Tag Archives: writer-editor relations

How to Make the Editor Your Friend, Revisited: Discussing the story assignment

Photo by Mateusz Stachowski via SXC.

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.

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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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