Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
The article came back, via email.
“What now?” I said time myself, agitated. This was the third time I sent this article to the editor, only to have it rejected. And, each time, the reason had to do with the name of the subject, a neighborhood in my hometown.
“The neighborhood’s name needs to be corrected. It is not Delthorne,” she succinctly wrote in the accompanying email.
This was the similar response she made on previous emails on this particular article. In the past, her comments were vague. This time, she was specific and mentioned:
“The name of the neighborhood is Delthome in Torrance. Please make that correction.”
“Delthome?” I said to myself, dumbfounded.I never heard of any district with this name in Torrance, let alone in the rest of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
Either I defy the editor or go along with her bizarre request.
I checked my sources and they didn’t appear to show the district of Delthome. But there was Delthorne (although the font on the label was a bit confusing). I was in a quandary: do I stay with the correct name or go with this "Delthome"?
I had several neighborhoods to profile and the deadlines were approaching. I could lose potential income if I didn’t fix this in order to move on to the next subject.
What should I do? Either I defy the editor or go along with her bizarre request. With so much was at stake, it’s not an easy decision to fix.
The writing assignment was part of a project devised by a partnership between an unnamed real estate publication and the content writing site, Helium. The content site (now defunct) often partnered with other specialized publications, Internet news platforms, blogs, and printed media. The intent was to give its regular contributors a chance to expand their freelance writing portfolio by offering opportunities to write for clients.
No doubt, for many content writers -- novice or experienced -- who dreamed of becoming a full-time freelance writer, this was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Although I worked as a teacher, I yearned to become a freelance writer, too, albeit part-time. When Helium advertised this project, I felt it was a chance I had to take.
The real estate publication wanted writers and editors. Both were supplied by Helium. The task was to write brief profiles on various neighborhoods in numerous metropolitan areas throughout the United States. To further break it down, the neighborhood can be within major cities, suburbs or within districts of a city.
According the officials for this publication, the articles were to be:
- Brief (200-300 words);
- contain important features and/or landmarks;
- list proximity or inclusion of education institutions;
- important streets or modes of transportation; and
- mention its borders and location.
Also, the publication stated that we use a few Internet tools such as:
- Google Map;
- Yahoo Map;
- Zillow; and
- Official city websites containing the neighborhoods.
The project lasted for six months. Each week, the publication released the name of the neighborhoods -- usually organized by states. We chose the neighborhoods and had to complete them within a few days.
They were easy writing assignments, and as this project progressed through the months, many of us felt confident enough to pick 10 more assignments per release. It was not uncommon to complete multiple assignments in one day.
After writing about neighborhoods in Little Rock, Arkansas, Charleston, South Carolina, and Fargo, North Dakota (places I’ve never been to), I was ecstatic to see neighborhoods in Southern California pop up. This included neighborhoods in Santa Ana and Irvine (which, at the time, were close to where I lived). Not only could I use the Internet map tools most of us relied upon, I could use my prior knowledge about them. This worked out well, in the beginning.
Later that week, neighborhoods in Torrance opened up. Torrance was where I grew up and, to this day, close to where I’m employed. My parents still live there as do my sisters and their families. This project was starting to get easier by the day. And, of course, I snatched everyone pertaining to the Torrance neighborhoods.
That’s when the struggle started.
As mentioned, the real estate publication hired Helium’s contributing writers. It also wanted its editors. For those familiar with content sites in the early days, editors were few and far between (and that’s being optimistic). In fact, many writers have to self-edit their material before publishing. Unfortunately, not all writers on these sites made for good editors. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the quality of the writing on these sites left little to be appreciated.
At the time of this project, Helium started to hire editors. Some came from other publications; however, many came from the ranks of writers. Unfortunately, the seasoned editors were outnumbered by those just starting out.
This inexperience showed up in this project. The editor (whose name will be withheld) was a newbie. Her experience (All Helium writers had bio pages), indicated that she had been "an avid writer for decades" and nothing else.
The first article I wrote was about the Southwood neighborhood. This was the one I grew up in and knew intimately. The following is a brief description (and close to what was used in the original article):
- This is in the hilly southwest corridor of the city and borders Redondo Beach. Much of it was built on an ancient sand dune system and is now populated by steep, tree-line residential streets, thus varying in elevation and views of the Pacific Ocean and Palos Verdes Peninsula. The fabled Sepulveda/ El Camino Real run make up its northern border and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at the South end with Palos Verdes Boulevard linking them (eventually Sepulveda and PCH meld into one and meander through the beach cities and splitting somewhere north of LAX). In between is a low-lying area known as Sharon Lane (nicknamed Sleepy Hollow) where every December, the street and the nearby ones transform into a local spectacle, in which residents decorate their homes with Christmas lights, ornaments and other lawn decorations.
There were some striking features about the area that made it into that article. I described them as:
- This was a windswept area that often gets shrouded in fog;
- It was one of the coolest places in the Los Angeles County due to a constant sea breeze;
- Many homes didn’t need an AC;
- It was also near a former Nike missile site -- that has been converted into Wilderness Park in neighboring Redondo Beach.
Much of the lengthy information given was written into the article. These were facts about the place. However, this editor -- my first of several dealings I had with her. Didn’t see it that way.
Did she not understand that the frequent weather patterns in the area means that it is susceptible to lower temperatures?
“The [real estate publication] is not interested in knowing that this area is windswept and built on an ancient sand dune system that stretches the length of the Santa Monica Bay. Also they don’t need to know it is the coolest place in the area.” she wrote in the email with my rejected article attached to it. “That is your opinion and it doesn’t belong in the article. You need to only point out its features.”
