Tips on working with editors
Published: December 27, 2006
|For some writers, editors are unapproachable. For others, editors are The Enemy. Personally, I think it's better for our freelancing careers to view editors as colleagues.|
The following tips can help you establish and build good, collegial relationships with your editors and keep those relationships going--and assignments flowing.
Before you pitch
Do your homework before you query a new editor or publication. An easy step too many freelancers avoid is to call the publication to verify the correct contact name.
Consult The Writer, The Writer's Market and other sources to learn the publication's typical contract terms and pay range so you're not taken by surprise.
Before you accept
It feels fantastic when an editor says yes to your query. But before you accept, think about the offer. Are the rights and pay rate appropriate? Deadline and word count reasonable?
Finally, make sure you both agree on what the story should be and how it should be presented. If anything the editor says raises questions ("Hmm, I pitched this as a 1,200-word narrative feature but she seems to be seeing it as a half-dozen sidebars"), seek clarification at the outset.
While you write
Most times, you'll work on your assignment without any editorial contact. Several events, however, should trigger a conversation with your editor while you're in the reporting/writing stage:
- You believe the angle should change. Sometimes everyone starts a project believing X, then research shows X is wrong and you should be focusing more on Y.
- You need to adjust the word count. I don't think it's wise to submit a piece that is over or under your assigned word count by more than 10 percent. If you might be doing that, call the editor.
- Your deadline looks increasingly hard to meet. Don't wait until the week your story is due to ask for more time. Deadlines can often be extended if the editor has time to adjust the schedule.
The best way to discuss options and avoid misunderstandings is to actually speak with the editor. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. (Relatively few freelancers take the time to make personal contact with their editors; if you do, you'll stand out from the crowd as a confident professional.)
After the assignment
Once you've submitted your article, it may take weeks or months to learn about any necessary revisions. Even though you'll have moved on to new assignments by then-and may be knee-deep in deadlines-you still need to handle the requested revisions as quickly and professionally as you can.
That may mean reinterviewing your sources, or adding new material and expanding the old, or even extensively rewriting to address the concerns of three different editors who don't agree on what they want!
As a result, some freelancers resent this part of the process. You'll be ahead of the pack, though, if you can set aside any feelings of frustration and see this stage as one more chance to make a good impression and pave the way for future work.
Veteran freelancer Robert Bittner of Charlotte, Mich., says some of his best friends are editors.