to the editor saying I was thrilled to see my article but had to laugh when I saw that change in the first paragraph. I said I wanted to assure people that I knew the difference.

    My letter appeared in the next issue and the top editor added her comment about how it happened below my letter. A little humor was the best approach in my case.

  18. Tom Southern on

    Yes, timely post for me too! I experienced this with my very first guest post. A heavy edit watered it’s message down. A strong headline was weakened (partly by being turned into a 2-part headline which doesn’t work well at attracting readers).

    The post was popular though, and got several thank-yous from readers. I think it would have got more readers, and big bloggers to tweet links, without such editing.

    I think the blog owner thought the edits suited his readership more which, I suppose, is fair. I hope to write another guest post for the blog in question, and your advice for how to ask for fewer edits is handy.

    Thanks Sophie!

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hey Tom, thanks for sharing your story! One thing I’ve noticed is that almost every “I was heavily edited” story here is about somebody’s *first* article or guest post… which means that you guys all got better at meeting your editors’ needs once you had some experience! 😉

  19. Cindy Brown on

    The worst edit of all is when they come back and say, “This isn’t quite what we were looking for. Can you…” and ask you to basically write a new piece. Luckily, this was my very first experience with guest posting and I learned my lesson the first time. It just wasn’t the feel she was looking for. I wrote an entirely new and different piece and it continues to be one of her most widely read posts. Yay! Don’t be offended. Give the customer what they want and take direction. They’ll come back for more. Try, try again. On another important guest post, I had to submit three different pieces before she was satisfied (a different blogger). Never give up!

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Cindy, I love your attitude! Yep, sometimes you just need to suck up all the feedback you can get and then revise your work to fit. And if the article’s already published before you get a heads-up about the changes your editor made, sucking that up along with the feedback is the only option you have left!

  20. Angela Ursery on

    I’ve had some phenomenal editors, and have also edited many writers. To me, the best editing is one that takes place in the framework of a relationship.Writer and editor have at least one goal in common: to produce the best written work possible within the constraints they both face.
    That said, many writers see editing as akin to having their favorite child slapped in the face by a stranger: unpleasant, illogical, and most unexpected. Writers frequently get defensive (try editing lawyers or medical professionals if you really want to see this in action) and take editing as an indicator of their worth or intelligence or ability. It is none of those things, and a good editor makes sure to convey that at all times.
    Finally, time is their best friend: the sooner they can discuss the work at hand and the editor’s needs–definitely before publication!–the better.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Angela, you’ve got a talent for condensing the essential points of a conversation! No surprise that you’re a writer and editor. 😀

      A relationship of mutual respect is the ideal; an unavailable editor and a wounded writer is the worst combination. Given the number of times I’ve heard writers speak of their work as their offspring, the hurt feelings are easy to understand, but I often worry that writers don’t get enough feedback from their editors to smooth the path to a stronger relationship and more targeted writing.

      • Rebecca Klempner on

        I think you’re right about how bad it is when the writer gets hurt and defensive–but that’s actually what I loved about this post, Sophie. Sometimes, we’re so worked up that we can’t even have a conversation with the editor (I’m mostly over this now, thank G-d). The list you provided of the types of changes and what they might mean is a great place to start. Even if we’re going to have that exchange later with the editor, just noticing what kind of changes they made and that they don’t mean you’re a bad writer, just that there’s a particular kind of editorial style expected, could calm us down.

        • Sophie Lizard on

          Exactly, Rebecca – it isn’t about who’s wrong or right, it’s much more about meeting the needs of the publication and understanding the brief your editor is working to.

          For beginning writers especially, it’s easy to take a heavy edit as hurtful criticism, but we have to “boss up” and remember that we’re making a business transaction. The customer’s entitled to adjust your submission to suit them better, just like I’m entitled to buy a T-shirt and then dye it a different colour!

