How DARE You?! (Is it Okay for Editors to Make Changes?)


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One of the more interesting conversations I’ve had (both in the MFA and when speaking to writers in general) is that of artistic integrity. In particular, what to do when a publisher or editor wants you to make sweeping changes to the text of your story/manuscript.

In this case, I want to focus in on the short story, as it’s what I write and the only thing I have some experience with when it comes to working with editors (there are reviews, too, but writing about that process doesn’t interest me nearly as much, yet).

The short story is an interesting thing to consider, as it is generally very succinct and, hopefully, the writer hasn’t put much into it that is just fluff or unimportant. It’s self contained, and as such it’s hard to make even a moderate change without shifting the entire story.

There are generally two schools of thought I’ve encountered. Camp A believes any “big” change to a story is a corruption of artistic integrity, and are more than willing to respond to editor’s requests for suggested changes with a “no” and pull their story.

Camp B, on the other hand, is willing to make those changes as, after all, it’s part of the business.

Up to this week, the argument and my own opinion has been philosophical in nature. However, on Wednesday I received an email from a review:

The Editors and I met today to discuss your work. We enjoyed many aspects of it and we wondered if you might be willing to take some suggestions from us and make some revisions? I would email you a Word Document with our thoughts in about a week. 

My first reaction was aaawwwssooommmeee as it didn’t have the word “unfortunately” within the first three lines. This was followed by the ever-so-slight ego-slap that my story wasn’t quite what they wanted, but they were willing to take my hand and show me the way.

corrected pageFortunately, I don’t have that much of an ego about my work (and you shouldn’t either, friend), so I didn’t let that emotion carry much further than that.

After all, it’s their publication–they know what they want to see and what they want to have their name tied to. While I could take the rode where I damn them for thinking that I, Matthew Kabik, make any concessions for the likes of anyone. But the truth is that I do, and am more than willing to, because I’m just another writer trying to get their work out into the world.

And that’s pretty much where I am with it: if a publication wants to make intelligent changes to your story–not adding zombies though that would be totally fine with me in this case, editors, why not go with it? At the very least you’ll have a review of your work from people in the field if you decide you don’t want to go with them. If you do, however, you have both criticism and a publication of your work–and you’re recognized as someone who is willing to work with publishers/editors, which in our small circles isn’t a horrible thing.

note: after writing this up, a facebook friend shared this video. I thought it was a great way to cap this conversation: 

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