Yesterday, I received my contributor's copy of a national magazine which included an article I'd written. My first story in a national magazine! I was like a kid on Christmas morning, flipping through the pages to find my name.
And there it was! My name, on the glossy pages of the magazine that would be read all over the country, and sold at newstands from sea to shining sea!
Except that it wasn't my article. Sure, it was on the topic I was assigned, and my name was there getting credit, but it wasn't the story I submitted.
I recognized a line or two from my original story, but the rest? I don't know who wrote it.
To say that I was dismayed is an understatement. Back in high school, the teachers used to drill into our heads that taking credit for something you didn't write was illegal and unethical. And here the magazine gave me credit for a story I didn't write. I'm not mad, because the article is really well done. It just feels fake to get credit for something I didn't do. And get paid for it.
Why would they put my name on the article? Why not tell me what I gave them wasn't what they'd wanted and credit the story to the person who wrote it? Why ask me for the invoice so they can pay me? Why not pay the person who wrote it?
My friend Paula says that happens all the time in publishing. She says sometimes the editor changes the focus of an article at the last minute, and has to rewrite it. Or the space restrictions change. Or they just rewrite it to rewrite it. She told me not to worry about it. Since the magazine already asked me to do another piece, they obviously liked my writing. She said to wait and see if it happens again.
I've only had a problem with this once before, when an editor bought a query story I submitted. Instead of asking me to edit the article to fit the word count, she edited it herself because she was on a tight deadline. She rewrote the introduction to the story, which completely changed the slant of the article. She also shortened some quotes which changed their meaning and made the lead source look a little shady. I was really upset when I got my copy of the paper. Fortunately, she's a great editor to work for, and we talked about how to communicate better so she lets me know how many words she needs so I can try and give her what she wants. Makes us both happier.
And let's face it. Editing happens all the time, to shorten a story, or change a word here or there. It's the editor's right to chop up the story.
But this is more than that. It feels uncomfortable to know that my byline can appear on something I didn't really write, like I have no control over the use of my own name. And frankly, it makes me wonder how many times other writers have gotten credit or flack for something they didn't write.