The Best Question an Editor Can Ask a Writer

As a magazine editor, I probably talked with a dozen aspiring writers every month. The first visit was the equivalent of speed dating: Does this relationship have any potential?

The question that best helped find the answer was “What do you like to read?”

We’d usually started talking about magazines: Which ones do you like? If you say you like the New Yorker, what kind of New Yorker stories? What writers? Also getting lots of mentions were The Atlantic and New York magazine. Liking People magazine wasn’t a deal-breaker—it gets lots of readers, too, more than the New Yorker..

We’d then usually move on to books. I often hadn’t read the same books as the writer but we’d still have a conversation about what’s worth reading. If you like Ron Chernow or Laura Hillenbrand, which of their books did you like best?

The editor’s goal in this 20 minutes of conversation: Does this aspiring magazine writer have an interesting mind?

If we both thought there seemed to be a potential relationship, we’d then talk about a first date: What kind of story would you like to write?

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