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As a freelance writer, you must be:
- Wildly creative, while following the precise rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation
- Assertive with editors, while sticking to their exact guidelines
And you must be willing to:
- Keep an editor up to date with your progress, without bothering her
- Work hard on a project, with no guarantee of another assignment
For seven years, I worked as a freelance writer, toiling under that unspoken job description, and it was tough treading those invisible boundaries with editors. Then, from 1997-2001, I worked as the managing editor of a magazine in Ohio. Those years were extremely rewarding and enlightening, and they gave me a chance to see the unique challenges inherent in the other side of the publishing equation.
Editors must ensure a magazine chock-full of quality writing and attractive photos, while adhering to tight deadlines and a strict budget. Editors are balancing the needs and wants of freelance writers, photographers, graphic designers and advertisers, and they may also be writing for the magazine and generating its publicity.
And most editors, contrary to what you may have heard, are decent human beings, sympathetic to the writer’s plight. They want you to succeed in producing a fine article for their magazine and they understand when your child catches the chicken pox, when you get called for jury duty or when your source stands you up for a vital interview.
An editor, however, is also the dictator of the magazine. Fudge a few facts, invent fictitious expenses or pester the editor during crunch time – and buss that publishing relationship good-bye. No court of appeals exists.
So, use common sense in your conversations with editors, and do NOT allow these phrases to exit your lips:
- Editor B at Magazine C allows me to do this. (Fine. Go work with him.)
- Next year, Magazine Q is publishing my story on termites. (Blabbermouth. What are you telling other editors about us?)
- My formatting idea is lots better than yours. (Start your own magazine then.)
- I’ve never read your magazine before. (But you think that you can write for it?)
- This concept cannot be expressed in 1000 words. (Then it can’t be published here.)
- You can’t do this to me! (Sure I can.)
And consider these words an editor’s symphony:
- Thanks for the terrific editing job you did on my last article.
- Hope it’s okay that I turned my article in before the deadline.
- After carefully reviewing your writer’s guidelines and a couple of sample issues, I’d like to submit the following query.
- What else do you need from me to complete this assignment?
- The newest issue of the magazine looks great!
Then, there’s the touchy issue of money. At this point, you can consider the editor your benign adversary and you must think carefully before issuing any ultimatums. The reality is this. Editors have some flexibility in negotiating contracts and pay rates, but they, in turn, answer to the publisher. There are definite limits as to how far an editor can go – or will want to go, with a particular writer.
It’s perfectly reasonable, however, and good business practice, to discuss financial issues and concerns with an editor. Calmly point out why you feel you should receive more money. Acceptable reasons include:
- I’ve produced quality material for you in past issues and my articles have required little editing.
- My clips prove that I am a seasoned professional.
- This upcoming assignment will require extensive research.
Understand, however, that a certain magazine may not pay the rates you’d like to receive. At this point, consider the intangible rewards of working for a specific magazine, such as:
- This editor is pleasant and we have a good working relationship.
- The quality of the publication is top rate and it affords me good clips.
- This magazine is a stepping-stone in the direction I’d like my writing to take.
If, after evaluating non-monetary factors, you decide the pay rate offered is not acceptable, fulfill any outstanding contracts with the publishing company and gracefully decline any future assignments. A decent editor will respect your decision and wish you well.
The editor-writer relationship is an intriguing symbiosis, one that evolves over time. Enjoy those times when your goals mesh, resolve inevitable conflicts in a professional manner and always remain true to your own personal writing missions.