Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Write, Edit, Repeat

I wrote what I thought was a great story for a new-to-me magazine. The editor seemed happy, and I didn't have that many rewrites. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get another assignment out of her. What am I doing wrong?

The short answer? Probably nothing.

The long answer? It can take years to develop strong relationships with your editors, but it sounds, at least to me, that you're off to a good start. One of the key ingredients in being a successful freelance writer is patience. Patience when it comes to breaking in to a magazine, patience when it comes to seeing that story in print, patience when it comes to landing a repeat assignment, patience when it comes to FINALLY have editors bring story ideas to you, not vice versa. So, at the risk of sounding trite, be patient.

Here's one example from my experience: a senior editor at a huge magazine saw one of my articles and called me. Asked me to send in some clips, along with story ideas. I was over the moon. This was a dream magazine, and one to which I'd subscribed since the dawn of time. So I sent everything that she requested. Ideas didn't fly. Sent more. Still didn't fly. Repeat, repeat, repeat. THREE YEARS later - I kid you not - I was still sending in ideas. She left to tackle a new position at a different magazine. Guess what? She called me when she landed there and promptly assigned me three stories. I'm still writing for both her and the magazine today. Oh, and I DID eventually manage to break into the other magazine too...another year down the road. Yes, that's FOUR YEARS of pitching until I found success. But the key here is that I took the time(or dealt with the time) to really cultivate a relationship with the editor, and it did pay off in the end.

So...back to you. Keep sending this editor ideas, even if they're near-misses, even if they don't pan out. Chances are, she now knows that you're a strong writer, she just needs the perfect story idea from you. Other ways that you can impress her: don't be needy, clingy, whiny or pushy. I can't tell you how many editors have told me that these above characteristics (even if they're subtle) turn them off. Do be flexible, easy-going, thorough and amiable: while I don't mistake my relationships with my editors for true friendships, in fact, many of them are my friends - I know what they like to watch on TV, I know tidbits about their personal lives, I know some of their quirks and funky habits. And they know mine. But that's because over the years, they opened up to me, and I did to them...just as would happen in nearly any other relationship. But, it takes time. I mean, you don't blurt out certain things on a first date, and you don't blurt out certain things when you're still proving yourself to an editor. But once you've proven yourself (see above paragraph), DO take the time out to get to know them as people, not just drones who tweak your writing. Not only might this pay off in repeat assignments, even better, it might mean that you'll enjoy the process a whole lot more. I know that I adore working for the editors with whom I've become friends...and I'm pretty sure that they feel the same way.

Any other tips on nailing repeats from editors?


Jocelyn said...

Here's a question:

What if you have an idea for an article that you absolutely love. You write the query and there really are no bites but you firmly believe it is a good idea. Do you re-write the pitch? Is it bad form to resend a rewritten pitch to an editor who had not responded the first time around? Should you go the extra mile and write the article?

By the way, your advice is FANTASTIC!

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Great advice. Love the blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this advice. It was so on time for me!! It took me a full year to have my editor beging assigning me work- after the first article came out. And now that I am trying to break into other magazines, I am getting nothing. So this is exactly what I needed to hear..patience.

Thx again.