I fully believe flexibility is one of the most important traits a writer of fiction or nonfiction can have. Yes, you love your words, and yes, you have your goals and ambitions for them, but unless you run your own magazine or website or publishing house, there will be times you have to compromise or, as is often the case for me, not so much compromise but let an editor guide you into making your piece better and/or more in line with what the publication wants.
This week, I got my first byline in The Washington Post with my essay "Old magazines, stuffed animals, and sex toys: How hoarding shaped my relationship" in their Post Everything section, which was Post Everything's most read story on Tuesday and Wednesday. Here's the thing: my original draft looked nothing like what got published. Neither did my second. The title and focus were on completely different aspects of hoarding, and while my editor was interested in the topic, those earlier versions didn't quite work for what they were going for.
So I went back to the drawing board. I offered a few possibilities for what angle might work and when we decided on relationships I went for it. My first working title was "How My Hoarding Is Threatening My Relationship" followed by "Do I Love My Stuff More Than My Boyfriend?" Then that got finessed into what you see above. If I hadn't been flexible about that, or had thrown a fit over the title that ultimately went with the piece, which I saw for the first time when it went live Tuesday morning, I would have been persona non grata there. But as a writer, I want my work to be read by as many people as possible, not because I'll get paid more, but because that's the whole reason I'm putting such personal information out there in the first place. If this version, with this title, along with the photo of my hoarding that was requested, will make the essay a better fit for their audience, I'm all for it.
Guess what? It worked. My essay was the most read piece on Post Everything on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, that matters to my editor and, on a personal level, to me. It means I did my job well (I'm not saying if a piece performs poorly traffic wise, or, as I certainly know well, a book doesn't sell, that the author/editor didn't do their job well though, because there are so many factors going into it), it means the combination of words and photo and placement and social media and whatever else makes someone want to read about the life of a hoarder succeeded. And this may not be true for everyone, but when I have one writing win, it makes me excited to work on the next one (sadly, the opposite happens too, and my poor boyfriend has to live with my hoarding and my moping when I get writing rejections).
For the record, I pitched a different piece about hoarding to another publication I'd love to break into, and it got rejected, but kindly so. Since there seemed to be interest in the topic, and it's one I know not tons of people are writing about from a first-person perspective, I tried Post Everything. I was flexible about who I wrote for, what I wrote, what images went with it and how the piece was positioned, because I see this one small essay as part of my larger career as a writer. I especially love when I get to write about topics that are not sex, because I do so much of that already. I love writing about sex, and have been honored recently by some of the topics I've gotten to cover and the things people have shared with me, especially ones that I feel can make a difference, such as the sex toy store crime article, but I also rebel hard against being stereotyped as a single-issue writer. That is not my goal and it's freeing and exciting to be recognized in another arena, even if "sex toys" are in the title. So thank you for reading this piece, and I hope this inspires you to dust off a rejected piece and get it out the door.
Not coincidentally, this week I finally sent out rejection emails for my spring Cleis Press anthology Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica. I procrastinated on it because I despise it, and am always considering quitting erotica anthology editing because it is not fun and kind of makes me feel like an awful person when I have to do it, even though the numbers will tell you that 100+ submissions of at least 1,500 words each cannot fit into a 65,000 word book. Because this book took me a longer time than usual to finalize, I found that many authors had already sold their rejected pieces to other publications. This made me feel so much better about the difficult task I was faced with, and reinforced my intuition that a rejection is just one publication's reaction (which, as an editor, I can tell you happens for so many reasons beyond an author's control), and that another may be ready to snap up your story/essay/article/etc. Here's the cover of Come Again, which I'm 99% sure will be on sale at CatalystCon at the end of March and in stores close to then too - stay tuned for readings and events, and click on the cover or title above for my introduction and the table of contents!