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Author Topic: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor  (Read 15527 times)

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Offline starktheground

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Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« on: December 12, 2007, 09:35:22 PM »
Okay, I could really use some advice if anyone can give it. I've been doing some freelance writing for a local magazine, and I met the editor for the first time today. (Previously we've only communicated via phone or email.) We were meeting to discuss some writing tips that he had given during the magazine's editorial meeting (which I was unable to attend due to a baby-sitting conflict). Basically, we talked for about thirty minutes about how to be a better writer. No, scratch that. He talked for thirty minutes about how to be a better writer, much of which did not pertain to me because I already incorporate it in my writing. And then, out of nowhere, he started attacking the two of the three stories I had written for the current issue. He actually called them "crap". I wanted to cry. I did exactly as I was instructed, with a lot of headache in the process because he didn't properly convey to me what he wanted! One of the two stories he said he dropped from the publication entirely because it was just a bad, overdone topic (getting fit for the New Year). But this story was freaking ASSIGNED to me! I spent countless hours interviewing and researching for a story that's just going to be dropped? Why in the hell would you assign a story to someone if you thought it was a bad idea to begin with?! Basically, when I left the magazine office, I just felt like I had been beaten up. And I don't know if the editor was TRYING to be mean, or if he just doesn't know the proper way to give constructive criticism, but it was really, really, really hard. I felt humiliated. I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it.

So, maybe on top of the remnants of a cold and the fact that I got a flat tire right after dropping my son off at school, I'm being overly sensitive. I'm a pretty sensitve person; more than most, I'll admit. It's not always a bad thing. How should I have taken it? I came home in tears and told my better half that I was going to quit writing altogether. Of course, I didn't mean it. Not entirely. I'm seriously giving up writing for that particular magazine, maybe magazine writing altogether. I've never been passionate about it like I am with fiction; I was just using it as a tool to enhance my fiction and credentials.

Okay, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I was just wondering, since this is the first time I've EVER met an editor face-to-face, is this pretty standard? Is it protocol to berate freelance writers? Was this something that most people would find productive and am I just being a big baby about it? Tell me the truth, seriously. After today, nothing could be too harsh!

Offline SamLeeFreak

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2007, 10:51:45 PM »
I realize that styles can differ greatly among editors, but calling something "crap" is not a constructive way to approach a writer. It doesn't pinpoint what could have been done better or how the piece could be fixed. In other words, what a dick!  :santa_shocked:

Unfortunately I don't know what you could have done to make him treat you with more respect. People with bad communication skills rarely know that they do and can even get offended if you imply that they have been less that clear. That isn't to say that he meant to be a jerk, he might have thought he was being totally helpful. That in mind, if you feel up to it at a later date you might want to talk to him again and try to ascertain what exactly it is he wants in stories. No pressure though, I can certainly understand if you never want to see that wanker again.

PS: You do magazine journalism? That was my major in college!  :ssmiley



Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2007, 02:59:01 AM »
What a rotten situation. My heart goes out to you. It's hard to argue back when you feel under attack. Did you point out to him that you wrote the article they wanted? Even if you don't want to argue, you're entitled to stick up for yourself.

I agree with Natalie that 'crap' is not constructive criticism, but it's possible that he works in a culture where they don't mince words.

What is this magazine? Is it an important one? Or is it just a small time affair? I suspect the latter as the editor of a larger magazine would be much more professional in his dealings.

Offline Ed

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2007, 03:47:51 AM »
I wouldn't take it personally, Angela. Easy for me to say, I know, but the guy works in an industry where they're blunt about what they want and don't want. They're thick skinned and expect everybody else to be. Bear in mind that what he was criticizing was your writing - not you personally. I expect it's quite common for them to ask for a story and then drop it if it's not quite what they had in mind, too.

Try to stay positive. BTW, who assigned the topic to you? Could be that it was just the topic he thought was crap, rather than what you had done with it.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2007, 12:57:53 PM by Ed »
Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]

Offline Geoff_N

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2007, 04:15:13 AM »
Angela, I agree with Ed and Sally - erm and Natalie - that many hack editors are so short on time that they become short on manners and respect for their writers. I suppose a lesson from this experience is to have in writing the criteria for a piece before you invest too much time on it. Most editors I've come across make quick decisions, cut to the chase with no frills, and quite blunt to the point of rudeness. Meeting some in person makes them a little more personable but they maintain their busybusy attitude. There is a difference, though, between being forceful and to the point, and bullying.

