Thursday, November 02, 2006

Buddying Up to Editors

So now you've heard how to craft an awesome query letter, straight from the mouths of writers who are at the top of their game. The next step? Making yourself invaluable to your editor. (Check out yesterday's or Monday's post to see where these gals have been published.)

Today's question: how do I develop long-term relationships with my editors?

- I meet with them. I live in Boston and most of my editors are in NYC, so a few times each year, I schedule a trip to the city specifically to meet editors, even ones who've enthusiastically rejected my ideas but who are encouraging. It maybe costs me $500 for the train, hotels, food, etc., but the trips always generate assignments that more than cover my expenses. Meeting face-to-face with editors is, in geek speak, my Killer App. Over a cup of coffee or even just talking for a few minutes in their offices, you can pick up valuable information it would take months for you to discern through e-mail. It also shows editors you're serious about your business if you're coming in from out of town just to meet with them. You get to know them, they get to know you. You're no longer to them, but a serious professional writer with good ideas who they know. - Diana Burrell, co-author of the Renegade Writer and the Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock (Nov. 2006) and freelance writer for Parenting, Oxygen, Sam's Club Source, the Boston Globe, and lots of other magazines and newspapers you've never heard of. (Her words, not mine!) :)

-I develop long term relationships with editors by staying in touch to keep my name out there. For instance, when I read an exceptional article in the magazine, whether I have already secured an assignment from the editor or not, I will send a quick note expressing how much I enjoyed the story and explain why. Also, when an editor gives me an assignment, this is something that we are working on together, and together we will make it shine. Teamwork is important, and a writer-editor relationship is based on teamwork. - Sharon Anne Waldrop

- I started out and spent many years as an editor, so my answer is slightly different. Being on the inside for all those years means (a) I know a lot of people already; and (b) I often can "tell" what they want, so I have a quicker track to building and maintaining relationships. That said, once you have worked with an editor more than once, the best way to keep the fire burning is to basically follow good business practices. If they want a bit of something extra on a piece, be the writer who'll take care of it. If you run across something that might be of interest (a study, a store, a book, another article), pass it along. Respond promptly to calls and emails. Don't make excuses. Meet deadlines. Come up with titles and coverlines. Say "thank you" when an edit makes your work better. Lots of little things add up. - Denise Schipani

-Query often and well. Find common interests and share knowledge with them. Make them feel like they are your most prized client. - Amy Paturel, columnist for AOL and contributor to Health, Cooking Light and Women's Health

-Keep in touch: check in once every few months with new pitches. Never get snippy with he or she even if you're annoyed by their asking for four revises. The easiest way to get out of a relationship with an editor: never send ideas and have an attitude. - Lauren Ann Russell, contributor to Women's Health, Men's Health, Self, Fitness and YogaLife

- Deliver. I’m surprised at how many editors say that writers routinely miss deadlines, drop the ball on assignments, or are really difficult to work with. If I’m having trouble with an assignment or deadline, my editor is the first to know. If my editor needs something in particular, I bend over backwards to deliver. If I see a tidbit of information that might be useful to my editor, I pass it along, even if it has nothing to do with anything on which I’m working. Basically, I do whatever I can to make my editor’s job easier and, as a result, have built solid relationships. - Gwen Moran

-I stay in touch with my editors regularily and make sure I send them an email with info that may be of interest to them for either their magazine or personally (I know one editor who was getting married in DC so when I saw a new DC Wedding guide, I sent it to her and she was grateful.)

- Work with them, not against them. Turn in clean copy on time. Don't go too far over the word count. (My goal is no more than 10 percent over, and usually a little less than that.) - Sandra B. Hume

- I make it my goal to make their life easier for them. I've been an editor in my career, so perhaps that's easier for me. But I know if I can do some of their job for them, they'll keep calling me. The other part of this equation is making them look good to their editors. If they know you'll make them look good to their higher-ups, you'll be at the top of their list. - Chicago-based freelancer, Liz Levine

-By keeping in touch, being available when they call me for assignments—or if I’m not available, referring them to a professional colleague who can help them out—and turning my stories in early, if at all possible, and, at the very least, on time. And if I can’t make the deadline, calling to let them know it will be a few days late. This is a professional courtesy that too few writers remember.

Also, I understand that I won’t click with every editor I work with, and some editors—especially at quarterlies or custom publications—don’t make assignments all the time, or don’t like to have the same byline in issue after issue. These are the realities of freelancing. Also, make yourself known to a certain editor as a writer of (fill in the blank). You can’t be everything to every editor, so if editor A at magazine A knows you as a profile writer, and editor B at magazine B knows you as a service writer, you can better focus pitches to that editor—and he/she will have a better sense of what kinds of stories to assign to you, should he/she need a writer.

Again, I’ll give conferences a plug, and I’ll offer this anecdote. At last spring’s ASJA conference, I attended a panel on which an editor I’d written for in the past was speaking. Before the panel began, I went up and reintroduced myself. I didn’t try to pitch him, just wanted to re-establish visual contact with him. Three months later he phoned me, because he was in a jam and needed a writer fast to pull together a piece. He remembered seeing me at the conference (and told me so), and that’s how I got the assignment. But that’s not even the happy ending. Since then he’s called me two more times, and he’s referred me to another editor at his magazine. She just gave me my first assignment. All told, that quick greeting at the ASJA conference netted me more than $2,000 in work. - Leah Ingram

-Be professional. This is basic stuff, but meet your deadlines. Help as much as possible, but don't allow yourself to get walked all over just to please an editor.

If you're not working on something for that editor or if the editor isn't assigning for a while, check in from time-to-time with a general e-mail--make it short and make sure to mention that you're available for work.

Be personable. If you've worked with an editor for a while, he/she may mention personal stuff--family, work, an upcoming birthday. If so, write it down and remember to ask how little Johnny's ballgame went. It's just like developing relationships with people in an office environment--even though we may be in other states/countries.

Be yourself. If you're being fake and trying to kiss up just to get work, the editor's BS detector will go off loud and clear. Think about it: would you want to work with a phony? Nope... - Michele Wojciechowski

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Allison! I just wanted to thank you (and all of your expert freelancers) for the valuable info you've covered this week. It's these little details that newbies like me agonize over, yet it's amazing how commonsense it is! Thanks to all of you for freely sharing of yourselves and your hard-earned knowledge. Sandy