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Haiku Maven: The Trouble With Revisions

hm_logo Dear Haiku Maven, I am tired of editors who accept my haiku submission subject to a “slight revision.” I still remember a change from five years ago that I wish I had never accepted. The editor insisted I change “crows” to “crow.” Every time I think about that haiku, which went on to win a ‘Best of Issue Award,’ I get angry. I’ve had similar requests from editors since then. Change “april” to “April” or “dad” to “Dad.” Take out the ellipsis. Put in a dash between two words because it’s really not two words, it’s a compound word. Sometimes I think these editors are just showing off their knowledge of grammar. In fact I think I won the Best of Issue Award because the editor wanted to show he was right so he picked it. But I keep saying yes! The reason? After saying No to one of these changes, the acceptance was withdrawn. Now I am afraid to say No.

Signed, Not Easy to Say No

Dear Not Easy, Haiku Maven feels your pain, which must be acute since winning an award did nothing to assuage it. There is an actual term for what you describe: ‘qualified acceptance.’ The next time this happens ask yourself which is more important: getting published with a revision you don’t like or not getting published? If you strongly believe in your original haiku, then challenge the editor. You always have the right to say No to a requested revision. The editor also has rights. She/he can accept the haiku as submitted, without the requested change. He/she also can reject it. If the haiku is rejected because you said No, you can submit it elsewhere. And remember to be grateful to the editor who gave your haiku a qualified acceptance. Most editors don’t bother. They just say No.


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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Every case is different, assuming that the poet is prepared to listen to the editor’s suggestions with an open mind. And vice versa.

    I have accepted happily some suggestions for minor revisions.

    I have discussed some revisions I was less immediately happy with, at greater or lesser length, with editors. Sometimes I was persuaded, sometimes the editor.

    On a few occasions, when we couldn’t agree, I withdrew the poem.

    And I have been in all these situations as an editor also.

  2. I think there is also a mystery, when a collaboration between writers and/or editors works. I especially enjoy reading the letters and memoirs of artists. Madeleine L’Engle, for example, is generous in sharing about her “decade of failure” as I recall. Then Wrinkle In Time finally found the right publishing house and time to be published. She always felt the work knew more than she did.

    I was amazed at the changes in haiku, in one decade, after I was busy with family needs for a time. I subscribed to journals but wasn’t always able to read them. It is good to read a journal, before offering work for review – as Lorin reminds us. So I’m back to the notion of our work finding the right home. I may respect a journal completely, and also feel my work would not fit in there. The mystery of that too. I’ve had some times in my life when I’ve grown rapidly, but many more fallow years, and deeper roots from those years I hope – which recalls Francine’s generous interview in the Video Archive.


  3. Over the time I’ve been submitting haiku to various journals, I’ve only ever had changes suggested twice, by two individual editors. Once was several years ago. The second time was in 2012. Both times, I recognised immediately that the suggestion improved the haiku immensely. In fact, the suggestion last year changed the poem back to my original draft which I’d lost faith in! (The editor had no way of knowing that, of course) I felt most privileged & grateful both times.

    As a haiku editor, I understand from experience that most selecting editors simply do not have time to make such suggestions to everyone, every time. Consider that your poems are competing for space in any particular journal with many others: if 150 individuals send submissions of 10 haiku each, that’s 1,500 poems. If the maximum number that the editor can select is 250 (& quite often it’s proportionally less than that) there’ll be a lot of good, publishable poems which won’t be selected at all. If you receive a ‘qualified acceptance’, the reason isn’t likely to be that the editor is showing off their superior grammar skills or anything else. The editor likes your poem but thinks it marred by a small fault or error or has an idea about how it might be improved, that’s all, and the ‘qualified acceptance’ plus suggestion means that your poem is still in the race at this stage. You can either graciously accept, if you think the suggestion is an improvement or graciously refuse, if you don’t. You can always explain your point to the editor, too. They are human, and may see it your way if you explain. Or they might not, in which case you can bow out graciously for that particular poem, therefore making room for someone else’s poem to be included. And you can submit the poem elsewhere, to a different editor.

    Another thing is that some journals may have a particular house style in regard to things like capitalising month names. That’s easy enough to check by reading back issues of the particular journal.

    – Lorin

  4. Matthew — don’t know how “Dafne” got into the post, but it is “devora” who sent.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to clarify, Matthew. What I now understand is that the answer to my question is “no,” you do not publish those haiku for which you have made a suggestion. I think I am stuck on this because in earlier discussions about this subject, sometimes a poet feels that asking for a revision undermines their work and original intent. For me, personally, I cannot be sure the editor is right – I can only be sure that this particular editor won’t publish that specific haiku.

  6. Hi Devora,

    To clarify: if someone makes a submission, it’s usual that I accept at least one or two poems, but then make suggestions on all those that I don’t. Sometimes they then resubmit one or two of the haiku for the next issue, not necessarily using my suggestion but perhaps with other changes that (hopefully) my suggestions may have prompted. I’m not sure if my feedback is always helpful but I do my best to be constructive.

