Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Writers Lose Their Hair

Years ago I did a number of think pieces for a paper in Philadelphia (even though I was based in New York). These were well-received by readers and editors alike, and a couple were nominated for awards. Then I submitted a piece -- I don't really remember what it was about -- that kept getting bumped from each issue. Each week I was told that there was a lot of hard news and no room for Op-Eds or think pieces. Each week I would notice half a dozen articles that hardly seemed to me like hard news. This went on for several weeks, turning into months.

The editor didn't like the piece or its sentiments and didn't want to run it but didn't have the guts to say so. It would have been so much more professional of him to say "this one didn't work for me" and let me turn in something different than to just keep bumping the piece week after week after week. Meanwhile, I did not do new pieces for the publication -- I mean, there was "no room," right?

Finally I asked for the piece back and sold it to another publication for five times the money. I never wrote for that Philadelphia paper again.

Why wasn't the editor more upfront with me? Perhaps because he knew that there was nothing actually wrong with the piece, he just didn't agree with it, and he knew that was a pretty weak, subjective reason for rejecting a piece from a newspaper that was supposed to explore different points of view. He could have chosen to confront me with his problems with the piece; he could have assigned someone else to write a counter-story (or done one himself). Instead, he did nothing, hoping I would either forget all about it or just ask for it back, which I did. But he lost, if I must say so myself, a damned good writer. I'm a professional and I expect others to be the same.

Now I'm occasionally doing pieces for a New York paper and the exact same situation has developed. I could be wrong this time. The paper's publication schedule has been cut back, and while I've seen a lot of stuff I, again, would hardly call hard news, at least it's of a timely nature, nothing that could be held over for another week, which is not necessarily true of my article. Still the situation is frustrating. It was the editor's idea, he said he liked it, and a number of prominent people spoke to me and gave me good quotes for the article (it's embarrassing when you get quotes from such people but the article never appears in print. You're reluctant to go to those people in the future, afraid they'll think "why should I talk to this guy, this piece probably won't see the light of day either." ) I offered to make changes that would make the piece more palatable to the editor (which I should have done with the editor in Philadelphia, even though he never actually expressed any dissatisfaction with it), but received no suggestions for revisions. Eventually the article will date and my chances for a resale somewhere else will be zero.

Of course, you can always put pieces on one of your blogs -- but that just isn't the same.

Which is one of the reasons why writers lose their hair.

1 comment:

Phantom of Pulp said...

Unfortunately, William, we live in a world where there are very few men of honor left.

I work in the film industry as a director and writer. I encounter the same nonsense all the time.

Nobody can ever be upfront about their reaction to your work. It is as if they are saving face in the event that you become a very hot "commodity"; if they call you then, you will not remember them being someone who turned your work down.

Of course, they've got it all wrong. Most of us admire the honest man, even if that honesty was not in our favor. It's always best to know where you stand, and people who do let us know that, get our respect.

Excuse my ramble, but your fine piece provoked it.