|Dealing with editors can make any writer jittery—after all, they have a major say in the direction of your work. Since most interactions with editors take place over e-mail or phone, polished communication skills are key to a freelancer’s success. Here are some tips to establishing a good rapport with your long-distance counterparts: |
Send your finest. When marketing yourself as a writer, every correspondence should reflect the caliber of your work. “Put your best foot forward by proofreading your e-mails and thinking things through before you hit ‘send,’ ” advises Boston-based freelance writer Susan Johnston.
Despite your best efforts, mistakes happen. If you spot a major mishap after you send a message, don’t stress about it. Step back to put the situation in perspective; a subtle error may go unnoticed. If you feel the error is glaring enough, feel free to send a second message. Keep it professional, state your clarification, and don’t over-apologize. Do your research. The query is often your first communication with a new editor. Make a strong start by researching the magazine and adhering to its guidelines. Editors won’t be impressed when a hasty or mismatched query lands on their desk.
“This includes not only topics that aren’t a good fit, but also topics we recently covered a few issues ago,” says Ann Brightman, managing editor of Animal Wellness and Feline Wellness magazines. “A well-crafted query demonstrates that the writer knows the magazine, is willing to do his research and take some initiative.”Keep communication professional. Checking on your query’s status is OK, but only after the publication’s specified response time has lapsed (check its guidelines). Send a polite e-mail, not a phone call. Still no response? Consider it a “no,” and move on.
While most editors favor e-mail, the occasional phone call is not unheard of. If the editor you’ve been waiting to hear from calls in the middle of your 2-year-old’s tantrum, let your answering machine take the call. You won’t come across as a professional if there’s chaos in the background. Call the editor back later, or e-mail to suggest a more convenient time to talk. Avoid deadline drama. The excitement of an assignment fades quickly if it leaves you in a scramble. If you know you have a problem with a deadline, explain that right away; there’s often some leeway. Similarly, if an unexpected problem arises midway that threatens your deadline, don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Explain the development to your editor and present some solutions.
“I once had a writer tell me the day before deadline that she couldn’t do an article—that left me scrambling to fill an empty space, and hesitant to assign further work to her,” Brightman recalls.When in doubt, ask. It’s great to get an assignment, know exactly what to do, and polish off a stellar piece. But sometimes the directions aren’t clear, the sources don’t turn out as planned, or the topic veers off course. Check in, rather than forge ahead on an article that’s not what the editor expected. Send a brief e-mail spelling out your concern or questions, and get clarification.
Don’t overreact to edits. It’s exciting to finally see your work in print, but sometimes the words you labored over are changed. Before you fire off a heated e-mail, take the time to consider the reason; few editors will waste their time rewriting just for fun.“If it was heavily tweaked to better fit the publication’s voice, take note of that, and try to incorporate those changes next time. I’ll even read my version and their version side by side to see exactly where I need to improve,” Johnston says.
Once you’ve examined the situation, if you still need to discuss it, inquire in a calm, unbiased manner. Focus on learning why your piece was edited, rather than which version was better. Sometimes mistakes do happen, and the clip you’ve waited for sports a major glitch. “If there are blatant typos or inaccuracies, speak up,” Johnston says. A correction or retraction may be possible.
You may feel inexperienced, but your editor doesn’t need to know that. If you maintain a direct and businesslike approach with all your interactions, you’ll come across as a seasoned professional.