Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why do Editors ask You to Write?

That clever old journalist-genealogist, Harold Henderson, has a knack of cutting to the chase. In his Midwestern Microhistory blog this morning, he mused about why more of us don't raise out hands when journal and newsletter editors bet us to write. I'm going to tackle the problem from another direction.

Why do the editors ask?

Actually, they wish they didn't have to ask. They are busy people. They don't enjoy begging. But, they have deadlines to meet, and they really don't want to use fluffy filler stuff to fill up the last two pages of this month's issue. You can make them very happy by pitching an idea for an article.

But, really why do they ask?

They ask because they and their societies think you probably have something to offer. It might be a research article that models good analysis and writing. It might be an article that shares your expertise about a particular, underused record set or an overlooked library or archive in your area. It might be an account of a memorable research trip or discovery that will inspire readers. If you're not sure what the editor is looking for, ask. And, be sure to take a look at past issues of a journal or newsletter to see what kinds of articles it prints.

But, why do they want to publish a journal, anyway?

Too often, it is because that's what their society has always done. But, there are, in fact, good reasons for publishing a journal in these days of rising costs. Part of a society's mission is to help its members become better family history researchers. A modest journal, well done, can do two things. First, It can teach by showing. A good article gives aspiring writers something to aim toward. In almost every talk a give, I encourage beginners to write for the same reasons Harold Henderson does. Writing is a test of our evidence and our logic, and thus part of the genealogical analysis process. Good musicians learn by listening to music -- and practicing. Good writers learn by reading -- and practicing. 

Second, just like anyone else, writers respond to recognition and reward. Reward your writers by giving them a place to publish. Most will never publish their genealogy in the top-tier academic journals. State and local journals and newsletters give them another option. I have not yet met a writer that hasn't been excited to see their article in print.

Oh yes, there is one more reason editors ask you to write. It's a dirty secret: They like to edit. O.K., there is probably a less threatening way to say that. Let's try: They enjoy helping writers get the articles ready for print and making writers look good. Your editor is your ally. You and the editor have the same goal -- a readable and enjoyable product for the reader.

So, Harold is right when he says that the editors are going to be "so happy" to hear from you. As managing editor of Minnesota Genealogist, I know look forward to hearing your ideas for articles. And, there's a bunch of editors around the world who would agree.