The writer-editor dance is sometimes more of a scuffle. You send what you think is a good piece and it comes back for a rewrite. Or, worse, it just gets published with someone else’s fingerprints all over it.
It’s frustrating when the editor shoehorns in a couple of clichés or changes your lede* just because he likes it his way better. Sometimes it’s even worth putting up a (respectful) fight.
But sometimes the fault belongs to you, rather than to some numbskull editor who doesn’t appreciate your brilliance. As a freelance writer you must give a publication what it wants, not what you think it should have.
If you’re writing for hire then you need to learn a publication’s voice, its audience and its style. A few weeks ago I had a freelance piece come back with, among other things, an admonition that the website’s audience is already financially secure so there’s no need to talk about ways to save a few bucks. Whoops.
For another recent gig I neglected to follow the publication’s voice, which is more green-vegetable** than engaging. My initial, pouty reaction was, “Well, it reads better my way.”
Guess what? It’s not my website. I don’t get to tell them what they need. And if I don’t give them what they want, then it’s like setting fire to the bridge while I’m still standing on it: Not only will they probably not hire me again, they might decline to offer my name when some other editor is looking for a writer. They might even spread the word about Donna the Diva.
Sometimes it’s not your call
It’s not a diva move to wish you weren’t edited so strictly and that your writing would sound like you wrote it. However, it is a diva move to take an assignment that needs to be done in a certain way and then decide you don’t want to do it that way. That’s like joining the military and immediately complaining that you don’t like short hair.
Another diva move: whining about not being rehired if you complained about every syllable change and as good as told the editor how wrong he is.
You’ve got to dance with them what brung you. Few partners are going to want a second turn around the ballroom with someone who spends the entire time complaining about the lousy footwork to which he’s being subjected.
If you’re hired to write 500 words on Brussels sprouts or student loans, do it – but do it the way it’s expected. Don’t start off with a daffynition or sprinkle the copy with F-bombs if it’s for a serious publication. Should the editor specify “romance for the 50-and-over crowd,” leave out everything you know about millennial mating rituals – even if it’s really interesting stuff, it simply doesn’t belong there.
Figure out what they want, and then give it to them. If you’re going to cash the check, do the work the way it was assigned.
*The word “lede” is newspaperspeak for “the first paragraph of your article.” And yes, it should probably be “lead.” I don’t know why it isn’t.
**Another newspaperism. We used to talk about doing “green vegetable” articles, i.e., things people read because it’s good for them. Don’t get me wrong: Those pieces can be done in creative ways. But people would generally rather read about something fun than about why they need to prevent ice dams or start saving for retirement.