How to Make the Editor Your Friend, Special Edition: Hold the Phone

Photo courtesy SXC.

The issue that forms the theme of this post wasn’t part of the planned “How to make the editor your friend” series, but it’s come up so frequently lately in my “real” life that I feel it’s important to explain a particular point of etiquette to freelance writers.
In the magazine world, if you’re thinking about using the phone to contact an editor you don’t know to introduce yourself, don’t. As rude as it sounds, don’t call us, we’ll call you.
It’s nothing personal, and editors really, really aren’t on perpetual coffee break. But the typical editor spends a lot of his/her day being a project manager: chasing down articles being edited or being laid out for the magazine, making sure a story has passed through the fact-check process with flying colors, conferring with designers about appropriate photos or accurate captions, leading meetings planning an issue three months out, etc. Another big chunk of editor time gets taken up with actual, honest-to-God editing: reading rough drafts, sending back suggestions, doing line edits and cleaning up sentence-level issues, and of course finally doing copy editing of a finalized manuscript. It is hard sometimes to find the time to field a call from someone who doesn’t have a specific agenda with regards to an article idea or who is waiting for the editor to “find something” for them to do.
Still, editors need writers like they need air to breathe, food to eat and water to stay hydrated. But we like to meet our needs for a pool of qualified freelancers on our terms. Think of it this way—if you were in the middle of a big project, and I kept calling you every other day to let you know that I thought you should write for my publication (without offering you an assignment), wouldn’t you start to get annoyed?
Here’s my advice to the freelancers who call me: send me your resume and some clips via e-mail. Better yet, if you have a portfolio site, send me the hyperlink. I am very impressed by a well-designed site, in large part because it answers all my questions in one place—qualifications (via a resume), clips (via URLs or PDF downloads), specialties (communicated via your selection and arrangement of clips or by a well-written summary of your writing experiences) and recommendations (via testimonials from editors).
If you don’t have the site, your resume and clips tell me a lot. And if you supply me with the contact information of an editor who has enjoyed working with you, I can quickly vet your ability to meet deadlines, adhere to word counts, work on revisions, etc.
Once a writer has worked for me, the phone etiquette changes substantially. I usually still prefer e-mail story pitches, but I don’t mind chatting with my writers by phone when they are on assignment. At that point, communication is collegial and not persuasive “messaging.”
Common sense and empathy go a long, long way to promote happy writer-editor relationships. Put yourself in my shoes and ask yourself if you’d like to receive an unsolicited, unfocused call asking for work from someone you don’t know. If not, don’t make it.

Related Links:

How to Successfully Query an Editor: An Editor’s View

Sample Query Letters That Worked: Real Queries That Landed Magazine Assignments

Amazon.com list of books on query writing

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