What Writers Want from Editors

By Jack Limpert

The annual conference of city and regional magazine editors is coming up at the end of May—at last year’s conference I sat in on a Sunday morning panel discussion that asked three writers—Jason Fagone, Molly Young, and Joseph Guinto—to talk about what editors can and should do better in dealing with writers.

Surprising was how little they talked about the way editors edit and how much they complained about editors being too distant. Some quotes:

“When they turn down a story, you can’t find out why.”

“Editors are conflict avoiders. They won’t tell you why they don’t like a story.”

“One magazine scores your pitches with metrics and standard deviations.”

“I like it when editors give you examples of stories they liked.”

“Writers dream about sitting down with the top editor and talking stories.”

“I’ve never heard a writer complain about too much feedback from editors.”

“Too much e-mail, not enough verbal contact.”

“E-mail moves things along but there’s no substitute for talking.”

“Halfway through your reporting you may hear what the top editor wanted.”

“Editors don’t have much of a bedside manner.”

“I like it when I can throw out lots of ideas and if one of them is stupid that’s okay.”

“It’s a challenge to manage the political process—the editors above the editor you’re working with. Some editors are good at protecting you from the other editors.”

“I wish they’d give me a faster no.”

“They’re not very understanding when I’m late. I’m late because I’m working on three stories.”

“You can work faster if they trust you.”

“I’ve never been told by an editor how the publication’s payment system works, when I’ll get paid.”

“It’d be great if they’d pay half if the story gets held.”

“I lie a lot about how much I need the money. I want them to think I’m successful.”

“When talking about a story, at some publications what the art’s going to be comes first. At New York magazine, what’s the headline comes first. At the New Yorker, the story comes first.”

“Freelancers wouldn’t be freelancers if they were more grown up.”

“I’d love to see psychiatric profiles of the top editors.”
My strategy for getting along with Washingtonian writers:

I did a lot of cutting but didn’t like to change the writer’s language. If the language had to be changed, it got cut or I asked the writer to do it.

We paid reasonably well and on time.

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