First impressions last, so it’s important to knock the first piece for a new editor out of the park if there’s going to be any hope of steady assignments in the future.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you’re one of them), many freelance writers make small, fatal mistakes that dissuade editors from wanting to work with them again.
Avoiding these errors can be the difference between gaining an editor’s love and work with them drying up.
1. Get familiar with the publication
This should go without saying, but read a publication before actually submitting a piece (Or, better yet, before even pitching).
Nothing makes it more clear that a writer isn’t dedicated to their work than when they hand in a piece that is in completely the wrong style.
If most of a magazine’s articles are comprised of long paragraphs, follow suit. Whether conversational or formal, use the same voice as other published work. Instead of hemming and hawing over using curse words or pestering the editor to ask permission, just search the website for specific swears and see if anything comes up.
2. Use spellcheck
You’d be surprised how many people don’t spellcheck. Really.
If an editor opens a document and words are underlined in red, they’ll likely send it back or make a note to not work with that writer again.
The odd “your” where there should be a “you’re” is understandable, but sending something with “youre” just isn’t.
If there’s time before submitting, go through a self-editing checklist to ensure the cleanest copy possible is being filed.
3. Understand punctuation
In general, punctuation is best kept simple.
Em-dashes and semi-colons can add some flair, but don’t venture into this territory without a full understanding of how to use them. Even then, anything but the basics should be used sparingly.
Before even considering getting fancy though, ensure commas, periods and quotation marks are correctly placed.
Zip through some of the website’s past work to see if they are into Oxford commas or lean towards a more sparse style. Do they use em-dashes or opt for another dash?
Being aware of these details speaks volumes to editors.
4. Do your research
Take time to learn how to do good research and don’t assume any facts, including from sources and common knowledge.
It takes a few seconds online to confirm most information for both writers and editors, but if editors consistently get pieces with errors, they’re not going to be pleased.
On the other hand, they’ll trust writers who only submit solid, accurate work.
5. Send work in on time
You’re supposed to get it in on Monday at noon CST? Unless there’s an emergency, get it in at noon CST on Monday or give your editor ample warning that all is not going smoothly and the piece may be late.
With the update, send in a sample of what is completed to show it wasn’t simply forgotten, make sure to give them an ETA and offer an honest excuse for tardiness.
At least for print, there’s often a rigid timeline. A missed deadline for a writer often translates to a missed deadline for an editor as they won’t be getting the piece to the next step in the process — whether that’s a copy-editor or design team — on time.
No one appreciates being rushed because someone else slacked off.
6. File correctly
The editor wants a Word document? Submit a Word document. Double-spaced? Make sure it’s double-spaced. The piece needs to be 1.25-spaced, Courier, size 11 and purple?
It doesn’t matter why they’re being so fussy. Just submit it that way.
Many editors will also have a specific style guide for their publication. If one is sent, follow it closely. Read it over before starting the piece and then take a glance again after.
When writing for multiple editors, it can be tricky to keep all their specific preferences straight, so refer back to guidelines often. If an editor doesn’t have a sheet to send, start one for that publication to keep track of their style preferences.
7. Don’t badger your editor
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, but stupid questions do exist.
If the answer is easily searchable in an email thread or on a publication’s website, an editor is going to be less than impressed by having to hand feed a writer the information.
If the answer isn’t online anywhere, try to hold off on asking questions until there are a few built-up. And throw in an update on where the piece is at so they’re getting something in return.
Don’t sweat the odd one-off question, but be cognizant that editors are working with dozens of other people and their time is valuable.
If an editor doesn’t have to catch all these simple errors, they’re going to be much happier to work with you. And they’re also going to be able to jump right into the more complex edits right away, which are also the types of changes you’re more likely to learn from.
As an editor, what pet peeves would you suggest writers look out for?