Editors’ Wish List when Working with Freelancers

  1. When pitching to a publication for the first time: Study the publication you’re pitching to in order to make sure your story idea is in line with their mission.
  2. Ask for a copy of the writers’ guidelines. (Better yet, see if they’re available on the website before you ask.) Most publications likely have some already in place that they’d be happy to send you, and the editor will be grateful you asked. (But the editor isn’t grateful you asked her to send you something you could easily find online.)
  3. Read the guidelines before pitching your idea. No, seriously—read them and take them to heart. This will tell you a lot about whether you’re on the right track. For instance, some publications seldom publish unsolicited material, or only pay for those pieces they commission. Make sure you understand the publication’s needs and preferences as well as your own.
  4. If your pitch is not accepted, graciously thank the editor for his/her time in considering it. You want to be known as someone enjoyable to work with.
  5. If your pitch is accepted or you are given an assignment: Make sure you are clear about the deadline and word count. Be prepared for at least a week after the deadline to address any rewriting requests.
  6. Then, look at the publication again. How are the stories formatted? Do they all have titles? Decks and or bylines? Do they break up the copy with subheads every few hundred words? Do they include footnotes, or taglines for the author at the end? Whatever you see in its pages—DO THAT. The easier you can make an editor’s job, the more likely he or she will be to keep hiring you. Nobody wants to spend extra time reformatting your work or putting your name on it for you.
  7. A deadline is a deadline, and a grace period is a grace period. If you turn in your piece after close of business on the day of the deadline, you’ve missed the deadline. And if you think you’ll need more time to finish than you were given, it’s good manners to let the editor know as early in the process as possible so he or she can make alternate plans if necessary. Most editors are pretty gracious with that sort of thing, but nobody wants to be forced to scramble to fill a hole at the last minute.
  8. If an editor sends back your edited copy and asks for you to fill in more information or make some other revisions, work with the edited copy. Don’t make the changes to your original file. The edits were made to move the copy one step closer to what the editor needs; nobody wants to do the same work twice.
  9. Don’t be a diva. Not every word that falls from your fingertips is made of pure gold. Learn how to stand up for your work graciously, but know when to bend and let things go. We’re all trying to do the best job possible here. There’s room for discussion, but remember: At the end of the day, the editor is responsible for preserving a host of things, including missional integrity as well as the publication’s standards.

The Editors’ Wish List was compiled by Karla Dial, editor of Citizen magazine, with input from Diane McDougall, editorial director for Journey Group.

Also see: Freelancers' Wish List

Posted Dec. 4, 2017