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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tips on Working With Editors

Recently my colleague and publisher Karl, of WCCL, posted an item on including some advice to authors on working with editors. In particular, he advised writers applying for work to make some effort to ensure that their initial email is well written with correct punctuation and capitalization. You can read Karl's post here.

I agree with Karl's point, but it made me think of a few other bits of advice that I could offer myself. Although I am primarily a freelance writer, I do work as a freelance editor as well.

1. Be Reliable

This is one of the most important qualities any editor needs in a writer. He (or she) wants to be confident that you will deliver your article by the agreed deadline. If the deadline arrives and your article doesn't, it can create all sorts of problems for the editor.

If you can see you're going to have problems meeting a deadline, therefore, DON'T just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Tell the editor. Given sufficient notice he may be able to make alternative arrangements, e.g. bringing another article forward and postponing yours till next month. But if you don't tell him in advance, it may be too late for this. Don't then expect him to offer you any work in future.

2. Be Available

Editors sometimes need to contact authors at short notice, e.g. to check a fact or request a partial rewrite. You don't have to be always just a phone call away (though that won't hurt), but it should be possible for an editor to contact you by some means and get a reply within 24 hours. Use a telephone answering machine or service, therefore, and check this and your email regularly, preferably at least twice a day.

And if you're going away on holiday for more than a day or two, it's a courtesy to let the editor know, especially if you have just sent them some work!

3. Don't Argue!

OK, this one is a bit controversial. If you disagree with an editor's decision, you can say so. But don't push it too far. At the end of the day, it's the editor's neck on the block, not yours, if he publishes your article and it goes down like a lead balloon with his readers.

An example from my own experience. In my capacity as a newsletter editor I was pitched an idea by a semi-regular contributor. Normally I liked his ideas, but for various reasons I couldn't use this one, so I turned it down with a polite explanation of the reasons. I then received a long, aggrieved email telling me quite forcibly that I was wrong and he was right, concluding with words to the effect, "I think I know our readership by now." As you might guess, I didn't commission many more articles from him after that...

4. Be Friendly but Professional

It's good to build good relationships with editors. Over a period of time you will inevitably get to know one another quite well, and genuine friendships often result.

However, remember that the editor is also your client and - in effect - your employer, so it's important to remain professional in all your dealings with them. Don't assume that because 'John' or 'Mary' is your buddy, they won't mind if you palm them off with inferior work or take other liberties with them.

Another example here (all names changed to protect those concerned). A few years ago one of my regular clients, a guy I'll call Phil, was looking for an additional freelance writer. I recommended a woman named Clare to him, whom I'd worked with on a couple of projects.

All seemed to go well at first, and then I heard that he had dropped Clare quite suddenly. As I knew Phil pretty well, I asked him what had happened. He was a bit reticent at first, but then he told me, "We're a family company, Nick, and we choose the people we work with very carefully."

A little more probing finally revealed that he had been on the phone to Clare one day, and she casually dropped the F-word into their conversation two or three times. Phil hadn't said anything to her at the time, but I guess he was a bit shocked by this. Anyway, he decided that he couldn't work with her any more.

I must admit, I don't know why Clare did this. Maybe she wanted to show she was "one of the lads", or maybe she'd just been watching too many Hollywood movies. In any event, it was exactly the wrong tack to take with Phil, who abhors bad language in any form. And so it cost Clare the opportunity of a continuing source of well-paid work.

That's perhaps an extreme example, but it does illustrate an important point. A good, friendly relationship between author and editor can be very rewarding for both parties, but you should never let it become an excuse for behaving unprofessionally.



Anonymous Linda Jones said...

Yes this is brilliant advice. I would say it also extends to when a writing job ends for whatever reason.

Who is the editor going to go back to when a new job arises - the one who said: 'Thank you so much for the work so far' or the one who lamented: "How dare you tell me you don't want me to write for you any more, don't you know who I am'?

I recently lost a client who'd paid me the equivalent of my previous full time wage each year. I was devastated but I thanked them gracefully for the work to date as I was so grateful for the opportunity that had allowed me to kick start a freelance career. I was then sent a copy of a letter from another contributor whose column had been axed - she was huffing and puffing about how badly she had been treated. It's not the first time work for this publication has stopped - but they have always come back when they needed someone - which takes us back to your one of your key points - be reliable.

And even if they can't commission you again - you may want a testimonial :-)

7:49 PM  

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