By Amy Sherman
Writers have mixed feelings about working with an editor. As a freelance writer, I get it. When I started writing about food in 2003, I didn’t have an editor because I was writing for my own site. Even when I blogged for outlets such as Epicurious, KQED and Frommer’s, my editors were hands off. As my career progressed and I wrote articles for consumer, trade and academic publications, my editors became more involved. I learned that an editor could make my writing much better.
But sometimes working with an editor was just plain frustrating. I struggled with vague assignments and a lack of clear feedback. Other times I read a final story and barely recognized it, because the editor had taken it in a different direction. Too frequently my editors disappeared, not responding to my emails or calls.
Last year I became editor-in-chief for a new site, the Cheese Professor. A few months later I was also hired as editor-in-chief of the Alcohol Professor. My goal was to be the editor I wished I had as a freelance writer. One of the first things I did was create writer guidelines for both sites. Submission or writer’s guidelines are less common than they used to be, which is a shame. I vowed to communicate clearly, to be flexible, patient and understanding. I would always respond to their emails.
But sometimes, when I work with writers, things don’t go as smoothly as I would like. I hope by sharing my pet peeves that you’ll see some ways to improve your relationships with your editors.
Here are 10 mistakes writers make when working with an editor:
1. Boring or vague pitches.
A pitch should sell me on your idea. Tell me enough to entice me to assign the proposed story. Convince me you are the right person to write it. “I want to write about X” is not a compelling pitch.
2. Disregarding the guidelines.
I can’t force anyone to read them. Before every pitch or assignment, look at the publication’s guidelines. I keep them in Google Docs so they are always up to date.
3. Not writing for the audience.
The first rule of writing should be to know your audience. The audience for our publications is a combination of industry professionals and enthusiasts. Yet I find many writers write for the consumer. Also, our publication isn’t regional, but writers submit stories that are too locally focused.
As a freelance writer, I hate it when editors disappear and ghost me. But writers do the same thing. Please answer emails from an editor promptly. If you need an extension on a deadline, ask for one as soon as possible.
5. Writing the wrong story.
I try to be clear in my assignments, but if writers don’t read them thoroughly or understand them, it’s likely going to mean revisions. That means more work for both of us.
6. Grammatical and spelling mistakes.
It should go without saying, but writers must copyedit and proofread their stories before sending them to editors. Most word processing applications and platforms have built in tools, so use them. There is no excuse for not using the free version of Grammarly.
Review your story the day after you write it. You’ll see it with fresh eyes, where it’s easier to catch mistakes. (And of course you have planned for this, so you can make your deadline.)
7. Phoning it in.
Some PR people provide a ton of material about their product, company or service. Some writers just tweak the information and turn it in to me. Other writers conduct an email interview and then barely edit it and submit it. Just as a teacher knows when a student has plagiarized, a keen editor can see when a writer hasn’t done the necessary work to write a good story.
8. Not formatting photos correctly.
I wish I had a photo editor, but I don’t. I don’t want to have to download a ton of photos, resize them or hunt down photo credits. Even worse? Writers who don’t submit images at all or submit blurry ones I can’t use. The photo specs are in the guidelines.
9. Invoicing incorrectly.
Invoicing can be a pain, especially if you write for lots of outlets or clients. Everyone has a different procedure. But if you want to get paid, you’ll need to follow the invoicing instructions. And you guessed it, the invoicing instructions are in the guidelines!
10. Not sharing your published story on social media.
It’s not required, but if writers don’t share their stories on social media, it makes me wonder if they are proud of the finished story or embarrassed by it? The truth is, the more traffic their stories get, the more likely I am to work with them again.
In a nutshell, editors don’t just value good writing. They value detail oriented, conscientious writers who follow instructions and meet deadlines. To build a strong relationship with an editor, start by reading their publication or website. Ask the editor for the guidelines before sending in a pitch. If you want to pitch me, check out the Cheese Professor writer’s guidelines or the Alcohol Professor writer’s guidelines. They include all the information you need to know about the sites, the kinds of stories we assign and more.
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Amy Sherman began her food blog, Cooking with Amy, in 2003. She has been a freelance writer and recipe developer and is the author of two cookbooks. Currently Amy is the editor-in-chief of the Cheese Professor and the Alcohol Professor websites.