  7. So, are you saying, Matthew, that if you make a suggestion and the poet does not make the edit, the poem will not be published by you?

  8. As an editor, my view is that I suggest changes in a spirit of helpfulness rather than anything else, and the writer can take it or leave it as s/he sees fit; and in my experience as a writer, no editor has ever ‘forced’ changes on me that I didn’t regard as being worthwhile.

    As Gene says, every decent writer has to be their own editor first and foremost.

  9. It’s a funny thought, “editors showing off their grammar”. Isn’t that what editors are supposed to do? A more precise question would be, with this edit is this my still my voice or has it become the editor’s voice?
    I’m deeply grateful to many fine and encouraging editors who have suggested changes and have shown why they are necessary. This is especially true when their edit doesn’t change the initial meaning and trajectory of the poem.
    That isn’t to say I haven’t met one or two that add an edit to every submission, (I have). This then does raise the question: is it my ‘voice’ that is objected to or is an edit truly necessary? Then it simply comes down to the choice. To do or not to do? That IS the question.

  10. Well, I agree with Micheal. On occasion an editor my want
    to change an published poem for an anthology for example,
    Remember too, the original prepulished will never change.

    The bottom line is it’s up to you to accept said changes, and if
    decline you may not make the issue but there other publications

    Be your own editor first. Second, trust the editor.

    See folks soon, hopefully my health returns sometime this year?


  11. Most of the time I find the editor’s help useful since they are more in tune with the readership of the journal. But I must say, I’ve had one or two regretful changes I’ve had to live with and although I’ve tried to correct them over the years gave up. All in all I don’t think it matters much. Haiku to me are exclamations that go into the wind and eventually all pass away or become strange in new cultures that arise after us. To tell you the truth, for many years I never even kept track of my submissions. The very fact that these things are mortal as I am and filled with all sorts of slips and humanisms rather endears the whole process to me. pansies in the wind…. and then it was summer

  12. I’ve been an editor for decades and have always accepted the burden of the teaching element. If the process of acceptance requires changes, I need to be able to explain why to the writer. If she disagrees, that takes the project off the table. Editors are not publishers, they represent the publisher and the paper’s standards. Kurt Vonnegut once answered the question, can creative writing be taught, by noting how much he has learned from his editors.

  13. For me being a writer is a package deal: the need to keep my heart open for the gifts of the poems, and then to have that objective distance for other aspects of the process. Not always easy, and I often think I should be farther along by now.

    I surely believe editing is an art too. My heart will always be ahead of my craft, and I am blessed by good editors. Sometimes it takes time to find the right editor for one’s work, and that may change, as we grow and work in different ways.

    So important to receive encouragement. I still remember, 20-25 years ago, dancing in the living room when I received a kind note from an editor. So much is volunteer work as well, labors of love, for both poets and editors.

    Best wishes, Ellen

  14. I think it’s an act of generosity when an editor offers a suggestion to one of my poems that i have submitted to his or her journal. Of course, I can agree or disagree. The goal is to create the best possible way to express what you are trying to express. The key word here is what “you” are trying to express. Not the editor. That in mind, I appreciate it when editors actually edit. They are saying: this is close and here are my reasons. The writer always has the final say. But I would advise the writer to keep clear priorities. Your poem first. Their publication second.

  15. As a haiku editor, I occasionally made qualified acceptances, and I’ve had other editors make them regarding my work. I’m perfectly fine with this, on both sides of the fence. The editor is experienced, knows of particular errors to correct that come up repeatedly, or my wish to standardize on American or British spellings, for example, or standardize on a standard and proper way of treating em dashes and ellipses. Or I trust them to help improve a poem (I remember Bob Spiess accepting a poem from my very first submission to him in 1988, proposing to change “one hundred,” which he said was too precise, to “a hundred” — and I’m still grateful for this suggestion, and his explanation). The real problem here is that the poet needs to decide, truly decide, if he or she really agrees with a proposed revision. I’ve disagreed with a proposal and been fine with that poem being returned to me. It’s called having a backbone.

    In contrast, it’s helpful to be aware of the tradition of “tensaku” in Japanese haiku. When you submit a poem to nearly all Japanese journals, you are truly “submitting” them to the editor’s preference. The standard understanding is that the editor may make whatever changes he or she likes to the poem (conscientiously, obviously) and does NOT need to get permission from the submitter. The act of submitting grants the typical Japanese editor the full right to revise and improve the poem as he or she sees fit — and the poet remains grateful and humble, regardless of what changes may be made, even if dramatic, and makes the effort to learn from the revisions.

    The Western mindset is understandably uncomfortable with the tensaku tradition (which is fine), but tensaku does demonstrate a different approach to the editing process. I am happy to defer to some editors’ preferences because they make good suggestions. And if I change my mind after a revised poem is published, well, shucks, I can publish it in a book the way I prefer. No problems.

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