It’s been a good long while since I discussed ways to make magazine editors happy. There are some simple rules of the road relating to hitting your word count , meeting deadlines and handling revisions that make writer-editor relations ever so much more congenial if you know and follow them.
One of the most crucial steps in the writing process comes at the very beginning of the writer-editor relationship. For many freelance assignments, you’ll get some sort of written direction about the story that your editor needs you to write. How you follow up after receiving that document, whether it be a memo describing the assignment or a contract with story assignment information embedded it in, can be key to understanding exactly what your editor wants and needs from you.
To make things easier, I’ve crafted a short checklist that you might want to keep by the phone or the computer while you communicate with your editor about your new assignment.
Assignment Discussion Checklist
__ The Basics: Are you clear about the story’s deadline, word length, pay rate, kill fee, the section the article is appearing in, what type of story it is (profile, etc.)?
__ The Angle: The story angle is what differentiates this assigned story from any other story you might write on this topic. Are you clear on what your editor wants? Are you free to research the topic further, and suggest angles?
__ Sources: Is the editor supplying you contact information for specific interviewees, associations or organizations that might yield appropriate sources? Do you need to clear potential sources with the editor before contacting them for an interview? To what degree should you work with publicists to set up interviews, gather research information, etc.?
__ Background information: If the editor has a set structure in mind for the piece, can he/she provide links to parallel stories, esp. in his/her publication? Does the publication have a “dossier” of information available for profile subjects? Are there previous stories in the magazine you should read for reference?
__ No-No’s: Discuss any deal-breakers for you and for the editor (i.e., missing deadline without warning, endless revisions without additional pay). For custom, corporate or institutional publications, clarify any “political” danger zones (topics that must be approached a certain way, protocol for contacting VIPs).
__ Follow-up communication: How does the editor prefer to connect with you? Does the mode of communication change if you need him/her to make an urgent decision about the story?
More story assignment tips
Want More Article Assignments? Tips for Working With Magazine Editors
Tips from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog.
Helping Reporters Improve Stories | International Journalists Network
Tips on how to coach reporters from a story coach/editor point of view. Many of the pointers apply to maintaining happy editor-writer communication related to the assignment.