Magazine Editors (Gasp!) Are Actually Human Beings

I know, I know, all of those editors who have rejected your queries or articles are obvious emissaries of Baal, troglodytes, fresh steaming cat poop or much worse. Over the submission years, I have declared them among the seven princes of Hell (or at least in the league of incompetent cable installers). But I recant my earlier denunciations, and with good reason.

For all of the queries flatly unanswered, or for those receiving the peremptory “We can’t use this,” there are editors who take the calculated moment from the lunacy of today’s publishing world and offer a statement of encouragement to the anxious author. Or better yet, a response that leads said author to explore another editorial opportunity with the publication, if the initial submission doesn’t cut it.

Here’s an example, using two magazine editors who both exhibit those alarming traits of decency. I’ve written for Airstream Life magazine for years. The editor, Rich Luhr, originally solicited me to write for his then-new magazine after he’d seen a piece of mine on Airstreams on the Net. Now, having an editor ask you for a piece out of the blue is gift enough, but over time Rich has grown to know my work, and often assigns a piece that’s tuned to my sensibilities. Props to the man.

Recently, he was working on a new specialty magazine for Mercedes owners. I put in some time on a few articles, but Rich couldn’t find the advertising base to support the publication. He had the grace to offer me a kill fee above the price I’d requested, because he knew I’d done a lot of research time. Above and beyond.

Do the Article Two-Step
That ties in well with an editor I just started corresponding with. She runs a Mercedes magazine in the UK, and I sent her one of the articles written for the lost US mag. We went back and forth a bit, and finally she decided that it wasn’t right for her. But I mentioned VERY casually at the end of my “thanks for listening” that I could write a piece about my chariot, an aged-but-stalwart 1981 SL 380.

Bingo! I have an assignment that I initially hadn’t conceived of, just because an editor took the time to explore the potential of other article ideas—or because they simply opened a conversation. There are a few lessons here, but the main ones are that once you are actually having a conversation with an editor, be conversant: recognize that they are open to you as a writer, even if they’re not immediately buying what you’re writing.

And once the conversational door is open, you can walk in so much more freely than if you are sending out your first (and oftentimes) stiff query. I recently had a series of email exchanges with the editor of an in-flight magazine. She didn’t go for my initial query, but took the time (in just a few sentences) to go over what the magazine was looking for. I sent her another query, which was discussed, and which prompted another. Now, none of these ideas actually worked for the magazine, but I know from the quality of our exchanges that I can approach this editor on a comfortable, conversant basis in the future.

Second Dates
And if you’ve published even one piece for a magazine, think to approach those editors again, if you have a quality idea. I have written pieces for a couple of editors who publish wine-and-spirits world magazines, and now I don’t have to write a formal query with my publishing credits and other tedium; I can start right in with “Hi Tim. I had an idea for a piece…”

Obviously, you don’t want to badger editors with lame queries so that they wonder why they ever published you in the first place, but once you have an editor’s ear, you’re miles ahead of the game. (If you try to get their other ear, though, they might press charges.)

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4 thoughts on “Magazine Editors (Gasp!) Are Actually Human Beings

  1. What a concept; having a conversation, instead of making a pitch.

    As Jerry Kennedy says, selling is just the art of having conversations with people to see if they have a need they’d like you to fill.

    Apparently, it works for writers, too. Whoulda thunk it?

  2. Tom, it’s nice to see a writer blogging that there are some decent people out there in the publishing industry. It gives us all hope.

    Magazine editors are people, which means they get stressed out and busy and lazy and excited and enthusiastic and tired. We have to remember that and not take it personally if things don’t go our way.


  3. Joel, yes, “selling” has gained many connotations over time, a lot of them associated with crassness, or malfeasance or simple blarney. But we all sell to some extent, and when it’s done with civility and authentic mutual benefit, rainbows appear. (Note, unless you have a ready supply of peyote, those rainbows are metaphorical. But good things nonetheless.)

  4. Hi Jai, good to see you. Yes, there are so many unknowns for why a manuscript doesn’t touch an editor, from the traffic ticket they got on the way to work to someone having written a recently published piece for them that was too similar to yours, even if yours had solid chops. And sometimes it’s got to be one (or a combo) of the elements you suggest.

    Having been rejected a gazillion times, I hardly ever take offense any more, though I do still get miffed when I get this response, as I have twice in the last few months: “Your idea is great! But we had already just assigned that concept to one of our staff writers…” or some variant. That one still gets me, though it’s no fault of the editor. I blame that on me mixing too much decaf with my regular coffee, and not sending out the query on time…

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