  21. Tom Bentley on

    Sophie, one of the first things I had published (a long newspaper feature) was edited so that the first three paragraphs were completely removed—and it was so much more engaging! At first I was irked, but in reading the piece (and reviewing his other minor edits), I saw how much tighter it was. I saw the value of good editing early, and appreciate it even more so now.

    I’ve definitely found that editors who have made a number of moderate changes in a piece can be flexible about restoring some of the original language if you can defend your point (without poking the editor with anything pointed). And being reasonable is a key exchange that smoothes the road to further assignments. I can’t call out editors for being bloodsucking vampires regardless—I’m one myself. (An editor, that is, not a vampire.)

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Thanks Tom – I’m loving the balance of editors and writers here! Plus those of us who do both, of course.

      I like your story because I’m particularly known for making edits to writers’ ledes and calls to action. so it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one! My aim is always to help the writing have a bigger impact on the audience, and if any writer came to me and argued for a change to be revised I’d certainly hear them out (as long as they don’t bring any pointy implements to the table).

  22. Darnell Jackson on

    Good post Sophie,

    If I didn’t like the edit I would NEVER approve it.
    The freaking editor can take a long walk off a short pier for all I care.

    If I wanted to work hard for little or no gain I would have kept my corporate job err slave position.

    You’re right you have to know the editors motivations.

    This is one of the newest scams that I’m noticing on the internet.
    Writers are getting baited to send in sample content that is “rejected” but then published and the writers are not being compensated.

    The editors take the submissions and mix them into new articles.

    • Carol Tice on

      One of the oldest scams, you mean…been seeing that since ’05 at least.

      If you read the post closely, Darnell, the post just popped up radically re-edited. Sometimes that happens — the editor doesn’t ask, just chops it up and prints it. Not a happy situation.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Carol’s right, Darnell: often, you don’t get final approval of the published edit. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the edits are going to be bad, just that they can come as a bit of a shock.

      As for the whole “free trial” writing scam, I think that any client who wants writers to work for hours on a free audition piece is either scamming the applicants or deeply, deeply misguided. Most good clients realise that demanding a free trial only serves to alienate the best candidates!

  23. Cheryl Rhodes on

    About 10 years ago I got an assignment to write 300 words for $300 about riding my scooter on a free ferry that has since been replaced by a bridge. The editor jazzed it up a little, especially the last sentence. Yes, made the article better and I still got my $300 so I was happy.

    My article concluded something to the effect that on sunny days there would be lots of big boys riding big motorbikes but when it rained only me and one other woman riding a scooter showed up to take the ferry.

    My last sentence: It must be true that Harleys and Hondas melt in the rain.

    Editor’s change: Harleys and Hondas may melt in the rain but nothing stops a scooter.

    Way cuter!

  24. Sophie Lizard on

    I think it’s vital to draw a mental line between “the editor is wrong” and “the editor wants something different”.

    If the editor’s downright wrong in a factual sense, you absolutely should do what you can to avoid them publishing any errors. If they’ve changed your expression without changing your message, then that’s pretty much their job and you have to accept it. In between those two is a whole continuum of editorial policies and ethics that you can only address on a case-by-case basis.

  25. Amandah on

    Hi Sophie,

    I like the saying, “There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” If too many edits happen without me knowing it, I’m not going to get upset about it. What’s done is done. I won’t demand that an article or post be taken down. What I can do is to choose not to work with an editor again. Lucky for me, I’m fortunate enough to work with and to have worked with editors who are up front and open. When too many edits happen, it’s just business, not the end of the world. 🙂

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hi again Amandah,

      Gotta love those pithy sayings! Spilt milk, or horses and barn doors, they’re all on the money. I like your point about remembering that’s it’s business (not the Apocalypse!), and that you always have a choice about who you work with in the future. An edit changes your words, but it has zero effect on your freedom.

      • Carol Tice on

        Now there’s something for us all to bear in mind. As I like to say, “No lives were lost.”

        Live and learn, and choose other editors if you think one really is incompetent. And bad editors are certainly out there.

