Although I am primarily a freelance writer, I do sometimes work as an editor as well. Among other things, I have edited newsletters, articles, short stories, books, training courses and promotional materials.
This has given me some valuable insights into what editors do and don’t want from writers, so today I thought I would share a few of them.
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 (or whatever) 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 they 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 them in advance, it may be too late for this. Don’t then expect them 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. Always aim to have your mobile with you, 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. 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.
Here’s 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. 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.
So those are some of my top tips for working with editors. Do you have any more, or any comments on the ones above? Please do post them below!