Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Asking To Preview A Piece

Are you running a blog and looking for some publicity? Over the next 4 weeks I'll be talking about common issues that are worth thinking about. We've talked about basic interview tips, and legitimacy, now we move on to the next topic...

Today I'd like to write about a really common misunderstanding between writers and interview subjects. This is: when you are interviewed for a newspaper or magazine article, is it OK to ask if you can see the piece you are contributing a quote to before it's printed? Or to approve which picture of you goes in?

The answer is No.

The only people who can see the article before it's printed are the people who pay for it to be written. This is part of the ethics of the business. The PM, politicians, celebrities, rich folks etc... none of them get to approve their quotes or their pictures.

If you give an interview, you do so because it's fun, because it's part of your job, or because you want free publicity. As such you have to trust the writer to get it all down, and present the view you hope for. To do that, don't say anything you don't want to appear in print.

If you say it, expect to be quoted.

You can also expect us to give your statement a bit of a polish so that you sound better.

We change your, "well, uhm, you know, I kinda like that pasta stuff with the hot chillis...uhm, that sort of uhmmm, you know, hooker thing? Uhm, oh yeah, pasta puttanesca. You know, because it's sort of spicy? It's got a kick. And I like it with salad... especially sour sort of salad. that balsamic one... It makes your mouth run, you know?"

into, "My favourite is Pasta Puttanesca, a pasta made with hot chillis. It's got a real kick to it. I pair it with a salad tossed with balsamic vinegrette because the sour dressing compliments the spicy pasta."

For partial control, go for email interviews (more on that next week).

If you want total control over your interview, hire a writer or write the piece yourself, and pay to place the piece as an ad. If you want to control what picture is used, hire your own photographer, makeup team etc and pay for it yourself.

Having said that, I do make two allowances. If I get a legal or medical opinion, I doublecheck the quote with the lawyer or doctor, and give a note to my client that the exact wording of these particular sentences has been checked for accuracy.

Mind you, I check the actual quote to be attributed; I don't show them the whole piece. I have a duty to make sure I represent what they say accurately. However, I reserve the right to include general information they don't like, or quote other people in the piece whose opinion doesn't agree with them.

Even if I check the exact working of a quote, this does not guarantee that every quote is published. When four people interviewed say the same thing, only one gets quoted. If the quote doesn't fit the slant of the piece, it gets dropped. Also, sometimes an editor will take out quotes (usually because the piece is too long) or even whole paragraphs (especially if they get an extra ad!)

As a typical piece is checked by 2 or more people, writers know that their work seldom appears exactly as they wrote it. It's practically impossible to write a piece and edit it for grammar errors and style yourself afterwards. If you're lucky, someone else tidies up your grammar, and does it a bit of polishing, and doesn't bother you with the details. This is known as the easy life.

Other times we write a piece, discuss it with an editor, rewrite bits of it, add bits in, take bits out, and then discuss it again, possibly with someone else present too, and make more changes. This is a painful process that has everyone tearing their hair out. And frankly, the fewer people making changes and needing to give approval for the final product, the better for us poor, overworked writers.

That's another reason why we don't want to show you our stuff before it's out. So don't ask, OK?

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The Oceanside Animals said...

LOL ... now, if you could just follow me around and clean up all my speechifying like you did that quote, that would be swell!

Ellen Whyte said...

I got this from a colleague and just had to share it with you...

"By the way, I totally love what you posted today on Monday Writers Craft Online! I’ve had writers request to see their pictures, even asking us to photoshop away their wrinkles/blemishes. There was even a writer who sat beside me and READ ALOUD the interview (supposed to be my opinion piece some more!) line by line, asking me to define every difficult word and to justify why I wrote the sentence the way I did. And of course, some who asked if we were PAYING THEM for the interview."

~CovertOperations78~ said...

When I was in publishing, we always send the draft copy back to the author for proofreading, so there was an assumption by some in the editing/publishing circles that interview subjects should get to proofread their statements too. I had the benefit of being a stringer so I realised this is not so.
By the way, I'd like to bring your guest writer some ham sometime, maybe next week!

Naddy said...

your description on how you restructured the spoken words into a meaningful sentence strikes a chord with me.

when i was assigned as a radio programmer producer 2 years ago, there were some aunties who has small medium enterprises like kuih making or frozen food business who only answered yes and no and never elaborated longer than requested. in the end i chopped all the answer and make them into a nice sentence which sounds like the aunty has suddenly turned into a great speaker.

Di said...

The challenge with this is, however, misquotes and misdirection. Example: I was once interviewed on HypnoBirthing, a class I teach. The writer chose to include a birth story of a couple that ended up in a ceasrean. Why?
I was interviewed another time about water births. The writer chose to interview a doctor that knows nothing about water birth. He made unsubstantiated comments about water birth being dangerous. His statements are disputed by medical studies. The writer chose to make the doctor the expert on waterbirth although he had never attended one nor had he done any research on what keeps waterbirth safe.
So without the writer providing me the ability to approve my quotes or understand who else is being included in the piece and the slant on the article, I am a bit hesitant having been burned before. Does that make sense?

Ellen Whyte said...

I'd say you have to see who the writer is, and what the magazine is about. Then you know who and what you're dealing with.

Also, if you are talking to someone who isn't straight, they'll tell you that you can see the copy, and then after you give the interview, they'll do what they want anyway.

Ellen Whyte said...

Best comment for 2012 so far from Girl X,

"I can't let just anyone feature me because I have to protect my image. I can't work with you unless I get to approve all copy."

This from a first time author whose publisher is a vanity press printer and whose Facebook and Twitter fan base combined is less than 50 people.