Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So You Wanna Be a Freelancer: Step Four

You're slogging away in the writing trenches. You're doing all that you can to be active writing, submitting, rewriting, researching, not overreacting when you get a rejection. And then, one day, usually when you least expect it, it happens.
Dear writer, We are interested in printing your article about widgets in our publication's issue about widgets.
You've gotten the response that you've hoped for! And now it's time to get working on the next step in the process.

Working with an Editor

You get your acceptance and you are going to be published! Huzzah! But of course, this opens up a new set of considerations, because there are different scenarios that may occur.

Scenario 1: Your article is accepted for publication as-is.
Congratulations! Your work has been accepted. You sit back and wait for your check and you update your clip file. Thank the editor, ask them if they require an invoice (which you can easily create with a template in your word processing program), and if they do, then send one.

Scenario 2: Your article is accepted for publication--after some edits.
Congratulations! Your work has been accepted. Common requests for edits may include:
  • Slashing your word count. You can tell an effective story in 200 words or 2,000 words; if you've been asked to cut your piece in half, don't balk; look at it as a challenge. It's not that your story isn't good enough, it's that it is good enough but space may be limited.
  • Increasing your word count. Honestly, I've never run into this, but it could happen. You submit a short column and the editor sees a bigger story. If you're asked to beef up an article, ask for direction on what the editor wants to see more of and take it from there.
  • Use local sources. Often, a piece will come in with an expert from Alabama, but the article is for a publication in Montana. Most regional publications prefer to have regional experts. If you're asked to find local sources, ask first if there are any suggestions; then ask your search engine. If your article is built around a specific source, however, this might not be possible, but perhaps you could include other experts in addition to your main sources. Be creative! You're a writer. It's kind of your thing.
  • Change the format completely. You've turned in a lovely narrative, but the editor wants a list of 10 points instead. Or you're asked to turn your bulleted listing into a narrative. Can you revise this profile into more of a "Q & A" structure? The answer to all of these is yes, yes you can. 
Remember, that any edits you make to your document will create a second version that you can offer for publication as a reprint. In other markets. I've yet to encounter a publication that requests exclusive rights--and if you are asked for exclusive rights, your paycheck for the piece will usually reflect this.

Which leads me to...

Scenario 3: Your article is accepted for publication--but they can't pay you.
Congratulations! Your work has been accepted. And it's not uncommon for a publication, especially a small publication, to be unable to pay you for your work. You have the choice of accepting this offer or not, and there are good reasons for both options. If you think publishing your work in this publication will prevent you from another opportunity that might lead to payment? Say no. But if that is not the case, then say yes. It's not costing you anything and it's giving you a clip for your file. You're also making a connection with an editor, and they will remember that you were willing to work with them even when they were unable to pay you.

"I once worked with a magazine that was not doing great financially and I accepted a lower amount for my articles; because of this, I continue to work with the magazine," says Kerrie McLoughlin, writer and author of Make Money to Write About Your Kids

Making Relationships

Editors are great people for writers to know. Editors know other editors. They have connections in the publishing world. They edit words, and writers write words. It's like the very definition of a symbiotic relationship.

Writers and editors need one another. And the best editors know this is true. Editors want to have good relationships with writers (at least the editors that I know do; I'm sure there are plenty of grumpy, anti-social types who prefer that whole "us versus them" mentality. I don't advocate that here). An editor knows that the best tool they have (next to a red pen and a copy of The Elements of Style) is a great writer who is adaptable and reliable.

When you show an editor that you're willing to work within their constraints, you show an editor that you are the embodiment of that adaptable and reliable writer. And one thing that editors work with are constraints. Deadlines, page counts, budgets, last-minute changes, additions, hot stories that need to be covered now... it's all a part of the process. Anybody who makes that process easier is someone who makes an editor's life easier.

"Clearly a good relationship with an editor means, most likely, repeated sales of articles and possible positive referrals," says writer, speaker and mom Lara Krupicka. "But I also think in an established relationship the writer has an opportunity to get more of an inside view of the editor's needs, as trust is built and the editor feels comfortable sharing more. A good writer will use that knowledge to grow in the ability to provide work that better fits those needs."

Kerrie shares her experience: "A good relationship includes being flexible about pay amounts when a magazine may be, say, just starting out; responding quickly to correspondence; turning in work on time; offering a reprint list every couple of months, etc. I have had pay increase incrementally over the months for articles just because I was gracious about accepting a low payment in the beginning. As I proved myself, my article pay increased and I could be counted on to offer original pieces in a timely manner."

Tips for Working With Editors
  1. Be willing to be flexible. On word count, source material, payment... just about everything.
  2. Flexibility is the key. You are trying to get your story published in that editor's publication (and even that editor has to answer to the publisher, at a minimum). If you can meet an editor's needs, they'll remember you in the future.
  3. When all else fails? Be flexible. You want to get published. Write well, play well with others, and adjust your approach as needed.
Notice a theme, did you? :)

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