Tag Archives: writer-editor relationship

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , ,