Another Question Editors Never Ask Writers

A post yesterday told of an editor neglecting to ask a prospective writer, “Do you know how to type?” That story was true, had a happy ending, and was mostly tongue in cheek and it inspired another editor to suggest, mostly in jest, that editors also should ask prospective writers, “Is English your native language?”

That editor recounts the time he commissioned a story from a writer who had written several well-reviewed books. After the assigned  story came into the magazine, the story editor worked away on it and was having a very hard time getting it to read well. The words were there but somehow didn’t move along in a pleasing and readable way. The frustrated editor finally went to the open door of the editor and, in a loud voice, said, “I’ve figured it out. English is not his native language!”

The writer had grown up in Austria and that may have helped explain the awkwardness of his writing.

It also may be that previous editors of that writer’s work had to work very hard to get the writer’s book into readable form. Which suggests another question an editor might ask a writer: How much work did an editor have to do to get you published and can I have his or her name?

On the reverse side, I helped edit a much talked about Washingtonian story whose writer almost immediately got a good book contract after the story appeared. What the book editor didn’t know was how many endless hours we had invested in making the story readable. When the writer told me about her book contract, my first thought was that poor book editor has no idea what’s ahead.

As an editor, I almost never got a call from another editor asking just how good is this writer? And I almost never called another editor to find out how much work it took for them to get the writer’s story into publishable form.

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