Across the globe, thousands – millions? – of freelancers are sitting at their desks perplexed. “What exactly does my editor want?”
I hear you. Getting inside an editor’s head isn’t easy, especially if you’ve spent more time as a writer (or teacher, or accountant, or whatever your pre-freelancing career was – or still is) than traipsing the corridors of a newspaper or magazine’s HQ.
This post came via a request from one of you guys – a reader who asked me to write a few more posts on the tricky nature of building a relationship with an editor. You ask, I answer! However, the answer to this one isn’t simple, and there’s one key reason for this: every editor is different.
Why? Because every human being is different. We all think, act, work, organise, manage and operate in a unique way. That’s nice, right? (Hmmm, sort of.)
If you’re sitting next to someone in an office, it’s not too hard to get an insight into what makes his or her heart sing or (worse) what incites a forehead slapping moment. But when you’re freelancing, most of the relationship is managed by email (or sometimes, phone).
So, to kick off an occasional series about what editors want, I thought I’d start with the basics. These are five things I aim to do with every single editor I work with. For more, you might like this post on getting inside an editor’s head.
5 ways to keep an editor happy.
1. File on time.
I know, I’m a deadline freak. But seriously, file on time, file on time, file on time. A deadline is a deadline. To me, a Wednesday deadline means 9am Wednesday, not midnight Wednesday. Sure, technically, 11.59pm IS still Wednesday, but I don’t want an editor to look at my email and think, “Well, technically she made it, but hey, I gave her three weeks and she was still doing this an hour before it was due. What the hell’s that about?” I want an editor working with me to think, “Hey, she’s got that to me early, nice stuff.” (Actually, I always try to file a day or two early, but more on that in point four.)
2. File on word count.
A deadline’s a deadline, and a word count is a word count. Meet it! Five per cent over if you’re desperate. Don’t do more than that. Seriously. Kill. Your. Darlings.
3. Meet the brief.
If you have been given a formal brief, meet it. Treat it like a checklist. I try to go through any brief I’ve been given cross check it item by item. I do this at the start of the process, about mid way through (when I’m mid the research and interviewing process) and just before filing my story. I might literally tick each item off. That’s because I know that in journalism, the brief is King. Meet the brief. If you don’t get a brief, and you don’t know how to figure it out for yourself, it’s probably because you haven’t done this course with me yet. 🙂
4. Go above and beyond.
Hmm. What does this mean really? Especially given you are doing most of this remotely. Well, I think it’s about doing far more than the basics. Don’t just find an interview subject for your piece, find the best possible person to interview. Don’t just file your story on deadline, file it a couple of days ahead of deadline. In my book, there’s no better way to keep any client happy – exceed his or her expectations. Beating deadlines is a great example, and let’s face it: surely it’s not that hard to do?
5. Don’t overload your editor with questions enroute.
Don’t be that annoying person emailing with myriad questions between when your story is commissioned and when it’s time to file (yes, deadline time). Of course, sometimes there’s stuff you can’t figure out yourself, and will need to ask. But mostly, if you really think it through, you’ll be able to work out the answers yourself. Naturally, it helps to have a network here – if you’re really stuck, ask one of them instead. But that’s a topic for next week’s post.
For the comments below: Do you manage all five? Which of the above do you have the most trouble with? Or, what else do you to do keep your editors happy? (Any editors out there – I’d love you to weigh in!)