How Much Can an Editor Edit My Work?

Here's a question from a writer named Shannon who wanted to know how to handle a situation where the editor made changes to her work that she feels weren't in the piece's best interest. How should you handle this type of situation? Read on.
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Q: A publication I write for regularly just changed editors. The new editors are just ripping my work apart, even rewriting the leads and some sections, or sending stories back to me asking for rewrites. Is this OK? Are there limits to how much editors can change my work and still call it mine? Do I have any recourse if I hate their changes? —Shannon

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As a writer, I know how difficult it can be to accept major changes to your work. But as an editor, I know the importance of reworking a piece so that it fits the style and tone of the magazine. That’s what editors get paid to do.In working with so many freelancers who have different strengths and writing styles, editors must tighten each piece to fit the overall message of the publication. If your piece doesn’t quite fit, it’s subject to little or massive changes. An editor can edit, rewrite and ask you to rewrite sections—or even the entire piece—if it’s not up to the publication’s editorial standards, or if your work doesn’t meet the requirements set forth in the original assignment.

After all the changes are completed, the editor should give you a copy of his edited version, also known as a galley. You should be given the chance to look it over and point out any problems you have with the revisions. Most editors try to work through your requests, but ultimately the editor has the final say as to which version runs in her magazine.

If you still feel your article is in shambles and you’re uncomfortable running your byline with it, you do have one option: Politely withdraw it from consideration and return any money the publication paid you for your work. This should be a last-case resort, as pulling a piece last-minute will not only hurt the magazine’s production schedule, but also will burn all bridges with that editor.

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