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Can An Editor Rewrite My Story?

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 31 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Editor Story Contracts Infringement

Q.

Can an editor of a local anthology rewrite a story with a different subject and emphasis, chopping 2000 words out of it (without asking first) then send it to the author (me), and say it is now the story that is going into the anthology and I have to revise this one only?

Is the editor entitled to send it to an unknown third person who is an agent, and ask them to edit it, look at it as a potential novel - without first asking the author, me.

I am prepared to have my story be too long or need editing but this seems very odd to me.

(Mrs Diane Andrews, 25 September 2008)

A.

Dear Author,

First and foremost, congratulations to you on getting your work 'out there'. It’s very satisfying when someone shows interest in your writing, and that can only happen if you take calculated risks, which you’ve obviously done. Bravo!

Secondly, the answer to your questions isn’t as clear as you might like, but you probably have the key to finding the right way to go about discovering it: your contract.

From the sound of your inquiry, you submitted a piece of work (your story) to be included in a local publication, in this case an anthology. Your story was then accepted, and I’m betting that you were sent some kind of contract to sign. If that’s the case, that legally binding document should give you a good idea as to what your rights are concerning your work.

For instance, if the contract to which you agreed gives the editor carte blanche to do whatever he or she wants with your story, there’s little recourse for you. (If you didn’t realise he or she could wield such power, consider it a lesson in reading contracts skeptically and ultra carefully.)

But if you (a) did not give him or her such rights or (b) never signed a contract in the first place, you have ever right to pull your work from the anthology if you don’t agree with the editor’s decision to cut it by 2,000 words. Should you do that, you won’t have your story seen by the public, but you also won’t be taken advantage of.

As to the second part of your question, I will agree that it does seem odd for your editor to send your work to an agent to see if it would be ideal as a potential novel. Is there something in your contract (if it exists) that gives the editor all copyrights to your story, thus eliminating you from future negotiations with agents? If not, I’d advise you having a word with the editor about your concerns, not in a threatening or aggressive way, but in an “I’m not comfortable with what you did” manner.

In the end, you may have to resort to legal assistance if you feel you are being unfairly treated by the editor or if you believe your rights to your own work may have been infringed upon.

Good luck with all your future endeavours, and be careful whenever you sign any agreement in the future whose wording may seem questionable or confusing.

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