Having sat on both sides of the desk, I have worked with dozens of editors and many more writers. Freelancers are plentiful, so it can be challenging to make a mark in the media world. However, truly talented wordsmiths are a rare find.
Several simple steps can make a skilled writer the editor’s darling.
The most talented writer may collect a flurry of rejection slips, if he does not do his homework before approaching an editor. Virtually every publication has clearly-stated guidelines for writers. Most will also post an editorial schedule. A savvy writer will know what sorts of items a given newspaper, magazine, or publisher can use.
Editors are human, and they appreciate courtesy and respect as much as anyone.
Be a promoter.
As a writer, you may pour all you are into a piece, but you will still have to convince an editor that it is worth his time to read it. Many editors received dozens of unsolicited manuscripts each day. Be sure to include a lively and informative cover letter with each item you submit, clearly highlighting why that piece is important and suitable for that market.
Keep copies of everything you publish. Many editors request writing samples and portfolios of potential writers.
If an editor assigns you a project, make every effort to adhere to every step he provides. Provide drafts, as needed. In meetings with the editor, do not delay him or divert the conversation. Respecting the editor’s time will cause him to respect you professionally.
As a writer, it is your job to craft a piece that fits the topic, whether it has been directly assigned or is your own choice. A timely piece that addresses a burning issue will likely draw an editor’s attention.
Those who write must also self-edit. Do not rely on editorial fact-checkers. Many writers enjoy very short relationships with editors because they submit inaccurate material. Double-checking your own information will greatly increase your credibility with editorial staffs.
Even if you write news articles or other non-fiction, creativity will exponentially add to your success. A catchy headline, a zippy lead sentence, and a well-crafted paragraph will draw in readers, and even editors.
The best writers are their own proofreaders. Of course, an editor will likely amend some of your phrasings and possibly your punctuation. However, writers who consistently turn in grammatically clean manuscripts are most often invited to participate again. (Consider asking a friend of colleague to proofread items before you submit them.)
Sketchy, slapdash copy avails no one. Research your topic. Interview experts, if you can. Keep track of sources, and list them with your copy. Include photographs, if applicable.
Deadlines are of life-or-death importance to editorial staffs. Be sure to meet them. Writers who don’t turn items in on-time will not enjoy long and happy relationships with an editor.
Be honest and ethical.
If you agreed to write the piece for a set fee, you must stick to it. If you provided an estimate, be careful to meet it. If you are charging by the hour, document your work time carefully.
Avoid plagiarism. Cite sources carefully, using appropriate attributions.
Trust is difficult to rebuild, once it has been broken.
As a solid communicator, when you have become established, with a growing body of excellent printed pieces, savvy editors may begin to seek you out. Once you gain the confidence of the editorial staff, for your consistent level of excellence, then you will find that you may even become more selective about the assignments you accept.