However, I still felt the need to expand my palate a bit. Fictional writing is my first, best love but since I’ve taken on non-fiction writing, I’ve found that many of the things that fascinate me enough to fictionalize them are just as interested when being discussed factually. So, I decided to apply as a freelancer for suite101.com. It seemed ideal. Unlike the Examiner, writers are encouraged to write on whatever topic they choose, so none of that repetitive posting stuff.
I submitted two writing samples, both Examiner articles of which I was particularly proud, and received an email one day later welcoming be aboard. I even saw a message that said “submitted material rocks.”
Now, you might be thinking this was a boost to my ego but you’d be wrong. “Rocks” is not the type of terminology one expects from someone who is evaluating your writing. Had I recorded an alternative rock album I might hope for such a response. I know there’s a massive breakdown between propriety and pop culture these days but still...”Rocks?” Doesn’t seem very dignified to me.
Still, I’d been accepted and I needed to write my first article. I decided to cannibalize leftover material from previous interviews conducted with oral storytellers I’d written about on the Examiner. The article was okay, nothing special, just enough to get my name on the site so I could come up with better stuff. Unfortunately, the editor in question kept bouncing it back to me with “suggested changes.”
Anyone who has written professionally or even just submitted work knows that “suggested changes” are supposed to be just that. In Hollywood, where legions of hacks are brought in to massacre a writer’s original vision, the phrase takes on a much more ominous meaning, namely, "We’re changing it whether you like it or not.” Suite101 seemed to espouse the latter sentiment, refusing to post it until I changed it the way they wanted it, according to their “house rules.” They seemed more interested in formatting than content.
Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. The Examiner also provided feedback on my first article. The difference was the editor there not only allowed it to post but they also made the formatting changes and advised me to do them in the future. By contrast, Suite101’s editorial staff is almost impossible to locate and virtually non-responsive when they are found.
From the beginning, I felt a condescending breeze in the air. Most of the reasons for the article’s return were format issues. I emailed the editor asking for help because their format was a bit different from what I was used to and received a message that said I had "apparently" not gone through the tutorial. I advised her that I had and wasn’t able to find the information and she eventually sent a direct link.
But I didn’t care. I could write on any topic I chose, so long as it was factual.
To make a long story slightly less painful, I wrote a total of five articles during my month at Suite101. They posted with no problem but at some point one editor decided to flag three of them and “suggest” changes. That was fine, although I would argue that the articles should have to go through an editor first if they’re going to wait until they post, allow people to comment on them, allow people to link them all over the Internet, and then make them disappear. It’s unprofessional and insensitive.
What finally brought me to the brink of rage was when I noticed one of the articles that was flagged for changes was later permanently deleted before I even had a chance to respond. So now I wasn’t even able to rewrite the damn thing. I fired off the following letter to the editor after spending nearly an hour trying to find a way to contact her:
I found your comments regarding my articles condescending and inaccurate. Not only were most of the suggestions ridiculous but there was also an accusation of an opinion. None of those articles contained opinions and any speculation was supported by evidence. Also, the assertion that I didn't provide dissenting viewpoints is absurd when considering the fact that the third article presented nothing but. The truly baffling part is when you first submitted "suggested changes" to an article and then permanently deleted it before I had a chance to respond.
Suite101 has been a horribly negative experience for me, from the editorial staff in particular. I have been a professional and published writer long enough to feel confident I don't need micro-managing from faceless online editors whose credentials I don't even know, although I'm not exactly filled with awe in light of my experience thus far. I have removed my profile pic and information and am in the process of deleting all articles. Consider me no longer a suite101 contributor.
So, that's the story. Suite101 seems like a great opportunity and perhaps it is for some, especially those getting in on the ground floor. But I have put too much time in to be patronized by who is, for all I know, some twenty year old kid who took a few night courses in journalism. I'm better than that.