        • Erica on

          I’ve always liked “Will this matter a year from now?” and “Remember: 100 years from now, all new people.” They’re from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

  26. Amel on

    I, too, have been on both sides of the fence. As an editor, I have always made it a point to share the edited piece with a writer before publication so that there are no unpleasant surprises. As a writer, I generally ask my editors to do the same for me. I have been burned a couple of times by editors who spoke English as a second language or who saw no problem introducing new ideas into my articles that I did not agree with. I draw the line in these two instances but can live with most other edits.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Amel, it sounds like you’d be a lovely editor to work with. 🙂

      I’ve made minor edits without notice plenty of times, and on deadline I’m prepared to make heavier edits even if there isn’t time to consult the writer. But I wouldn’t start introducing new ideas into a story; I’d rather return the piece for a rewrite than start changing somebody’s work that much!

  27. Terri H on

    This happened to me sometime last year when I was writing my first assignment for a national women’s publication. I had to give examples of certain organizations and experiences. The editor specifically told me not to use several because they had been mentioned in previous articles. So of course, I put in extra research to not use those examples, find better ones, and put it in the article. The editor wrote back, told me I did a great job and gave me a few edits. Of course, I listened. Then suddenly, the publication came out & they changed my story completely to include everything they told me not to include. I was so confused and upset. I tried asking the editor for feedback. She never responded. But she did tell me to forward her more pitches…

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Terri, that sounds like an awful misunderstanding (and by misunderstanding, I really mean screw-up, but I’m trying to give the editor the benefit of the doubt). Like Carol, I’m uncomfortable when something I feel went totally weird is ignored by the client!

      I’m curious, did you pitch more stories to that editor or avoid them?

      • Terri H on

        To this I wonder if it was a mis-understanding. But in an email, the editor specifically said don’t include x,y,z organizations because we just did features on them and need to include something new. I guess I’ll never know…

        About two weeks later, I did pitch the editor again and she ended up forwarding it to someone else at the mag. It turns out that when I pitched her again she was at another magazine within Hearst.

        • Carol Tice on

          Oh, you’ve probably diagnosed it then…when people are headed out the door to another assignment, often things get rushed/sloppy/they don’t care anymore about those last few items. So it may have been a function of that.

          • Sophie Lizard on

            Sounds entirely likely to me!

            I once worked with a co-editor who simply disappeared one day and stopped answering her phone to me or our client. When I took on the articles she’d abandoned, I had no idea what instructions or promises she might have given to the writers.

            Maybe your article was edited by a sub while your contact prepared for her career move, Terri, or maybe she just went kinda nuts in the last days of the old job and put out sloppier work than usual. Occasional craziness in an editor shuffle is to be expected!

  28. Colleen Kelly Mellor on

    This post I can really sink my teeth into. Why? I once had an inexperienced editor knock the stuffing out of my article, so much so that it lacked personality. In her zeal not to offend (and that’s a wide area of interpretation,) she made my words vanilla-sounding, so much so that I didn’t even want my name attached to it. Yes, there are some things worse than being non-published; having mediocre stuff attributed to you with your name boldly placed as by-line, when it’s not even good is “pure awful.” Yes, I could’ve worked with this green editor, but it would have been too difficult and frankly, too exhausting. Because someone has “editor” attached to his or her name doesn’t make it necessarily so…And in that mode, I am looking for an editor now, for my medical book I hope to release this year, documenting my many experiences as patient and patient witness with hospitals and doctors…I hope to be a bridge of understanding..Any suggestions as to how I can get a good one, for good is the operative word. Thanks….

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Yeah, unfortunately it happens to us all sooner or later, Colleen! There’ll be that one editor who somehow redacts every ounce of your personality and voice from your work…

      I have to confess: I was once that editor. I had a job in which editing strategy was dictated by guidelines from the legal team that forbade any kind of opinion, recommendation or potentially biased statement. That’s tough on a blog’s engagement levels, and I bet it made some of our writers feel pretty dejected despite their shiny bylines.

