Editors, what they really want

Editors are a hard-nosed, hard-hearted lot.

The only aspects they remember about us freelancers are:

  1. writing ability
  2. accuracy
  3. reliability

It is a total waste of time “approaching an editor with an idea”.  No editor wants ideas.

They want articles – finished, appropriate, timely, well-written articles specifically targeted to their readership.

Imagine if you were an editor and some person you didn’t know and had never heard of, traps you on the phone.  This person says: “I’ve a great idea.  I plan to get Julia Gillard and Barrack Obama and take them on a walk over the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, while interviewing them.”

If you were an editor listening to this garbage, you’d hang up.  If it was a well-known journalist whose work you admired, you might think it’s an impossible idea, but at least you’d listen to the journo about how he planned to execute such a wild, but brilliant, idea.

The cold, hard truth is that unknown journalists with “great ideas” are not worth an editor’s time, because their ideas are often outrageous or impossible.  Even if it is a good idea, the editor has no idea whether the journo will deliver on time and no idea if it will be well-written and targeted at his readers.

There is only one way to approach an editor and that is with an already finished, appropriate, timely, well-written article specifically targeted to his readership.

Then you simply follow, item by item, EXACTLY what I advise in the FactSheet  How to sell your article.  Simple as that.  Editors constantly receive articles from writers who are so-called experts in something, but they have no writing style or imagination, they can’t spell, punctuate or get facts right, and they can’t even meet deadlines and they don’t deliver what they promised.   These are the elements that matter to editors:

  • Suitable writing talent, love of accuracy and total reliability
  • Care and concern for good presentation
  • A “professional attitude”
  • An understanding of, and respect for, the needs of the particular publication
  • Determination to keep promises

The greatest expertise does not excuse a boring writing style, factual errors, sloppy spelling, careless presentation or not adhering to deadlines.  Sadly, editors frequently receive submissions from writers who have never read the publication.  The writers locate the name and address of the publication, send off their articles and never have the curiosity and courtesy to buy a copy and read it to understand its particular needs.  If an editor likes your article, he/she would like to know that you’re a writing factory, that you can turn out plenty of articles.

Think about this also.  What do you want from your editor?  First you want him/her to buy your material.  Second you want him to pay well, and importantly, pay on time.  What else do you want?  Would you like him to write you little notes, send you birthday gifts, invite you to his home for dinner and become your friend?  Sorry, if that’s your wish, I must warn you: get real.

Most freelancers never meet their editors face-to-face, and once the relationship is established, no longer talk on the phone.  All communication is via email.  You email the editor with a short, snappy suggestion:

Inventor Bill Smith agrees to me interviewing him at island home over two days January.  Suggest you could use 2,500 words.  Regards, “Me”

The editor emails back a crisp, business-like, no-nonsense reply:

Go ahead.  Send 1,500 words.  Payment $3,000.  No expenses.  Advise urgently on pix.  Prefer Smith at workbench and with family.  Others as you decide.  For March issue.  Your deadline 5pm 15 Feb. Cheers, “Editor”

And the next time you hear from him will be when you receive a cheque in the mail.  That’s the way it works.  The world of freelance journalism is not a cuddly, cozy, touchy-feely environment where people want to drink coffee with you, learn your life-story and chat for hours.  Like you, they’re all too busy making a living.


What Editors Want

By Editforce ©   Reprinted and adapted with permission


No, this is not a spin-off of the Mel Gibson movie.  It’s just a list of tips for writers compiled by the editors of Editforce.


Make sure your pitches are targeted

If you are submitting a story, make sure you have written it with a certain target market — in some cases even a certain publication — in mind. Think of how you can fine-tune your idea to suit a certain audience. This makes it a lot easier to sell your article. We strongly advise you to ring our your editor with your idea and she will take the time to discuss the concept with you and help you find the most suitable angle.

Patience is a virtue…

Editors can be very busy at times, especially just before a deadline. They also tend to be in and out of meetings all day. If you are waiting on feedback on an idea or an article you recently submitted, don’t take it personally if the editor doesn’t get back to you immediately. At the same time editors should realise that it doesn’t take much to press the reply button and acknowledge receipt of an article.

…and so is persistence, but…

Editors receive calls and emails from journalists all the time. To make sure you stay on the radar screen, call or send them an email once in a while to check on the availability of work and upcoming projects. By doing this you make sure you’re on their mind when they’re about to start commissioning for a new project.

…stalking is not!

As Peter Flax, former senior editor of U.S. Health magazine, aptly says: “Writing can be like dating – you need to have the judgment to see when you’re advances aren’t welcome.” Being overaggressive is not going work in your favour if you’re looking for more work. However, it’s up to editors to make sure they don’t turn writers into stalkers by being honest about a pitch or article and respond to queries within reasonable time.

Write according to the brief

It’s not a crime to submit copy that is a bit over the word-count that was given to you in the brief, but handing in copy that doesn’t match the brief is an editor’s worst nightmare. Fair enough if the editor just assumed you knew after saying, “Please write a feature on IT”, but if you have been given a full brief, please stick to it. If you’re not sure about something, please give the editor a ring for clarification. They would rather spend some extra time with you on the phone than having to rewrite your complete article.

Stick to the deadline

Everyone can suddenly be overcome by a personal crisis – however, in the editor’s mind a personal crisis does not include writer’s block or a busy schedule. Editors reserve a warm place in their heart for writers who submit their work on time – you want to be one of these people. Evidently, it’s in the editor’s best interest to provide you with a realistic deadline.

Give the editor room to edit your story

You have every right to be ticked-off if you find your article published with a new intro.  But that’s the editor’s right.  Don’t question the editor over every punctuation change they make, as they will remember you for that. If an editor suggests you change your story angle, for example, accept it as a positive criticism, as your story could be improved by it. And of course editors should give you a pat on the back when you deserve one.

Submit your invoice immediately after you’ve completed the job

Your invoice is likely to end up on the desk of the editor to be signed off for accounts. If you submit your invoice immediately after you’ve finished the job the editor can sign it off immediately as the project (and amount you agreed on) is still fresh in their mind. If you send your invoice after four weeks, the editor will have to go through a pile of paperwork to verify the amount you invoiced for and your invoice is likely to end up in the to-do basket, which means your payment could be delayed.  However, if you have invoiced on time and don’t receive your payment within the terms, tell the editor and he will chase up the payment for you.

Leave a Reply