Tag Archives: freelance tips

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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How to Make the Editor Your Friend (I): Meet Deadlines

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Today kicks off a new series of posts talking about the skills that freelance writers need to cultivate to ensure healthy and happy relationships with the editors they work with. For happy, successful, prolific writers, these traits and skills are second nature.

Rule number one is: Meet Deadlines.

Deadlines are the ever-present reality of anyone who works in media. If a newspaper says it will publish every day, it has to publish every day. A monthly magazine should come out once a month. Even online publications, which can be updated continuously, set deadlines for copy to ensure a steady supply of new stories.

Managing editors like myself are essentially project managers. We set deadlines for writers within a matrix of other deadlines—sales/ad deadlines, design and production deadlines, printer’s deadlines, etc.—and have to flex with the inevitable changes, such as a special issue that will require an extra day at the printer because of the metallic finish on the cover, or a layout that has to be redone when significant new developments make the gist of the original design idea obsolete.

How a writer meets a deadline says a lot to me about their general work style. If I need the draft by a particular time on the day I’ve specified (first thing in the morning, close of business, early afternoon), I let the writer know. If you aren’t clear if “due next Monday” means “I want it in my in-box when I get into work” or “before midnight Monday night,” ask.

I try to give writers as much leeway as I can with deadlines. In return, I expect writers to let me know how the reporting and writing process is going. If sources aren’t cooperating, tell me a week before deadline, rather than the day before. Editors can usually suggest other people to talk to, or another approach to a topic, if it’s the structuring of the article or the actual writing of it that’s causing problems. I don’t see questions or requests for advice as a sign of weakness.

Another caveat: I freelance myself, and I understand how easy it is to over-commit. But don’t make your full plate my problem. Be honest with your editor if you’re overbooked. If you just accepted the assignment, call them back immediately and beg off, as graciously as possible. Maybe even suggest one of your less-overburdened buddies to do the assignment (you’ll be making three people happy—you, your writing buddy and the editor—if the writer you suggest is up to the job).

If you’re already well into the interview/writing stage, call the editor and talk about what can be done to rectify the situation, but don’t drop the ball unless you don’t want to work for that editor again. It’s an open secret that many of editors pad their deadlines to deal with writer break-downs, but writers who take advantage of that all the time are not at the top of our “favorites” list.

Writers who meet deadlines promptly and who communicate about issues related to deadlines get assignments. Writers, no matter how good, who cannot make deadlines do not.

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