      As to finding the right editor for your own work, I think word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to source your support team. A personal recommendation is worth more to me than a bunch of LinkedIn endorsements, because someone I trust has decided it’s worth bringing to my attention.

  29. Erica on

    Great article, Sophie. Being edited – sometimes heavily, sometimes not – comes with being a writer. The most important thing you can do is not be a diva. Any professional writing piece is a means for the client to get from Point A (current engagement) to Point B (more engagement). Stay objective, learn what you can and move on.

    We put a lot into what we create. But throwing a temper tantrum every time you’re edited means that your editor is less willing to help you learn.

    As long as I’m not called names, I’m good with editing.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hey Erica, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head right there: “The most important thing you can do is not be a diva.” That applies to, ooh, pretty much any job or relationship you ever have!

      Write on, and I hope the only name you get called is Ms. Awesomepants. 😀

  30. Amandah on

    Hi Sophie,

    Edits happen, and I appreciate them because an experienced editor will make my writing shine like a bright star in the sky. If I’m working with an inexperienced editor, I state my case and will hold my position if I don’t agree with the editor. I’m always willing to listen to feedback, but I will speak up when I think an article or book has been over-edited.

    • Carol Tice on

      I’ve been known to advocate for my position pretty often, if I think an injustice is being done to the work. But sometimes they say nothing and ‘pop’ there it is in print. In which case you just have to move on…

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Thanks Amandah, it’s good to hear that writers are prepared to stand their ground when it matters. With an inexperienced editor, you’ll usually get a chance to discuss the work before it’s published. But as Carol said, edits are often made without notice; when that happens, there’s little use debating them…

  31. Lisa on

    Sophie, you write so well I can’t imagine anybody heavily editing your work. However, you give great tips on how to handle the shock and anger that most of us feel when our “baby” has been completely redone.

    Sometimes you just have a communication gap with the editor. Maybe you didn’t ask what exactly they wanted or they were too busy to explain it better. You can’t take it personally. You should learn from it and move on as soon as possible.

    If you’re good, this will only happen to you once in a blue moon. But if you’re a beginner, take the editor’s comments to heart and work on improving your writing. I had a professor who had worked for the AP for 20 years. He slapped our work up on the board and critiqued us in front of the class. But he didn’t use the bylines. He taught me how to write well and on a tight deadline. I took it all in and achieved the only A in the class. Years later, a new breed of students complained about his harshness to the department chairperson. They eventually forced him out because he didn’t have a doctorate. Yet he taught me more than any other professor. The best profs were those who’d worked in a real, harsh newsroom.

    Those students were crybabies. I bet most of them never made it for more than five minutes in journalism. Writing is so subjective. Not everybody will like your work. But so what? I’d say to them, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hey Lisa, your professor gets a double thumbs-up from me! Having your work critiqued in front of a group can be heart-stoppingly harsh, but it’s taught me a lot and the heightened emotion of a group setting actually makes you learn faster.

      Oh, and believe me, I’ve been edited all to heck before by clients! It isn’t only about writing well, but also about writing “on target” for the client and their audience. No matter how great a writer you are, it can take a couple of shots to get your aim right in a new job.

  32. Richard Myers on

    I can understand the need to edit certain items, however, I draw the line at being edited when I submit a short fictional story. I once had an editor change a key paragraph so radically, that the message therein was completely lost and affected the story, nearly in a total sense. When I confronted him about said changes, he informed me that his way made the story a better read (it didn’t) and that I should thank him for having my back. I feel that in situations such as that, the editor should talk to the author prior to publishing and allow the writer to do the actual editing. This way the style would remain consistent. On the aforementioned editing, the editor’s style was glaringly different and detracted from the story.
    Thank you for a great article. I can certainly relate to a lot of the points you raised.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Thanks Richard, it’s always interesting to hear from fiction writers as well as non-fiction! I feel inclined to agree with you that fiction edits sometimes require more sensitivity.

      Personally, I prefer to give editing feedback long before publication and make sure that everyone’s happy with any changes I’ve made, no matter what the genre.

