The Good Editor

Last January, I wrote an article about the changes involved when I switched my art medium from jewelry to paper. I submitted it to The Crafts Report, a magazine I’ve been published in over many years. The magazine is under new ownership, and I had no idea what to expect. At the same time, I submitted my handmade paper bowls to their “Focus on. . .” section. The double submission was coincidental–the topic for “Focus on. . .” changes every month and the Paper and Book Arts deadline was at hand.

It is unusual for me to write a first-person story for submission, but changing your art medium is a difficult task, with lots of physical, psychological, and financial pitfalls. I thought it might help other artists. The story contained my ideas, mistakes, recuperations and survival. Enough to help other artists avoid my mistakes.
When I didn’t hear from the editor, I send a follow-up email. Meghan Reinke immediately replied, confirming the receipt of my photos as well as a suggestion for re-casting the article.

Had this happened 10 years ago, I might have jumped up on that high horse I have stored somewhere in the studio and refused. After all, it was my story and I would tell it (drum roll, please) my way, and what does an editor half my age know anyway? (OK, Meghan, I have no idea how old you or Mike Harbridge are, but my imagination got the best of me.) But I’ve learned a lot in 10 years, including that editors are objective and know what will work for their readers. So I didn’t even search for the high horse.

Meghan Reinke had not shot down the first-person angle, indeed, she liked that. She and Mike did feel that the story was too negative, with too much focus on the sorrow of leaving jewelry design and fabrication. I didn’t remember the story that way at all. So I closed the email program (to prevent what I call finger-blurt–writing an email I will regret later) and opened the article instead.

The editor was right. I had not seen it from that point of view at all when I submitted it, although it had undergone the mandatory 48-hour resting period I give all articles. I re-wrote the article. When it was done, I had kept two sentences of the original, and re-cast and re-written the rest of the article. And I’d added a sidebar of tips on how to survive a medium change. It made it longer than the original assigned word-count, but they could always spike that portion. I shipped it off again.

In a short time, I received word that my work would be included in the “Focus on. . .” section, and that the image I had sent would be used on the cover. I was thrilled. But too embarrassed to ask about the article. I’ve been writing for well over half my life, and felt gratitude that the editor had not thrown it out and instead, guided me to a new view.

That’s what a good editor does–see the value in a piece and tell the writer how to fix it. The best editors know how to explain needed changes so that a writer can understand them. And this editor had done exactly that. Simply, and to the point, here’s what our readers would find useful.

Time passed. I actually forgot about the article. I have set times each month that I check on the progress of article pitches and submissions, so I don’t worry too much in between times. And then I got an email from Meghan. They were printing the article in the May, 2007 issue. Page 56. With the sidebar.

So for two months in a row, I’ve been in the same magazine. The only time that has happened was my regular column on the business of art in Somerset Studio magazine. And yes, they used the sidebar. A good writer can’t be an editor for her own articles. And a good editor knows what needs to be done and how to suggest changes. And a good writer listens to smart ideas.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. She also teaches classes in how to write in a personal journal.