I listened from the other side. I was a magazine editor for years. I rewrote and reworked my writer’s stories in every issue. One guy wanted to go over every single edit, including grammatical ones. He didn’t last long. Most of the other writers just accepted my work, and they were the ones I hired over and over.
So when do you shut up and when do you say something, when an editor changes your piece in ways that make you crazy? From an editor’s standpoint, I have five suggestions:
1. Analyze the changes. Most edits are tweaks to tighten and enliven the piece, improve clarity, or to better reflect the voice of the publication. You might not like them, but you can live with them. Learn from the edits so you can do a better job next time.
2. Pick your battles. If an editor changed the meaning or emphasis of your work, or inserted inaccurate material, you have a case.
3. Be polite and thorough. In an email, make a clear argument with up to three points of disagreement. Don’t call and don’t make accusations. If you write down how you would like the sentences rephrased, it’s easier to cut and paste.
4. Accept change graciously whenever possible, and move on. This guy did not, which is what inspired me to write this post. Obviously, he had a point and an axe to grind. Don’t blast your story all over social media unless you want editors everywhere to wonder if you will be difficult.
5. Decide whether to keep writing for the editor. The freelancer I coached decided not to pitch more stories, because she felt resentful. That’s the right decision, because her attitude would come through. I have had disagreements with editors as a freelancer too, but we worked them out and continued working together. I’m not saying I’m right — maybe I just have a higher tolerance for changes, having been on the other side.