Monday, 24 February 2014

Three Lessons I Learnt From My Editors

Believe me, editing is a daunting task. An editor, who doesn’t earn some haters on daily basis, is not an editor; said YNK. But the writers always want to be closer and nicer to the editor, so it is really difficult to keep the writers at bay. I hope some of my past experiences with my editors come handy now when I am wearing editor’s hat.

Even after writing a lot for magazines, I still have not figured out what editors want. It is as mysterious as the other side of the moon. Once I had sent this draft on some scientific invention, and as expected, got a call within a day from the local magazine editor. He was nice and polite for first couple of minutes, showing a lot of interest in my life, breakfast and beer brands. But later, he took my article on his table, and started explaining how stupid I must be to send such a bullshit to his prestigious magazine. “Who does understand this nonsense? You have written words like space, rocket, hydrogen and astronomy. Who do you think your readers are? Do they need to keep Webster’s Dictionary next to your article and turn its pages every time they find a new word like these? Dilute your gin, pour more soda and then, offer the drink”, he was furious. 

However, I learnt my first lesson: Don’t include scientific words in your science article. “Three guys jumped out of the bloody floating bus and screamed, ‘hey! We reached moon, man!’” would be perfectly fine. 

One fine morning, as I was getting ready for my work, got a call from this literary magazine. It was quite a surprise since I had sent my most creative work a few days back, and now the poetry division head himself had taken pains to give a ring. “Hi Chakra, your poem is beautifully written. Where was the talent hidden all these days, bud! Why were you wasting your time and energy on writing science which hardly has any readership?”, the person on the other end was trying to be as polite and friendly as possible with this heartbreaking comment. After the initial foreplaying on phone, he came to the business talk. “See, the problem is, we need to edit before publishing. That is the policy. Be it anything, we need to do our job sincerely. So, as the procedure, I had to edit your poem.” “What!!!” , I silently screamed on the top of the roof! We edit poems in magazines?? “Don’t worry, dear poet. I have not done any major alteration. Have just cut your poem short by two lines. Just two lines. Just last two lines. That’s all. Don’t collapse!”, he was consoling my soul. “But..but, it was a sonnet, right!”, I am not sure if I told it loud and clear. I guess, I didn’t. 

Lesson two: If you love your baby, keep her under your blanket. 

Once, I had this e-mail by editor of a monthly fiction magazine. It is always an honor to get a letter from the editor herself. I had a letter from her, saying she needed some alterations in my mystery story. “See the problem is, the moment we start reading a murder mystery, we start guessing about the murderer. And most of the times, 99% to be precise, the murderer is one among the characters depicted within the story. So, logically, the reader too confines his guessing to the characters that have come and gone in the story. The real problem is, when you have only four characters in the story, and one of them has died.. The murderer must be one among the three. Don’t you think one can easily guess..since the sample space is so small? Keeping this view in mind, please rework on your piece (of ???) and send again”, read the mail. Now all I had to do is to either increase the sample space by bringing in more people into the death ceremony or to keep the murderer completely out of the story even if he or she is important to the plot. I fell into the trap. I increased the number first. Brought more and more ‘specially needed’ characters like butler, cobbler, carpenter, teacher, cook, plumber and snake charmer, so that the story is full of characters which could possibly make it difficult for the reader guess who the culprit was. The editor contacted me several times and asked for more changes. So, we replaced the cook with a guard, made a gender transformation to some, married some, made some older and some younger, and so on. Finally the editor managed to get a publishable work out of me, and a few months later, the story, to my relief, saw the light of print. The murderer was not the part of story, as editor desired it to be, so, I even kept the entire murder scene off the murder mystery to safeguard myself. 

Lesson Three: Editor is your first (and possibly the only) enemy.


“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.” - H.G. Wells

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