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The Missing Tomato
by Barbara Deming

Writing has always been a part of my life but to different degrees. I began writing tales for my friends at the age of ten, graduated to essays and, when I married and had children, was demoted to grocery lists, creating new dishes for my hungry family, notes to friends and an occasional making up of children stories for their amusement. When I had the time to return to writing—serious writing for money, I hoped—it wasn’t difficult to choose my topic. Culinary articles were my first choice.

My first sale was to a small home cooking magazine, the comfortable, easy-to-read type of publication I had subscribed to for years. Their guidelines (and my research from reading and using the magazine) stated their need for culinary articles to include more than merely the five or six recipes requested. They wanted a special touch to grab the readers attention before they got to the kitchen. I decided I would write an article on a favorite, versatile vegetable (often called a fruit), the tomato, and begin with a brief history of the produce.

The article of 250 words and six recipes sold the first time out. The editor commended me on the research I had done, not only on the tomato but also on giving them the type of article they requested. Although the guidelines stated they paid on publication, I received my check for fifty-five dollars before I held the magazine in my hand. The check saved me from breaking into hysterical tears when I received my complimentary copy.

All of the history and facts were there, the tips for picking, handling and storing were right on the money and the layout of the article was one to be proud of. My favorite recipe, one for Scalloped Cheese Tomatoes, was front and center. I read through every word of the facts and then the prize recipe. I read and reread. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a disaster. The readers would think I was one dumb cook and even less as a writer.

The printed recipe, the one I wanted the cooking world to try, had one important ingredient missing—the tomatoes.

The first thing I did was check my copy of the submitted article. The tomatoes were definitely in. That made it a little better—at least, I had not been so inept to leave out the main ingredient. But I wanted to rectify it, let the editors know I hadn’t made the mistake, keep my beginning writing career on the right path. What could I do?

In those days, there was no email between writer and editor. I didn’t want to wait until snail-mail delivered my cry of angst. I picked up the phone and called the editor. I was so new to this game that I never thought she wouldn’t speak to me or whether or not I should or shouldn’t call. She was very gracious, assured me that the omission would be corrected in the next issue, and thanked me for finding the error. Then she asked me if I had anything else to offer.

The telephone call ate up five dollars of my payment. But it paid off many times over. Not only did I get to meet my editor via that call but we continued to have a working relationship for the next ten years.

Writers should closely read their copy before sending it out. Mistakes happen but writers don’t want them to be theirs if at all possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for galleys. Even if they aren’t offered, you have shown yourself professional enough to know how beneficial they can be. Writing is easy compared to selling your work; we need to fill an editor’s need, even if he/she doesn’t realize they have it.

Maybe you too can write for an editor time and again because of a missing ingredient.

© Copyright 2007, Barbara Deming

Barbara Deming teaches creative writing in San Diego County, CA. She is the author of two books, The Quilt Maker and Growing up Barefoot in the South. Her columns can be read online at www.writersremember.com and in “\The Storyteller Magazine. She welcomes contact at: http://barbarademing.lifeartz.com, http://barbswritetree.blogspot.com or Demingwrites@aol.com

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