Saturday, March 19, 2016

Editors—You Can’t Make a Living Without Them

Editors—you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. The truth is you can’t make a living without them. When you work with a good one, you’ll know it. And when you work with a bad one, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve probably dealt with editors who neglect to respond to your queries, are vague about what they want, make you do incessant re-writes, and then, of course, there are those who take forever to pay—or don’t pay at all.

It’s possible to have a successful freelance writing career if you know how to handle editors. Most beginning and a lot of other writers take the submissive role in the editor/writer relationship. That’s you’re first mistake.

Remember, you’re in business for yourself. You’re a business owner and as such have the right to negotiate terms. Don’t let your editors walk all over you. Sure, you’re desperate to get published and ultimately to get paid, but becoming a puppy with a ring through your nose or even worse an editor’s slave won’t get you anywhere.

Let’s start at the beginning. You researched the market, came up with a timely, compelling idea, and sent a great query. Weeks pass, and you still haven’t heard from the editor. Now what do you do?

Editors are notoriously busy people, but many of them don’t know how to communicate with their writers in a businesslike manner. This is where you have to take control of the situation. Follow up your initial query with a brief Email in which you’ve included your original pitch and ask if the editor is interested in the idea. In fact, you should have asked that question in your first query. Let the editor know that if you don’t hear from him or her in, say, two weeks, you’ll pitch your idea to other markets. Don’t sound threatening, but instead act like a professional. This type of response also shows that you’re serious about your business. But if you don’t hear anything in a reasonable amount of time, pitch the idea to another publication.

Once you get an assignment, has the editor given you detailed instructions or did he or she offer only vague suggestions. First, make sure you lay out exactly what you’re planning to do in your article query. If the editor agrees to what you’ve proposed, you’re all set. However, many writers leave the details up to the editor. If the editor gives only vague directions, you’re stuck. There’s nothing worse than researching and writing an article only to have an editor reject it because it isn’t what he or she wanted. And how were you to know? You’re not a mind reader.

When you get your assignment, make sure the editor gives you the following information:
    1. Exactly what you’re to cover in your article.
    2. The number and type of sources if you haven’t already noted this in your
    3. How many words your article should be?
    4. The due date—this is usually two weeks before the editor really needs
        the article.

If you’re dealing with a vague editor, you may want to write your own assignment letter, then ask the editor to confirm the details. This will also help you to avoid multiple revision requests.

And what do you do with an editor who consistently pays late or not at all? You wrote the assigned article and sent it in on time. You answered a few follow-up questions from your editor and submitted backup material for fact checking if necessary. You’ve completed your part of the deal, so where’s your payment?

To fully understand how this might happen, you have to understand the payment process. Just about every publication has an editorial side and a business side. While the editor commands the editorial side, the business manager and/or the accounts receivable department commands the business side. It’s the editor’s job to send your invoice or a work order to the accounts receivable department in order for them to cut you a check for your article.

Some publications have large staffs, but at others a few people do all the work. The smallest staff may consist of three or four people while larger publications have hundreds of people working for them. Both can be problematic when it comes to getting paid on time.

It’s your job to stay on top of your accounts. At first, you probably don’t care when you get paid because you have a day job to pay the bills. But once you quit your regular job and start your own business, you’ll need the money to come in regularly to keep your cash flow in line.

Make sure you send a complete invoice along with your article. This should include the date sent, title of your article, pay rate, publication date if known, due date, projected payment date and your contact information. Be sure to ask when the publication pays writers when you first get the assignment. There should be no guessing or assuming when it comes to money.

If I don’t get paid, send Email reminders to the publication’s accounts receivable department with the attached invoice to save the staff the time of looking through old messages or piles of paperwork for the original. If you still get no response, send a hard copy by regular mail. And if that doesn’t work, send it again by registered mail.

Remember, you are the one who has to take charge of business dealings with your editors—or at least meet them halfway. Don’t let your editors run the show completely. It’s just not good business.


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