How to Become a Freelance Writer That Editors Will Want to Hire Over and Over

by | Mar 10, 2016 | Freelancing | 3 comments

Sometimes it seems like your emails to editors go into a black hole, never to be seen or heard from again.

When you do finally catch an editor’s ear, it’s so important to make the right moves to develop a good rapport.

Once you’ve worked with an editor a few times, it’s time to start developing that relationship.  

I’m frequently on both sides of the editor-freelancer relationship. I’m a freelance writer, but I’m also the editor of a regional magazine where I work with freelance writers and other contributors.

Below are a few things to think about when working to cultivate the all-important freelancer-editor relationship.

Be a human

While it’s great to get to the point without excessive run-around, make sure your emails show a degree of friendliness and humanity. Don’t be all business all the time.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Wish your editor a nice weekend. Ask about the big snowstorm headed for their region. Mention you play hockey on the weekends or you just got a new puppy. In short: Be friendly.

But be sure not to overdo it. Don’t be the freelancer who sends long, rambling emails like you would send to your best friend. And definitely don’t invite them to participate in any kind of multi-level marketing scheme or join a new religion right after they accept your pitch. Keep it professional but friendly.

Pick up the phone or meet in person

It’s easy to get sucked into the email black hole, but it makes sense to pick up the phone from time to time. Having an actual conversation with your editor can go a long way towards cementing your relationship.

With far-flung freelancers, it’s sometimes hard to meet in person, but if you’re headed near your editor’s town, make a point to say hello. Offer to grab a quick coffee, have a chat, and put a face and personality to the email address you’re used to.

Occasionally, I hear one of my own editors is coming through my town, and I always make a point to grab a coffee and chat whenever schedules allow.

Another great way to meet editors in person is to attend industry events. I attend at least one a year, and love to meet editors in person while also making other valuable connections. Not only will you likely get plenty of story ideas at the conference; you’ll also be able to build relationships and your editor will know you take the industry seriously enough to attend a conference in the field.

And don’t just look at writing conferences. If you write about business, head to a business conference. If you’re a financial writer, make your way to FinCon or other related events.

But don’t overdo it

On the flip side, don’t be too communicative. Editors are busy, and calling and emailing frequently just to say hello isn’t going to put you on an editor’s good side.

Find out how the editor prefers to communicate (most tend to prefer email, in my experience) and communicate that way. While I’m not a fan of out-of-the-blue phone calls, I’m more than happy to schedule a time to chat on the phone or have coffee. I like to meet the people I’m working with and have a face or voice to put with a name.

But, regardless of how you communicate, don’t share too many personal details of your life — this is a work relationship, after all.

Do good work and make your deadlines

This should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many freelancers forget about deadlines or completely blow them off.

If you are known as a reliable, prompt contributor, that alone will be a huge benefit to your reputation.

Of course, getting work in on time is only part of the equation. Make sure your writing is good, your piece well-researched and your quotes accurate. Run spell check, confirm how to spell people’s names and companies, and double-check your facts before submitting an article.

Also, take a look at your assignment letter or contract before turning in your article. Many contracts include easy-to-forget details. If you need to suggest a few headlines, provide photo captions, or provide subject contact information, be sure to include those things. Sure, it just takes a minute for an editor to remind you, but don’t be the freelancer who needs reminders.

Don’t procrastinate, either. When you’ve had an assignment for weeks or months and you put it off until the last minute, don’t expect a lot of sympathy from your editor when your day-before-deadline efforts to track down the person you need to interview fall short. If they’re on a safari and unreachable for the next month, you’re out of luck.

Communicate when something goes wrong

From time to time, life happens. Maybe you get the flu or your dishwasher floods the house on deadline day. Sometimes, these hurdles are unavoidable.

In a perfect world, we’d all have our assignments in a week early, unafflicted by the day-to-day hiccups of life. But it’s not reality for most. If something comes up where you need an extension, talk to your editor.

Whatever you do, don’t ghost

Despite your best anti-procrastination efforts, your story’s due tomorrow, and your source is unreachable for the foreseeable future. What do you do? Stick your fingers in your ears and say “lalalala” and delete your editor’s emails and vow to avoid them forever?

While it might be tempting, don’t do that!

You don’t want to get a reputation as the freelancer who ghosted. The publishing world is small, and many genres are even smaller. Word gets around.

So what do you do first? Get in touch with your editor immediately. Let them know what’s going on. You don’t have to dwell on your mistake, but you do need to admit you screwed up.

Then, head into problem-solving mode. Let your editor know how you can finish the story. Maybe there’s a different person you can interview. Maybe you have an idea for a slightly different story that could fill the slot.

At the regional magazine I edit, we can often substitute one profile for another. If one local doctor is unavailable for a profile in the health section, we can write about a different medical professional and cover the original person in a later issue. Not every publication is so flexible, though.

But don’t disappear. Your editor has a hole in the publication to fill, and your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to fill it.

What tips would you add for building relationships with editors? Share them in the comments!