Our resident very experienced journalist and editor is Neil Marr.  He is the expert on bullying too, having written extensively and internationally on Bullycide. I'm sure he'd help you in a PM if you asked him a specific question.

Geoff

Offline Ed

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2007, 04:42:26 AM »
Yep - Neil would be the person to help you deal with this. He's got a vast amount of experience in dealing with editors as a freelance journalist. I'm sure he'll comment if he sees this thread :smiley:
Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]

Offline neilmarr

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2007, 07:57:38 AM »
***Is it protocol to berate freelance writers?***

Yes.

*Am I just being a big baby about it?***

Yes.

I was in the top 10% of US and UK earners for thirty odd years, Stark, because I learned early on that editors are always right. At least, they're always right if you aim to put a crust on the table. Mind you, I also learned my tade early on and didn't need to be told the basics when I hit the Street (cap intentional). That's why I could pull hundreds of pounds a day on a job and several thousand per exclusive tale, month by month, and, eventually, could support a team of about a dozen top writers and fotomen.

Journalism -- newspapers, mags, whatever -- is not for amateurs. It's a darned profession for heaven's sake!

It sometimes needles me that many folks on writing sites think they can wander into my old job just because they can spell chrysanthemum and have a tad of imagination ... but if I decided to wander into theirs ... become a weekend doctor, perhaps, or a spare time mechanical engineer? Took me eight years of hard work, study and examinations just to qualify as a would-be hack. And I was lucky to be one of those who did make the grade, got around the word and made the regular splashes and spreads in the biggest newspapers and mags of all time (the word regular is important), and didn't end up as a feature writer on the Wigan observer or Nottingham Evening Post.

Fiction, on the other hand, is a different thing altogether. Nobody needs qualifications for that, do they? All it takes is talent -- and everything else (mostly the everything else it takes to be a successful journalist, by the way). But even in this cuddly field,  you've got to be ready to graduate through the school of hard knocks and -- more often than not -- be prepared to not graduate at all.

I've been flat broke since I entered the fiction field ten years ago (my wife's working Christmas as a nurse while I slave away on wannabees' stories and am pissed off that I couldn't afford a prezzy for her) ... and I did it as a qualified and experienced editior; not an unknown, unpublished, amateur writer.

I know my limits. I am not a novelist. I couldn't compete with some of the guys here. But I've got 150 titles out there by folks who listened to my rants. They're getting paid, too. So are the printers and the other editors on my team and the artists and designers and the retailers.  I'm not because the house is mine and I'm still paying the plumber.

Nobody ever said writing was an easy way to make a living, Stark. And  nobody was dead right!

Roll with it.

Love and luck. Neil

PS: Edited only for a typo ... nomatter how much practice you put in, you can still spell 'into' as 'itno'. N



« Last Edit: December 13, 2007, 08:06:07 AM by neilmarr »

Offline Geoff_N

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2007, 08:10:29 AM »
There, Angela, I suppose in some ways you should take it personally, but then learn from it and develop those skills along with hard skin.

I knew Neil would hit the nail on all its heads.

We're lucky in this group of wannabe writrers to have him here to advise us.

Cheers, Neil

Offline neilmarr

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2007, 08:11:28 AM »
Did that sound harsh? If so, I'm sorry. Drop me an email, Stark, on ntmarrATbewrite.net (use the @ sign) and I'll send you an obituary that tells the story of one of the best writers I ever knew. Shelley died late last week. It'll give you some idea of what makes a wordsmith. It'll give you a clue as to when a writer has the right to whinge. Neil

Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2007, 08:18:13 AM »
I agree you need a very tough skin for this business, Neil, but I still don't think 'crap' is a constructive way of advising someone about improving their work. There's no way up from 'crap' in terms of learning where you've gone wrong. Also, if Stark's work wasn't up to scratch, why use it? One thing I didn't ask you, Stark, is whether you're paid for this freelance work.

Another thing that's struck me, Stark is that had you gone to the editorial meeting, this editor's words would have been aimed at everyone. Perhaps it's because you were on your own that you felt more got at. But the fact he was giving out writing tips at the meeting suggests he felt there was need for improvement with all the staff, not just you. For all you know, he told everyone they were crap.