  33. Clare Speak on

    So true, and I have also found myself on both sides. As a writer, I’ve been dismayed to find my articles heavily edited, too – usually on my first job for a new client. I always learn something though, and get it closer to the mark next time.

    As an editor, I’ve even been on the receiving end of abuse from angry writers – and it is always, always the inexperienced or first-time writer, who views their 300-word review as some great literary work of art! I was once even threatened with a lawsuit after cutting the length of a piece so that we could fit it in! Needless to say, that was the first and last time we worked with that (still “aspiring”) writer…

    • Carol Tice on

      I’ve had pieces that I totally didn’t recognize when they came out…and sometimes, all you can do is breathe, leave them out of your portfolio, and move on. Try not to write for that editor again.

      To me the interplay with an editor is so critical…find an editor where you can see how their edits are helping you get better…and stick with them! I’d be nowhere without a few of the great editors I had early on in my writing career.

      • Sophie Lizard on

        I’ve had it happen just once: I opened up “my” latest published work, and I truly didn’t recognise it. More than 50% was new content, and I wound up wondering why that client paid me to write something he was going to rewrite so extensively!

        You’re right, Carol, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and learn what lessons you can – even if that’s “I won’t pitch to this client again”.

        • Dana Sitar on

          I had that same thought! The first piece I wrote when I moved to Seattle was edited so extensively I thought he was taking the assignment away from me! But I got paid and got the byline, learned a bit about the editor’s voice, and the next few I submitted came out successively less mangled.

          Great tips for handling a variety of these situations, Sophie, thanks 🙂

          Have you ever argued against a headline? I’ve had a few situations where the piece was untouched, but the editor worked so hard to catch attention with a headline that it promised something entirely different from what the article delivered.

          • Carol Tice on

            Hey! I didn’t know you’re in Seattle, Dana…we should meet up sometime…

            And I HAVE argue against a headline rewrite, and often won. 😉

            I have also left blog clients who insisted on changing my headlines consistently to ones that would get less traffic than the ones I wrote…just too frustrating!

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Yep, when you’re on the receiving end there’s always a feeling of loss, but wow! I’ve never actually been threatened with legal action over editing before… that’s definitely excessive.

      As a writer, if your first piece for a client is heavily edited and then your next pieces aren’t, I’d guess you already started to tailor your work to their needs! That’s a good sign of your writing expertise, Clare. 🙂

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hey Sandra, that’s great news! Hope your biggest job yet goes brilliantly, and your editor turns out to be an angel distributing tailored writing tips just for you. 🙂

  34. Megan on

    I’ve been on both sides of this – and couldn’t agree more!

    I know there have been times when I used a really heavy hand editing a guest post – but it’s always because I want readers to love and engage with the post. I sort of look at it as changing the clothes of a post – the content and ideas are really the same – I just dress it a little differently before it goes out to meet people. I wish more writers would ask for a debriefing on why changes were made – what a good opportunity to grow a relationship.

    As a blogger – more of a traffic builder than a freelancer, granted – mostly I just want my ideas displayed, and if an editor wants to shake things up a bit – that’s fairly cool with me. The more practice you have at seeing someone really hammer your writing – the easier it becomes to accept gracefully. Although the first couple of times… it can really smart.

    Thanks for this post! A good reference to direct people to.

    • Sophie Lizard on

      Hey Megan, thanks for visiting! I found your editorial approach reassuringly hands-on, compared to some editors who leave the writer to figure it out on their own. Your idea of changing the “clothes” of the piece, not the content, is a nice way to think of it. 🙂

  35. John Soares on

    Timely topic for me Sophie!

    When my brother and I wrote the first edition of 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California back in the mid-1990s, the manuscript editor didn’t like a particular style we employed in describing sequential actions the hiker would take when walking a trail. In this instance I diplomatically and successfully argued my case and won.

    However, I can say that I am extremely grateful for most of the other corrections and changes I’ve received in my books and articles over the last 20 years. As you point out, we should take these opportunities to become better writers.

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