Why a writer should never be her own sub-editor: going crazy over a conflict of interest


It’s unusual, to say the least, for one person to be both contributor and editor, at the same time, on the same publication.

But I once found myself in the situation where I was both editing an industry yearbook (in my capacity as an editor for one company) and writing a submission for publication in that booklet (in my capacity as public relations consultant for another company).

It was a situation fraught with interest. There was the obvious issue of whether there was a conflict of interest. I consulted with the other parties involved and we eventually decided that there probably was, but that it didn’t really matter, since no-one else could be bothered doing any of the work involved. The job had to be done, so I – and I – might as well be the one/s to do it.

 

So I was left to baffle myself with the resulting dilemmas, such as having to convince myself that I should carry in full the article without editing it too much, and having to rebuke myself if the article was not up to scratch, or not in on time.

The article I wrote was rather over-long, coming in at some 2,200 words against a limit of 1,800 stated in the brief that I’d written and sent to myself. But I was rather pleased with the end result and felt it couldn’t possibly be bettered or shortened – every syllable was good stuff and surely the editor could squeeze in the extra 400 words, perhaps by using fewer images? Those word counts that editors give you are only guidelines anyway, and I didn’t really have time to go through it trimming out bits here and there – that would only have spoiled a perfectly good article.

You can imagine how annoyed I was when I received that article from myself. What is it with these hack journalists that they can’t stick to the word count? I’d specified 1,800 words as a limit for a reason, and here was this person merrily sending in 2,200 despite what she’d been told. Use fewer images, she suggested – well sorry, lovey, but as editor I have to strike the right balance between text and images and I can’t just ‘squeeze’ in an extra 400 words without the finished page looking unattractively text-heavy. I was sorely tempted to send the piece back to myself with instructions to cut it to the word count specified, but time was getting on, so it looked like it would be down to me to do the job – golly how I fumed!

It was the same with the deadline. I couldn’t get the article to myself exactly on time but it’s well known that deadlines are moveable feasts, not set in stone as it were. After all, the booklet wasn’t due to go to press for weeks, I had loads of other stuff on – and I had a bit of a drinking sesh on at the weekend so couldn’t do it then.

Well, when I eventually received the piece from myself three days after the deadline I’d stated, I was a bit miffed to say the least. There’s this assumption that when you set a deadline you don’t really mean it – I swear that contributors look at the deadline and deliberately add on a few days just to annoy, as though to show how much in demand they are elsewhere. They forget that a publication date of May means everything’s got to be in the design studio at the start of April to take its place in the queue for the overworked designer, and then wait its turn at the printer and then the mailing house. When stuff comes in three days late, it’s no skin off the writer’s nose – bloody woman was probably down the pub when she could have been working on the piece! – but it means three days less for me to turn the whole shebang around.

But I’m sure you’ll appreciate my pique when I saw, on seeing the finished page, that some of my best sentences had been chopped out by the editor. What is it with these red-pen merchants that they can’t tell good literature from a sprig of parsley, and go blithely hacking their way mercilessly through someone else’s hard-written work?

In the end I went quietly out of my mind and, meeting myself in the bathroom mirror one afternoon, exchanged unforgivable words with myself. We weren’t on speaking terms for ages afterwards.

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