Offline neilmarr

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2007, 08:20:49 AM »
And sorry to you, too, Geoff. Our posts crossed in the mail.

As Ed and you know, I don't (can't?) contribute fiction to CafeDoom, I don't even comment on work submitted because I'm just too darned busy getting books out; I just hang around as a pro to help if and when I can. I'm no giant in this field, but I do know the score after four decades of running with the ball and scoring more often than I deserve. And, yes ... everything I say is said personally and should be taken personally. I'm not one for round robins. That's why I never miss an email.

Cheers. Neil

PS: know something? I dreamed this whole exchange last night, Geoff! I think I can predict the response, too.

Offline neilmarr

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2007, 08:25:42 AM »
And ... woops ... Sally. Our mails crossed, too.

Editors on mags and newspapers don't hold meetings to instruct writers on how to write but on what to write that will make the street. If Stark is being advised on the fine difference between crap and good copy, she's a favoured and fortunate lass.

Neil

Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2007, 08:56:25 AM »
No worries, Neil. It's just that we happen to know that you've got a heart as big as the Atlantic Ocean and though you're always honest, would never leave a writer feeling as if everything they did was rubbish. :afro:

Offline starktheground

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2007, 09:58:39 AM »
Everyone – thanks so much for responding to my problem! I knew if anyone would understand and have advice, it’d be you guys! It made me feel a ton better, and made me put the whole situation back into perspective. What I’ve concluded is that this dilemma is less about one encounter with one editor, but my own battle of reason vs. emotion. Sometimes I find it difficult not to be overly sensitive (which I outweigh with a healthy dose of optimism), and in the writing field that’s just something I’ll have to work on if I decide to continue with it.

Natalie – You’re right. He was a wanker. And maybe he was really trying to be helpful, just in a way that I’m unused to. I did a stint in management/corporate training and am used to a more, um, coddling approach to criticism. (Oreo cookie method: if you’ve got something bad to say, make sure you say something good on either side.) And I’m pretty new to this whole thing. This is only the second magazine I’ve ever freelanced for, even though I was editor of my high school and college newspapers. That was a long time ago, though, and in an entirely different environment.

Sally – Thanks for your kind words. I had to bite my tongue not to try to defend myself during the meeting. I think it would have just been worse if I had. The magazine is a local magazine with an “upscale” readership (which is about 5% of the population of the area I live), and is still pretty new, about a year old. I expected more professionalism as well; I certainly didn’t expect THAT! (And, yes, I did get the idea that he attacked the whole bunch of freelance writers at the meeting.)

Ed – You do realize you called me Natalie, not Angela? I’m taking it a little less personally . . . today. What really frustrated me was that the story was assigned to me by the editor himself. I still don’t understand why you would assign a story directly to someone and then inform them that the idea for the whole thing was a waste of time!

Geoff – Good point. I will definitely do that in the future. Also, I’m sure the editor was pretty stressed, being one of only four who maintain the entire magazine. Maybe he had a lot more to deal with than just a rude man.

Neil – I hope you don’t think that I’m just a whiny, egotistical writer; I posted this topic because I think of the people here as my friends and most have much more experience and know-how than me. The advice you gave me definitely put things in perspective. Stop being a baby – check! Editors are jerks – check! Editors are jerks who are ALWAYS right – check! If I do decide to continue with magazine writing, I will remember the information you gave me. When, and if, I meet with another editor again, I will be prepared.


Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2007, 10:30:48 AM »
Personally, Angela, I think it's fantastic that we can all meet together like this to discuss our trials and tribulations. When I was first starting out as a writer with no internet communities (and no internet, well not in the provinces anyway ;)), I wrote in a complete vacuum, and didn't know what the etiquette was regarding rejections and dealings with editors. Should I have argued with those who rejected my work? (No! But we all feel we want to) Should I get upset because I'd been rejected? (No, but that one was - and still is - easier said than done).

Writing sites like Cafe Doom help us to see what it's like out there, and also teach us how to deal with it by discussing it with other writers.  It is blooming hard to separate yourself from a piece of work that you've sweated over, and whilst it's easy to say that someone is criticising the piece and not you personally, it's a very tough person who can separate the two. But you will get to that point eventually. Not that you won't still get a pang sometimes when you get a tough critique. But, you'll also learn to stand your ground and, not so much argue back at editors, but discuss with them calmly why you wrote something the way you did.

