I’m fairly new at this whole professional writing thing. Though I’ve been writing in academia for some time, and writing creatively for much longer, this past year included my first forays into the world of submission and publishing. I’m still under five acceptances, and I just don’t know what to expect from editors and journals. Some journals have friendly acceptance letters, and no editing… my pieces went up as-is. Other journals like to tailor the work to more closely fit with their modus operandi. Some of my MFA professors have cautioned about this, insisting that the work be created for art’s sake first, and then the writer should only allow changes to be made that fit with the writer’s artistic vision for the piece.
Well, in this case, I had submitted a longer series of vignettes to a journal, and they published only the last vignette, as they deemed it “the strongest,” also, the editor claimed this better met their preferred word count (incidentally, the longer piece I submitted as a whole was 2,000 words under the limit listed on their submissions page). I felt conflicted; on the one hand, as a novice writer, every single acceptance is valuable to me, and I’m in no position to turn one down. But also, by publishing only the final vignette, the larger vision for the piece, the context of the valuable incident in the final vignette, was–not lost–but reduced. Yes, that’s the word: publishing just the last vignette was reductive. It did, indeed, do damage to my overall vision.
Before accepting the proposal for publication, I thought hard about whether this reduction was worth it to me, and in the end, I decided it was. I have a long writing career ahead of me, and rights revert to me anyway… I can still work to find a market for the longer piece, after a respectable amount of time. Okay. But here’s where I was naive, I suppose; I assumed that the edits necessary to make the piece more “stand-alone” would come from me. Or, at the very least, that I would participate in the process.
But this editor, she was pushy. And I reacted in the way most people react when they get pushed around–I allowed it. I wimped out. I gave in. It felt foolish, silly even, to argue with her. Yes, I was given an edit of my manuscript to approve or make further changes. And yes, the editor gave me helpful feedback about dialogue tags and other nuances purely editorial. And yes, I was grateful for that feedback. Nonetheless, the embedded assumption in our emails was that I would–was expected to–accept the edits and changes wholesale. In the end, I chose only three small places to take my minor stand, and I lost the battle over the title altogether.
So were all the changes worth it?
In this, I learned to pick my battles. Ultimately, I see every encounter with a journal (or human, for that matter) as a learning experience. And if the value of the experience is in the learning, and not the outcome, then yes, all my concessions were worth it. I probably wouldn’t do it all over again the same way, but I only know that now because I was blessed with a semi-negative experience in the first place. And even so, at the end of the day, my work is strong, and it’s public, and that feels good.
Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.
– Pema Chodron