What I’m listening to: Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand
There go my plans.
Today I was supposed to be meeting Ms. Sharon Hurley Hall, who is the brains behind Get Paid to Write Online and one of my dear online friends. Howe
ver, client work came up unexpectedly. So here I sit, working. Hopefully, she and I will find some time next week to connect.
In the meantime, let’s make the most of my cancelled fun day. I’d say it’s time once again for another episode of Free Advice Friday.
For those of you who are new to the blog, Free Advice Friday is the day our blog posts are dedicated to giving you free advice you might be tempted to pay for elsewhere. Actually, every blog post is rather like that, but I like the rhythm of the phrase Free Advice Friday, so there you go.
Today’s post is about giving your editor what he or she wants.
And what’s that, you say? What do editors want? How can Lori possibly know what an editor wants from a freelance writer?
Because once upon a time, my writer friends, I was that editor.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent nearly four years in the senior editor’s chair at a fairly big monthly trade magazine. Over those years, I saw it all — freelance writers doing it right every time, and a fair number of freelance writers who were doing it all wrong. Typical sins included missing deadlines, expecting to be handheld through the process, objecting to revisions, insulting corporate execs while interviewing them… it all happened. And despite their being told, coached, and at times threatened, some writers just never improved.
Had they bothered, they’d have had an endless supply of work, and they could have forged really strong relationships, even with such rocky beginnings. Not that editors today have time or patience for that. So it’s even more important to get it right the first time.
With that in mind, let me tell you what your editor wants from you.
Reliability. It goes at the top of the list because it belongs first and foremost in your relationship with your editor. If you agree to a deadline, you stick to it. Tell your editor as soon as you realize you won’t hit deadline. There could be wiggle room and you might buy an extra day or at the very least, an extra few hours. Don’t make it a habit. If you commit, get the job done.
Pitches that align with the magazine’s audience and focus. If you’ve ever typed something like “I know you don’t cover this normally, but…” you’ve already committed the cardinal sin of not knowing your audience. I don’t know of any situation in which you’ll successfully get an editor to publish something that’s not within their focus. You certainly won’t get anywhere by pitching an idea that doesn’t speak to their audience. So forget asking that technology management magazine if they want your article on how companies need skateboard ramps.
Creative ideas. If you think you can’t possibly write anything new about a topic, you’re not thinking hard enough. Editors are thirsty for a new look at an old topic. For example, immigration has been talked to death, but how many magazines have asked how immigration impacts US business? At least one does now — that’s my latest published piece,
A creative approach. That goes without saying, right? Wrong. I had one or two freelancers I worked with who wrote to specifications. The pieces were technically fine, but oh-my-gawd boring. In one case, the writer was clearly afraid to go outside the parameters and get inquisitive. Unless you’re handed a full outline and instructed to write it a certain way, use your imagination. The more inquisitive you get, the better the article becomes. Your editor is not waiting for you to hand in exact to-the-letter what they assigned. They want your personality to show up.
The ability to take a topic and run with it. The freelance writers who were able to take a one- or two-sentence idea and churn out a great article got the majority of assignments. Then there were the writers (and there were a few) who would get those same directives with the “see what you can dig up” prompts and they would stall, panic, ask multiple questions, wait for me to dig up sources for them… If you need more clarification, get it. But don’t expect the editor to rephrase more than once, repeat, or even find all your sources. Mind you, if you get stuck, sure. Ask for help. But don’t expect someone to hold your hand throughout the process. Just write the damn thing.
Connections or the ability to make and maintain them. If you’ve written in an area for a while, you have connections. Every interview source, PR contact, marketing wonk is a connection. Editors love it when they assign an idea and you’ve already rattled off about four sources you could contact. That shows a level of understanding of the topic that makes for a solid story. New to freelancing? It’s okay. It will come with experience. But you can start your pitch by naming at least two sources you’d like to use (do a little Internet search to find those names). You don’t have to reach out to sources just yet (unless the story is focused on them specifically), but have them in mind.
Solid writing and reporting. Yes, there are freelance writers who need to be told this. Write tightly, self edit as you go, and make sure to use Spell Check before you send it to your editor. If this is your first time working with the editor, leave a great first impression, not the impression that you skip basic steps.
A professional. No editor wants to send you out to talk with interview sources if you’re about to get all prima donna on them. Those same sources could well be people who spend lots of money advertising in the magazine. Nor do they want a writer who will tell off-color jokes, act bored, act like an idiot, or otherwise embarrass the magazine. For you, dear freelancer, are representing their magazine in those moments, and how you behave reflects on them directly. Don’t be the writer whose sources have to make that uncomfortable call to the editor.
Writers, what do your editors say they appreciate from their writers?
What things do you think are important to know/do when approaching an editor with ideas?