Writing Nowadays–Rewrite Etiquette

Earlier, we talked about recognizing a rewrite request in disguise.  But once you get one, what do you do?  Let’s look at a few DOs and DON’Ts.

DO look carefully at every comment the editor gives you.  It’s very easy to take criticism personally and feel insulted or upset.  However, the editor only wants to make the story better in some way.  Would the comments do so?  Another way to look at it: does it matter if you change it?  Will a reader notice or care if you make the change?  James Joyce reportedly spent all day agonizing over the placement of a comma.    Are you worrying about minutiae and keeping your story from being published?  If you refuse to make a small change and the story gets rejected, you’ll be the only one who reads your work, but if you make the change, it’ll be seen by thousands.  Which would you honestly prefer?

Conversely, DON’T feel you have to do every single thing the editor asks.  If a particular change would completely derail the story, or if it looks wrong when put on the page, or it goes against all your authorly instincts, don’t make it.  The editor probably isn’t expecting you to make every change she suggested anyway, and she’s aware that some things sound better as plan than in practice.

DO make the majority of changes.  If the editor asks for five changes, you should make four.  Making one or two says you didn’t really listen to the editor’s tastes and that you aren’t professional enough to write to specification.

DON’T feel you have to do the rewrite.  It’s your story, and you can drop the editor’s letter in your own rejection pile.  The editor is looking for material that will fit her publication and made suggestions, and perhaps your piece won’t ever fit.  That’s okay.  The editor isn’t waiting for you with bated breath and will, in fact, forget all about you in a week or two.  (Of course, you have to ask yourself if that’s what you truly want.  Me, I can’t bring myself to give up an editor’s ear.)

DON’T write the editor a letter defending your original story.  You’ll sound like a whiny child.  The only proper responses are a note thanking the editor for the comments (optional), rewriting and resubmitting the story, or ignoring the rewrite request completely.

DO attach a copy of the editor’s original rewrite letter when you resubmit.  This will refresh the editor’s memory and will let her know you aren’t lying (because people on occasion do falsely claim to be submitting a rewrite in the hope of getting a faster read).

DO write REQUESTED MATERIAL on the envelope in red ink (or put it in the subject header of an email) so your story will go to the top of the editor’s to-be-read pile instead of into the bottom of the slush pile.

DON’T expect that the editor will automatically buy your story.  The rewrite still may not suit what she’s looking for, and that’s the way it goes.  However, you are allowed to hope with more intensity.

DO start work on another piece for that publication while you’re waiting to hear back.  Whether the editor buys your rewrite or not, you already know the editor likes something about your work, and it’s worth it to have something else ready to go as soon as possible.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Writing Nowadays–Rewrite Etiquette — 2 Comments

  1. When Teresa Nielsen Hayden bought a short story from me for one of the STARLIGHT anthologies, she asked for a rewrite and sent a list of suggested fixes. I rewrote and sent the story off — it’s in vol. 3. But it is interesting to compare her list of fixes to the list of what I actually did. There were plenty of “oh yes, of course it should be THAT way” repairs, and a good few “WTF? fuggedaboudit” things. But the rewrite was like popping the seal on a large can of cocktail peanuts. I kept on going. I did lots and lots of -other- fiddles, that she had not asked for but that now were obviously needed.

  2. And very often you may find that the problem the editor has put her thumb on is very real, but the editor’s suggested “fix” doesn’t work for you. So find a way to fix the problem that does–the editor likely isn’t wed to her solution, she just wants the problem fixed.