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Check the Changes
by Carol J. Alexander
I learned an invaluable lesson while working as an executive secretary: do whatever you can to make your boss successful and you will succeed. As a freelance writer of magazine articles who is my boss? The editor, of course. And what does that editor need? Time. If an editor spends less time working on my story, she has more time to do other work. So, how can I make sure my story doesn't take up too much of the editor's time?
The obvious answer is to follow the writers' guidelines of the publication. If those guidelines say to type your story in 14 point Old English, don't submit it in 12 point Times New Roman. If your story is not formatted correctly, for that publication, someone on that editorial staff will have to do it for you. Some publications want the piece as a Word attachment. Others want it in the body of the e-mail. Some want specific information on the subject line. All these requests are for a purpose. And adhering to these guidelines will set you apart from those who do not care.
But there is one more thing you can do to set yourself apart—another lesson learned in my past. Remember, in school, huddling around the bulletin board when the exam grades were posted and thinking, "Eighty-eight? What did I get wrong? How?" Then, you anxiously awaited the return of your test paper so you could find out. This is exactly the practice that will set you apart from the competition.
After I've sold a piece and I receive my contributor's copy in the mail (and after I've danced a jig of rejoicing with my family and stared at my name in print-for I hope that that feeling of accomplishment will never cease to come) then I get to work.
I take that published piece and lay next to it a printed copy of my submission and compare. I check every word, every punctuation mark, and every detail to see what the editor changed in my story. I mark it and study it, as this truly reflects what this particular editor wants. This method helped me to see that one particular homeschooling magazine spells home school as two words, yet another spells it as one. One publication never uses the words student or teacher, the other doesn't care. I've found editors that want a comma before 'and' in a series, while others do not. One editor might get rid of all my contractions while another may prefer them. In one magazine, I discovered all mention of 'people' is changed to 'folks.'
None of these things are revealed in a writers' guidelines. And unless you pay close attention, you may never notice the subtle changes. But the editor will notice when he has to spend too much time on your third or fourth submission. Then, you will wonder why he quit buying from you for no apparent reason.
Surely you study the publication, know your readers, and use the active voice. Next time, though, check the changes and see the difference it makes.
© Copyright 2009, Carol J. Alexander
Carol J. Alexander writes alongside four of her six children from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her articles have appeared in BackHome Magazine, Home Education Magazine, Funds for Writers Newsletter and Writing for DOLLARS!. Visit her websites: www.CarolJAlexander.weebly.com and http://EverythingHomeWithCarol.blogspot.com.
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