Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Editors, a clarification

When I wrote about my decision to stop contributing to cycling magazines (except the Bicycle Paper) I feel I may have misled some of my readers.

Had I felt I'd been particularly badly handled by a particular editor, I'd have simply quit his/her publication. I suspect that a few of you would like to point an accusing finger at this editor or that one, but my quitting isn't the result of casual treatment from any one person.

And I didn't quit because time after time someone mangled my copy. It did happen - far more often than I would've liked or you'd believe. After all, I looked like a star in my featured spot in several magazines, expressing my opinions issue after issue just as if I knew something.

I looked like a star but I got no help from anyone except one guy, Rich Carlson at Winning. What I got from other editors was benign neglect. They liked me fine, I suppose, and liked having my work in their magazines, but they didn't write and they didn't call. One or two didn't pay.

Helping me make my work better was not a concern.

I try to write to fit the space, and I try to submit clean copy. I always make it clear to editors that I'm home at my computer and more than willing to make the piece work for them. No one asks me for that help. They do it themselves. I find out when I the mailman delivers my copy.

I do not believe that my stuff is perfect or that changes to it are negative. I believe that two heads are better than one; two readers are better than one. I appreciate the help. It's a luxury. I like to participate in the editing, and always offer to do so.

I offer to help edit other people's copy, to do last-minute multi-page checks for typos, to help in any way I can. I've offered a hundred times. No one takes me up on my offers.

I do like to see, before it is printed, what the reader will see. I've had to get bitchy, to demand that magazines fax me my page before sending it to the printer - so I could correct any mistakes that may have crept in. It's only my name on the piece after all.

In my Winning days, late '80s, early '90s, I submitted pieces via fax. Rich Carlson would read the article and make notes. He'd call and we'd look over the piece paragraph by paragraph. He'd read a sentence or a phrase and tell me what he took away from it. Is that what I intended the reader to take from it?

If the sentence or phrase did not mean exactly what I intended it to mean, we'd fix it. That's an editor, I'd say. Working with Rick Carlson surely spoiled me, set me up for serial disappointment with other "editors" whose priorities were different.

I cannot tell you how wonderful those phone calls from Rich were, or how I felt, knowing that two of us polished the piece. Two of us agreed that I'd said precisely what I meant to say.

I don't know that I was the best writer I'd ever be then, but my pieces were more perfected than they would ever be again. How can you thank a man who makes your work, nearly the only work you've ever done that matters to you, the best it can be?

Is that so unusual? you could say. Hey, that's his job. He's an editor.

If that's so, if that's what editors do, he's the only editor I've had who did his job.

Please don't think that some experience with some editor pushed me over the line. It wasn't something that someone I've worked for in the past decade did that provoked me to quit.

It was what Rich Carlson did years ago. And nobody's done since.

1 comment:

alice b.toeclips said...

what a lovely paeon to a lovely editor. I just bounced into yr blog because some reader of mine is a reader of yours and ...well...he put HIS readers wise to each of us.
And there you are. I just caught up with you in a quick 4 minute read.
Happy to see you are happy in "D'Enfer" Colo...if /when you see Davis Ph. PLEASE tell him and Connie I say howdy.
I LOVE the picture of you in the borrowed leathers, your James Dean fauxto...but better still the caption!

Good on you as they say in Wombatland. Please look at my blog someday, jacquie phelan. A quick goog will get you to the masterfully designed (by Scots bike wizard Chris Hill) site. CHEERS Maynard