A guest post by Anna Mindess
Over the last dozen years, I have received scores of assignments from editors of print magazines and online websites. I especially cherish those relationships that have spanned years and feel like collaborations.
When editors appreciate my work and trust me, my job gets easier. Instead of a formal pitch, editors will accept just a few lines for a story idea. Even nicer is when they come up with story ideas specifically for me.
It’s not difficult to build this kind of mutually respectful relationship. You will get more assignments. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Timeliness is next to godliness.
Turn in your stories on time or early. It seems obvious, but this is the number one thing that pleases or puts off an editor. One magazine I write for has deadlines etched in stone. The editor coordinates so much atthe last minute: dealing with photos, recipes, pull quotes and ads. I find that the earlier I turn in my story the more room she gives it. That’s a win-win.
2. Hit the word count exactly and deliver the article you agreed on.
While I’ve had editors say, “The article should be long enough to tell the story,” I prefer a concrete word count. I usually write a draft that’s 100 to 200 words over, then prune judiciously.
Turn in the piece your editor asked for or the one you promised. If the story took a surprising turn, inform the editor right away and figure out together what you need to finish it. It could be an additional source or a change in focus.
3. Pick your battles.
Editors will edit your writing. That’s their job. Try to be gracious. I sometimes compliment an editor who created an improved title, a tightened-up graph or an alternate structure.
To me, accepting edits graciously is like putting money in the bank. Someday, when a word or edit really matters, you will want to withdraw some of that good karma you have built up. You may be able to leverage it to make your point.
4. Anticipate the editor’s needs. Offer story ideas to fill them, early.
Almost every editor must find new twists for holiday stories every year. If you come up with a few novel ideas ahead of time, you will make your editor’s life much easier. For a local food-oriented website that posted stories daily, I did spins on Healthy Halloween Bento Boxes; Korean, Swedish and Persian Dishes that celebrate Winter Solstice; Honey Cakes and Challahs for Rosh Hashanah; How to Buy a Live Fish for Chinese New Year; Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead; Symbolic Foods for Persian New Year and Is Celebrating Thanksgiving Disrespectful to Native People?
5. Provide more than what editors asked for.
Along with your story, supply suggestions for recipes, photos, pull quotes, sidebars, subheads, and photo captions. In my pitch, I might include a striking photo to grab the editor’s eye, or a recipe idea if I know that an editor always wants one or more to accompany an article. The photo captions, pull quotes, and subheads will probably have to wait until you see the first edited version.
Not only are you saving your editor extra work by providing these other parts of the story, but the finished article may be more to your liking. While some editors ask me to take photos, more often I work for publications that hire professional photographers. I do my best to coordinate with them so I can attend the photo shoot. By subtly pointing out the elements of the story I think are worth highlighting, the finished product is more unified, and I can easily write accurate photo captions.
As a freelance writer, it’s easy just to focus on pitching and writing stories. Besides turning in the best story I can, I try to put myself in my editors’ shoes and imagine how I can make their life easier. In the long run it will come back to make my life easier and happier, with satisfied editors. And, you will get more assignments in the long term.
I would love to hear your experiences and tips too.
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Anna Mindess is an award-winning writer focusing on food, culture, travel and immigrants’ stories. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, AFAR, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and other publications. She is also an American Sign Language interpreter. Follow her visual take on the world on Instagram @annamindess.
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- How to be the Writer Magazine Editors Want
- 10 Mistakes Not to Make When Working with an Editor
- How to Find and Atract Editors for Pitching Articles