BTW do take Neil up on his offer to email him. He's helped me and many others in this board countless times.

Offline Geoff_N

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #15 on: December 13, 2007, 10:38:21 AM »
IMHO, we shouldn't be too upset at the word 'crap'. It is more an American than British term and I admit to only using it rarely. I was shocked when I encoutered it in a recommended text on Education (Teaching as a subversive activity - ironically, the headteacher at the school I first taught in, confiscated it off me in the staff room saying he didn't want his staff thinking outside any boxes!). I am looking at my second copy of it now and quote this for y'all.

"In the early 1960’s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required for a person to be a “great writer”. As the interviewer offered a list of possibilities, Hemingway disparaged each in sequence. Finally, frustrated, the interviewer asked. “Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?” Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in shockproof crap detector.”

Geoff

Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #16 on: December 13, 2007, 10:48:46 AM »
Well it's not the word that's the problem, Geoff. It's the context of the word. The way Hemingway said it obviously wasn't aimed at a particular person, whereas being told your work is 'crap' is a personal insult.

Offline SamLeeFreak

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #17 on: December 13, 2007, 11:53:35 AM »
Eh, I don't mind the word crap. Yet if they just say "crap" and then expect you to fix the problem, I can see how it would be frustrating. I'm sure  there is a difference between TRUE dick-face editors and editors that simply have their hard-ass hat on because they need it to get the job done. Words like crap, while potentially hurtful, can be time savers I suppose.

I can still remember the shock of being in NewHouse (the journalism school at my university). I was used to being teacher's pet, straight As (except for math) etc. They told us in Magazine class that we would get Fs on our early exercises. I, of course, could not possibly imagine this happening. Then it happened...a few times. It sucked, hard, but it also taught us that sometimes even our best sucks  :santa_cry:

But it's OK to "suck" sometimes. It's part of being human and as much money as it would make us, it would be boring to be perfect EVERY time. Can you imagine sitting down to write and always knowing that what you were about to create would be literary gold? It would be like that Twilight Zone where the guy dies and goes to a casino where every time you play, you win. Sucked the thrill right out of existing.

Offline Ed

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2007, 01:22:50 PM »

Ed – You do realize you called me Natalie, not Angela?


Oh God - sorry about that. I don't know why, but I get your two names mixed up quite often. Strange, because as people I don't mix you up at all - just the names :idiot:

Quote
I’m taking it a little less personally . . . today. What really frustrated me was that the story was assigned to me by the editor himself. I still don’t understand why you would assign a story directly to someone and then inform them that the idea for the whole thing was a waste of time!

He probably forgot, or changed his mind. He might even have been feeling you out, to see how you reacted. Hard to know, but I would trust whatever Neil says on the subject - he knows his stuff inside out. :afro:
Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]

Offline SamLeeFreak

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #19 on: December 13, 2007, 01:54:10 PM »


[/quote]

Oh God - sorry about that. I don't know why, but I get your two names mixed up quite often. Strange, because as people I don't mix you up at all - just the names :idiot:


[/quote]

If it helps, just call me Ash. Everyone does. I only use Natalie L.  because I thought "Ash Sin" made it seem like I was trying too hard to be edgy. Also I figured it was a good way to make it up to my parents for ditching my given name back in college  ;)

Offline Ed

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2007, 02:03:47 PM »
Aaw no - now you've got three names :cheesy:
Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]

Offline Sallyq

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #21 on: December 13, 2007, 02:08:33 PM »
But Ash and Angela sound more similar than Natalie and Angela :santa_cheesy:

I think it's easy to get names mixed up on forums, especially when we mostly know people by their screennames rather than their real name. I'm on a forum where we have several members whose names begin with J, and are of similar length.  The other members are always mixing them up.

Offline SamLeeFreak

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2007, 02:21:39 PM »
Aaw no - now you've got three names :cheesy:

Well, more than that if you count ALL my various blog/forum names AND my Chinese name. I'm such fun!   :evil:
If it helps, here's a handy list:

Natalie L. Sin = Pen name

SamLeeFreak = Fun online name

Ash = Name that everyone calls me, except for my parents who refuse to accept that they picked the wrong name to saddle me with as an infant. This is not to say that it's a bad name, I just never grew into it.

