Looking Back: How Editors Talked to One Another About Writers

By Jack Limpert

The magazine’s articles editor was Dick—he worked a lot with freelance writers. A writer, we’ll call her Laura, had written several books and wanted to write articles for the magazine and had communicated that to Dick. Like many articles editors, he was too busy to please everyone.

A few months after submitting a story proposal to Dick and not getting a response, Laura was at a Washington social event, met Phil, the magazine’s publisher, and told him of her dissatisfaction with her treatment by the magazine’s editors. Phil suggested she call me. I got the call and wrote a note  to Dick:

I got a call from Laura, who says she contacted us months ago and she’s waiting to hear from us. Luckily, she ran into Phil yesterday and he told her to call me. She’s written four books, and has one coming out next year. She writes a lot for the Times and for that reason doesn’t want to write for the Post. She says she wants to write about food.

I told her that she probably didn’t hear from you because we have a pretty full staff of writers now and aren’t buying much freelance stuff.

Her number is xxx-xxxx. You want to talk with her?


Dick writes to Laura:

Jack has asked me to give you the current outlook for potential contributions to the magazine’s food pages. Apparently I missed an opportunity to contact you several months ago due to a regrettable misunderstanding.

Not much has changed for the better for would-be Washingtonian food writers. Space is still tight, and so is the budget. While we’re familiar with your works and professional credentials, we aren’t in a position to offer any assignments.

However, I do hope that before your next book comes out, you’ll send me publicity for the book so that the book can be written about in our food pages.



A man with a dark sense of humor,  Dick sends me a copy of his letter to Laura with this note attached:


It occurs to me that we could have some fun someday with a “what he said, what he meant” piece about how editors communicate with writers. See paragraph one of the letter for what I said; here’s what I meant:

“If you ever try to drygulch me again with a letter or call to my superior, I’ll rip your lungs out and serve them in a medley of organ meats at the next Taste of the Town celebration.”



  1. John Corcoran says

    That exchange of notes should be taught at every journalism school in the country. It will it warn the young pups that the key person at every magazine you hope to sell to is the guy or gal who controls the assignments and writes the checks. The other plus is it may scare ’em out of the craft and help provide more opportunities for those already in the biz, some of whom may have learned that lesson the hard way,

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