When Editors Say No and Are Nice About It

 By Jack Limpert

Three weeks ago I put up a post, When Editors Have to Say No, No, No, about the need for an editor to have a good boredom detector and how it comes into play when rejecting stories. Saying no sometimes was hard—the writer had talent, the story was good, it just wasn’t going to make it into the magazine I was editing.

Yesterday I was talking with Ernest B. “Pat” Furgurson, a longtime Baltimore Sun reporter, Washington bureau chief, and book author, and the name Ashbel Green came up. It turned out that Green was the Knopf editor who handled Pat’s books.

Pat greatly admired how Green edited—calm, soft-spoken, with a vast historical memory. Pat said Ash suggested rather than insisted, and thus reliably got what he wanted, serving the reader and upholding Knopf’s tradition of quality.

Pat said when he had a book idea that Green didn’t want, Green sometimes would say, “It’s a nice idea but it’s probably off-Broadway.” Pat added, “And sometimes Ash would say off-off-Broadway.”

In thinking more about how I sometimes tried to make a rejection more encouraging and helpful, I’d tell the writer what I thought was good about the story and then suggest other magazines where the story might be a better fit. Those suggestions to try other magazines sometimes may have been helpful, but then again I remember getting calls from writers saying something like “Tom Shroder at the Washington Post Magazine thinks my story would be perfect for you” and thinking, “Listen, Shroder, knock it off, I don’t need that kind of help.” The try-these-other-magazines effort at being helpful works best when the editor is not suggesting a competitor three blocks away in DC.

Ernest B. Furgurson has been a respected byline and author name for a long time and I asked why everyone calls him “Pat.”

He said his father Ernest and twin brother Everard were born 20 minutes apart in Danville, Virginia, in 1908. Their older brothers started calling them Pat and Mike, after the Pat and Mike Irish jokes popular back then.

Starting out as a reporter at the Danville paper, Pat used the byline “By Pat Furgurson Jr.” Beyond the city limits, he was just plain Pat. But when he reached the Baltimore Sun, and was out of town when his first byline was bestowed by somebody on the desk, they called the Sun’s payroll department to ask for his proper name. That’s how his byline became Ernest B. Furgurson for more than 50 years.

And in the natural order of things, Pat III is E.B. Furgurson III, a reporter covering the environment at the Annapolis Capital.

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