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Do literary magazines edit submissions?

I was recently directed to this page at

The New Yorker.

It shows one of Raymond Carver's famous stories - and the changes made by his editor.

If someone like Carver relied so heavily on an editor, what's a struggling new writer to do?

Is it common for literary magazines to edit submissions? Or do editors tend to reject submissions that require more than light editing - even if they otherwise like the story?

ANSWER

Katherine, Gordon Lish is famous for his edits on Raymond Carver's stories. Some people think he ruined them. Others think Carver would never have been published without him.

I think it's important for all writers, even published ones, to get outside feedback on their writing before they submit. We're just too close to our work to see what others will see. But you also need to develop confidence in your own ability to know what works and what doesn't, so any final decisions should always be yours.

It is uncommon for editors to do more than very light editing, as they generally have more submissions than they can publish, and too little time. So they choose only the very best writing to publish, usually writing that needs no editing.

In general, new writers need to know that if they're submitting to quality publications, they're competing with experienced writers, so their work should be the best they can make it before they submit. Not everyone needs line editing, but almost everyone can use substantive feedback from a trusted source, paid or not.

With time, new writers may receive enough feedback from publications to improve on their own, but professional help speeds up the process.

For free advice, writers should check to see if their local library or university hosts a writer in residence, as part of the visiting writer's job may be to meet with the public and provide feedback.

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