Offline starktheground

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #23 on: December 13, 2007, 06:22:15 PM »
Done and done, Sally. Neil is truly a great guy. I only hate wasting his time with my piddly little problems!  :ssmiley


And Ash is the coolest name for a chick ever! I am so calling you that from now on!

Offline Geoff_N

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #24 on: December 14, 2007, 03:23:13 AM »
Ash, I can't call you Ash. I've been critiquing a very long fantasy over at BSFA Orbiters and the main character, a Middle Eastern type prince is called Ash short for Ashamet. He's a bisexual man with an arranged wife from the enemy tribe to keep the peace, and with a slave manboy he is in love with. Not my cup of tea but there ye go.

I used to use avatars but when it came to promote my own work it became odd and difficult especially in my home town at book signings when thousands of former pupils and their parents know me as someone with a different name. So I use Geoff Nelder.

I know Sally isn't really Sally, Sam isn't Sam, Stark isn't Stark, Blunt isn't Blunt (for several months), Del is Derek... It gets confusing.

Actually I'm not Geoff.
I was christened Godfrey, but like Sam whose birth name didn't grow on her, no one calls me that. My dad and family call me Goff, my  friends at university onwards call me Geoff. When my wife's parents sent wedding invites to my family they had no idea who the Geoff was that they were being invited to up t'North to see get wed!

A rose etc

Offline SamLeeFreak

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #25 on: December 14, 2007, 11:27:50 AM »
*lol*

Those poor confused in-laws!  :santa_cheesy:

Offline darcuii

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Re: Dilemna with a not-so-nice editor
« Reply #26 on: December 24, 2007, 08:01:39 AM »
Okay, I could really use some advice if anyone can give it. I've been doing some freelance writing for a local magazine, and I met the editor for the first time today. (Previously we've only communicated via phone or email.) We were meeting to discuss some writing tips that he had given during the magazine's editorial meeting (which I was unable to attend due to a baby-sitting conflict). Basically, we talked for about thirty minutes about how to be a better writer. No, scratch that. He talked for thirty minutes about how to be a better writer, much of which did not pertain to me because I already incorporate it in my writing. And then, out of nowhere, he started attacking the two of the three stories I had written for the current issue. He actually called them "crap". I wanted to cry. I did exactly as I was instructed, with a lot of headache in the process because he didn't properly convey to me what he wanted! One of the two stories he said he dropped from the publication entirely because it was just a bad, overdone topic (getting fit for the New Year). But this story was freaking ASSIGNED to me! I spent countless hours interviewing and researching for a story that's just going to be dropped? Why in the hell would you assign a story to someone if you thought it was a bad idea to begin with?! Basically, when I left the magazine office, I just felt like I had been beaten up. And I don't know if the editor was TRYING to be mean, or if he just doesn't know the proper way to give constructive criticism, but it was really, really, really hard. I felt humiliated. I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it.

So, maybe on top of the remnants of a cold and the fact that I got a flat tire right after dropping my son off at school, I'm being overly sensitive. I'm a pretty sensitve person; more than most, I'll admit. It's not always a bad thing. How should I have taken it? I came home in tears and told my better half that I was going to quit writing altogether. Of course, I didn't mean it. Not entirely. I'm seriously giving up writing for that particular magazine, maybe magazine writing altogether. I've never been passionate about it like I am with fiction; I was just using it as a tool to enhance my fiction and credentials.

Okay, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I was just wondering, since this is the first time I've EVER met an editor face-to-face, is this pretty standard? Is it protocol to berate freelance writers? Was this something that most people would find productive and am I just being a big baby about it? Tell me the truth, seriously. After today, nothing could be too harsh!



In all honesty , Yes it is quite common .  I wrote for many years in the Atlanta area and was handed, right to my face a whole array of what could be interpreted as insults . The first time it happened I went home and cried my eyes out . By the time I was coming to the end of my stint as a paid writer I couldn't have cared less.  My advice to you ( if you wish to pursue the profession  ) is toughen up and instead of blaming him look closely at what he has said ( albeit however shitty he said it ) . You will probally find that buried within his piss poor approach are some truths that you need to address . You will find Hun , it is not an editor's job to coddle your ego . It is his job to recieve HIS idea ( not yours ) of well written , well constructed pieces of work and if he does not ?  Trust me :) He's going to tell you about it .

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