An argument can be made that information about geographical location of the neighborhood was not necessary (although seismologists and architects may say the opposite). Even the term "windswept" might not be needed. But, having an article being rejected because it’s the coolest place in the area made me wonder about her judgement.
Did she not understand that the frequent weather patterns in the area means that it is susceptible to lower temperatures? It’s not unusual for a heatwave to hit the L.A. Basin and this part of the region is 10 to 25 degrees lower than its surroundings.
Agitated, but in no mood to fight, I made the changes. The article was accepted. It was just a bump in the road, I thought. If I was to make freelance writing a real possibility, this was just something I’d have to learn to deal with.
That hurdle was over, or so I thought.
Many articles made it through the editors -- especially this particular editor. Still, there were comments about corrections she made. Most of them had to do with street names. She never went into details about the mistake I supposedly made.
“A street name was incorrect and had to be spelled correctly” she once wrote. “Please adhere to the Google Map.”
My frustration with her festered as her emails and comments piled up. Almost all of them zeroed in on the name or spelling of streets. And in many cases, I double-checked the names only to discover I was right in the first place. I didn’t get it. Why was she adamant that I was making this mistake?
Delthorne or Delthome?
The last Torrance neighborhood was near the center of town. Hawthorne Boulevard and Del Amo Boulevard made up its western and northern borders. In addition, its main feature (besides being across the street from the city’s vast oil refinery) was a park that combined the name of the two streets, Delthorne Park. The neighborhood took this namesake. In addition, it’s a park with a huge sign with Delthorne emblazoned on it. Often, I’ve passed by it on my way to work.
Even the assignment page created by Helium and the publication had listed the neighborhood’s name as “Delthorne”.
However, this editor didn’t get the memo.
“You need to fix the name of the neighborhood. It’s not Delthorne.” She wrote in the email with my article attached to it.
I double-checked it. Delthorne it is. I sent it back, writing a note stating that the neighborhood was indeed named Delthorne. I also wrote that the main attraction, the park, was named Delthorne.
“The name is Delthome,” she wrote back, again with my article attached it.
I tried one last time, but got the same result: she was steadfast that she was right. On top of that, the deadline was approaching. Reluctantly, I changed it. There was no need to have returned for the fourth time.
If that’s what she wants, I thought, then that’s what she gets. I hoped it wouldn’t come back to haunt me. This time, it went through and I was credited financially for it.
The project progressed. A few weeks and states later, we were choosing neighborhoods in Nashville, Tennessee. All was well since the "Delthome" episode. That is until I wrote about a neighborhood with Jacksonian Street running through it.
Although editors will fluctuate and work on other portions of the project, I ended up with “the editor” and a lead editor. True to form, the article was returned to me.
“Please change the name of the street to Jacksoman.” the editor wrote. “It’s not named Jacksonian.”
You need to adhere to what the Google or Yahoo Map states. We see it as Jacksoman Road.”
Again, I checked my source, despite already knowing that I had written the correct name in the first place. Without making any changes, I returned it to her. With it, I wrote a note stating that it was the correct name.
Again, the article was rejected and returned to me for correction. This time, however, it was lead editor contacting me.
“You need to adhere to what the Google or Yahoo Map states. We see it as Jacksoman Road.”
This last comment struck me. Google or Yahoo Map? I used these as references. I went back to them and looked closely at their listing of this errant road.
Usually, I zoom in on a neighborhood to get the name. My eyesight is not what it used to be so I have to have things expanded. While expanded, the name of the street was, indeed, Jacksonian. However, when both maps are at the standard size, the white lettering melded the letters, especially the “i” and “n” making them look like an “m”. Jacksonian looked like the nonsensical word, Jacksoman.
I resubmitted the article. This time, I wrote: “The name of the street is Jacksonian. Blow it up and you will see it. Besides, the street is named after Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian Age. It doesn’t make sense to call it Jacksoman.
The article was accepted with no further words exchanged on the matter.
A realization set in; not only did I win this round with the editors, it solidified my earlier argument about Delthorne/Delthome matter. I went to Google Map and pulled up Delthorne. Sure enough, if one didn’t zoom in on the name, it would appear to say Delthome (the “r” and “n” looking like an “m”).
Immediately, I wrote to the lead editor to tell him about this mistake in hopes to have it fixed. Unfortunately, I never heard from him or the editor that made the mistake in the first place. No apologies.
Reflecting on Editor-Writer Relations
The project would continue for the next few months. In the end, I amassed nearly a thousand dollars from it! On top of that, the writing project was fun and I got a chance to learn about places I haven’t been to, yet.
Still, not all was nice and sweet; the editor left a bad impression on me. As a freelance writer, you want to put out your best. But, this editor nearly hampered it when she didn’t realize or bothered to hit the zoom icon on the map program and get a closer look at the name.
No doubt, one needs a sharp eye, knowledge of technology, grammar and some historical knowledge to help do the editorial job. I knew Jacksoman was wrong because, historically speaking, it has nothing to do with the person it was named after (also, the word can't be found in a dictionary). I knew Delthome was wrong, because the correct name made more sense: It was a contraction of Del Amo and Hawthorne, the two major streets in the neighborhood.
Being an editor is not an easy matter. And, in most cases, they are knowledgeable about the material they are working on. In addition, they need to dispense that knowledge to the writers. However, they are fallible, and sometimes, incompetent. As a writer, you must be vigilant and be ready to challenge them when they get something wrong in your article. After all, it’s your name on the byline, not theirs.
© 2021 Dean Traylor