I recently had an article published in a magazine. Wonderful news, of course. It is always nice to know that others deem your work worthy of publication. However, on seeing the article in question, I was rather disappointed to find that some of my main arguments (this was an opinion piece) appeared to have vanished!
So, what does one do when something like this happens? Is it a good idea to tell the editor of your displeasure? Is it best to just grin and bear it? And what about criticism in general? All these questions I shall try to answer here.
It is always a thrill to see your words published by others no doubt, though it can be less so when you realize that the words are not 100% yours. Though it may be little comfort, editors–particularly of magazines and journals–can be notorious for this. Sometimes your word count is too high. Sometimes you have redundant words or sentences. And sometimes, of course, they just plain don’t like a part of the work you submitted.
Sometimes an editor will inform you of their changes and allow you to approve them ahead of time, or else ask you for a few specific revisions. This is the most ideal circumstance, as you have an opportunity to negotiate a bit and shape things up how you want. And in the end, of course, if the edits are too much for your tastes, you can always disapprove.
Other times (as in the above case), you will not know about the final edits until the final product has already been published. This can come as a bit of a shock to some, and perhaps result in full-blown outrage for others. It can feel like your work has been desecrated. It can feel like a betrayal, or even a personal slight. However, this is not the case.
So, before ringing the editor and threatening to wring his or her neck, it is best to take a step back for a moment and consider why the edits were made. As stated above, there can be many reasons. Sometimes they are obvious. Other times, not so much. In the latter case, if you are really dying to know, you may politely approach the editor and ask why certain changes were made. In most circumstances (unless they are extremely overburdened), they will probably explain. If their reasons seem insufficient, you may register your complaint in a polite, professional manner. If it has already been published, there is not much that can be done to change the outcome, but perhaps the editor will take the complaint to heart and be more careful in future. Or maybe not.
The absolute last thing you want to do in this case is write an angry letter criticizing the publication or its staff. They are merely doing what they think best for the sake of their company, magazine, journal, etc. Sometimes their willingness to edit submissions is even spelled in the submission guidelines. (Which is why it is important to always read these thoroughly prior to submission!) Approaching in an overly emotional, unprofessional manner will only result in their reluctance to accept any further submissions from you in future at best; a reputation as a difficult to work with among the publishing community at worst (editors do talk, and word can spread relatively quickly in the industry).
So, when all is said and done, you are left with essentially two viable options. You can simply avoid submitting to that same market again. Or, if you do intend to submit more work for whatever reason, keep in mind what changes were made and why so that next time you will not receive an unpleasant surprise when the final product comes out.
The same goes for criticism of your writing in general, whether in the early stages of a project or long after it has been published. Sometimes it is just a matter of taste, and can be ignored. More often, though, it is worth taking into account what others have to say about your writing, so that you may learn from the experience, apply what you have learned, and ultimately better your craft.