Sometimes being a freelancer is very disempowering. I am speaking particularly of the sub-editorial process, which keeps letting me down. My Vanuatu story appears in one of today’s newspapers as part of a travel lift-out on the South Pacific. In publications across the board, it’s standard practice for certain cuts to be made from filed copy (ie. the words I submit to my commissioning editor). There are a number of reasons for this: space restrictions, contentious or overly political content, dull writing. Obviously this last I try my utmost to avoid. But as a freelancer, I am finding it harder and harder to accept being excluded from the final proofread.
Here’s why. For the third consecutive feature, a mistake has appeared in my copy that was not there when I filed. I can’t even begin to tell you how this makes me burn. I am so angry right now I feel like punching a bag designed for the purpose. Or whoever made this latest cock-up appear in my story. I wouldn’t mind a swift jab in their direction, true. What I despise about bad sub-editing most of all is that to the average eye (ie. reader), it looks like the sloppiness is mine. After all, it’s got my name on it.
There’s a sentence in my story that no longer makes sense. Now it says “…tables in Tilly’s restaurant face out over the stunning and the effect is of being miles from anywhere.” Over the stunning? Over the stunning what??!! I’ll tell you what, as I did the first time when I actually wrote the damn thing: over the stunning Fatumaru Bay. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? I didn’t think so.
It shits me because it’s someone’s JOB to get this right. I do understand and fully appreciate the need for sub-editors to be on hand picking up mistakes, but it is much, much harder to swallow sub-editors taking it upon themselves to put mistakes in. What goes on that this is even possible? What happens there at HQ that means this is the third time in as many stories that some unnamed, unknown gremlin has tampered with my work? What kills me is that I have no recourse. Nope. I shot off an email to my editor asking if he was overworked or if it was someone else that needed a sharp clip around the ears, and he naturally apologised and expressed his own frustration, but that’s the end of the road. He doesn’t know what happened. Neither do I. No one ever does. But what I can tell you is that I have a copy of what I filed, and the mistake is most assuredly not mine. Unfortunately no one reading my story knows that, and yes, that bugs the hell out of me because I take pride in my work. Maybe too much pride, because right now I am fuming.
I’d be more than happy to sub the final copy. For my own stories, I’d commit to doing it free of charge. Of course I would; it’s my own reputation that is at stake. My own work. When you’re in the office, it’s easier to maintain ownership. You’ll be included in the round of checks that usually numbers around half a dozen pairs of eyes making sure nothing gets through that shouldn’t be there. But as a freelancer working out of the office, I don’t get to see the final proof. I file the story as a basic Word document, and the next time I see it, it’s in the paper or magazine in question. And now I’m thinking it’s just plain inadequate. I should get a final opportunity to look for errors, mine or someone else’s. I hate to say it, but so far, they’ve all been someone else’s. And yet whose name is at the top of the page, who wears the ‘sloppy’ tag? Only me. Honestly? I could scream.