Five Tips for Keeping Editors Happy
When you do find editors with whom you work well — editors whom you want to keep as allies and advocates through good assignments and bad — you will want to do everything you can to help your relationship flourish. The following five tips for keeping editors happy apply to editors you're working with for the first time as well as to longtime editors with whom you have exceptional relationships. Remember: There are always more writers out there trying to get into the editor's stable. Follow these five tips if you want to earn top billing and keep it for years to come.
Make Your Deadlines
There's nothing more troublesome to an editor than a writer who fails to make her deadlines. Even if you turn in the cleanest, most exciting copy the editor has ever seen, it won't do him very much good if the magazine is already rolling off the press by the time you actually send the story in. Do not take on work that you can't do on time, and always bust your tail to get your stories filed early if you can.
Announce Problems Early
If you suspect that you are going to miss your deadline — or if any other problem arises that will interfere with your living up to your end of the writing agreement — then be sure to tell your editor immediately.
Don't abuse the notion of announcing problems early. Every story you write should not be accompanied by a deadline problem. The idea is that when you have a rare issue with making a deadline, you will handle it professionally by giving your editor as much advance warning as possible.
Most editors understand occasional problems that force writers to be a day or two late on an assignment. Maybe a key source is out of town, or your child becomes sick, or your research simply becomes more in-depth than expected. If you tell your editor at least a week in advance of a looming deadline problem, the odds are he will thank you for the head's up and try to adjust his own schedule to help you complete the story as best you can.
Make Your Word Count
If a writing assignment calls for a 2,000-word story, then you should turn in a story that is between 2,000 and 2,200 words long. That is the amount of space the editor will have reserved for you in the magazine, and that is the amount of space that will have to be filled whether you hold up your end of the deal or not.
Every editor will tell you that it is much easier to cut extra copy out than to add more copy in. If you turn in 1,200 words on a 2,000-word assignment, then the editor has to come up with a way to fill 800 words of space in the pages of the magazine — a frustrating task that will not bode well for you in terms of future assignments.
A good rule is to turn in about 10 percent more copy than is called for in your assignment letter. This shows the editor that you have thoroughly researched your topic and have additional information if he needs it, and it gives the editor a small cushion of word count for editing to make your piece fit the allotted space in the magazine.
By the same token, you don't want to turn in
Argue with Respect
If your editor makes changes in your copy that you dislike, be sure to question those changes respectfully. The editor always has the last say about what goes into the magazine. Still, if your editor learns that you can argue changes with respect for his authority, then he will be more likely to listen to your opinions and let you write things as you wish.
For instance, if an editor rewrites a sentence to include mistaken information, you should not open your conversation about the change by saying, “You're destroying my hard work!” Instead, try something more along the lines of: “Perhaps I wasn't clear in my original, but what's there now is inaccurate. May I try again with that sentence?”
The latter shows that you are willing (and even happy) to be edited, but that you do want the story to be perfect — and that you will raise important questions that will help the editor look good in the long run, too.
See the Big Picture
No matter how minute a detail you may find yourself discussing with your editor, be it a verb choice or the hour a story must be filed, remember to always keep the big picture in mind. Every single assignment you get should, if possible, lead you to future assignments, whether at the same magazine with the same editor or with other editors to whom he recommends you.
Many a talented writer has lost out on future business because she could not step back from an argument about sentence structure and accept that even if she didn't love what the editor had done to her words on one particular story, she had earned the editor's respect and should just let the matter drop. Love every story you write, but remember that it's writing you love the most. You will have to let your editors have things their way more often than not if you want to continue working as a magazine writer at all.