Saturday, October 28, 2006

10 Tips for Freelance Success

1 Show-that you care about your target markets
"Showing that you care" means understanding the publication you're writing for--and demonstrating that understanding.

Freelancer and former magazine editor Judy Keene explains: "When I was an editor, the quality I valued most--and found least--was an almost perfectly honed sense of my magazine's voice: its tone and point of view, our readers' needs, knowledge of previously run material, etc. I had a couple of freelancers who knew the publication and our audience almost as well as I did. When I saw a query from one of them, I knew before even reading it that I was going to find something absolutely on target. Barring something similar in the works, their assignment rate was close to 100 percent."

2 Be a team player
"For editors who ask reasonable things, I am more than willing to help out," notes freelancer Margaret Littman. "That's what you do for your co-workers in an office setting--and that's the way I think of editor/writer relationships. If I learn a fact or see an item that I think may be of use to that editor, regardless of whether or not I think it will turn into an assignment for me, I'll pass it along, just as I would in an office. Being willing to be a team player makes editors more likely to call me with assignments."

3 Stay in touch during the down times
Writer Elizabeth Johnson makes it a point to contact one of her editors even when she's not working on an assignment. "Every few weeks, I drop her an e-mail letting her know that I'm available. Sometimes she'll call me back in day or so with an assignment. Recently, she didn't have any assignments for me, but because she knew I was available, she passed my name on to another editor at the publication, who had a feature she needed to assign. If was a surprise story for which I wouldn't have been considered if I didn't keep in regular contact."

4 Follow up on your assignments
"When I e-mail a finished story to an editor, I always follow up a few days later just to make sure it was received, if I haven't heard anything," writer Dara Chadwick notes. "If I run into a potential problem on a story, I'll usually let the editor know way ahead of the deadline. Many times, I'm able to work around the problem and still meet the deadline. But I think most editors appreciate knowing."

5 Mind the details
Integrity and accuracy are the traits that keep many editors going back to the same freelancers. That means finding reliable, authoritative sources and checking facts.

"Notice the deadline," adds Meg Guroff, a feature editor at AARP The Magazine. "I know I'm supposed to say, 'Always meet the deadline,' but, frankly, most of the best writers I know have deadline problems. Writers who blow past the deadline without comment cannot be trusted with work in the future, but a chagrined phone call a day or two ahead saying the first draft will be a little late is not always a catastrophe."

6 Be patient
Many magazines receive hundreds of queries every week and don't always have staff available to review them. Holidays, sick days, vacations, office meetings and overall work flow all play a part in how quickly an editor can respond to a new story idea or a completed assignment. As a result, it can sometimes take six to eight weeks for an editor to get back to a writer just to say "No thanks." Sometimes--thanks to the internal approval process--it can take even longer to get a go-ahead. In such cases, patience is a virtue. Even so ...

7 Be persistent
Go-aheads also can take a while at AARP The Magazine. Guroff adds, however, "I'm much more likely to keep pushing [in-house on a writer's behalf] if the writer checks in periodically, without a hint of aggravation. Besides reminding me of their idea, this also demonstrates that the writer will be good at tracking down potentially reluctant sources. Same goes if you've turned in copy and haven't heard anything in a while." Don't be afraid to keep knocking, politely, until you get a response.

8 Be willing to revise
When writer Sal Caputo turned in his copy for a bridal magazine's new advice column for grooms, he learned he still had some work to do.

"Apparently, I was a little too irreverent," he says. "The editor wanted more Everybody Loves Raymond than Saturday Night Live. I took a deep breath and said, 'Let me take another crack at it.' When I handed in my revised version, the editor called to say that she and the publisher were exceptionally pleased with the column. It looks like I'll have a new steady gig with her magazine."

9 Offer something surprising (in a good way)
"Don't use all the good stuff in the query," freelancer Wayne Curtis suggests. "Leave out some fun surprises for the final piece." That way, your brand-new, well-polished manuscript won't feel like old news to the editor who has been living with your query for a month or two.

If he's really got a jump on his story, Curtis will sometimes surprise his editor by submitting his first 200 to 400 words a week or two before deadline, "just to give the editor some comfort and to allow the art department to start thinking."

10 Show that you care about your work
"We don't change things just for the sake of changing them," Guroff says. "So if a story comes back to you repeatedly with questions and changes, it's because it needs more work before it will fit well in our magazine. A writer who sees such feedback--or pretends to see it--as a chance to perfect the piece makes me happy. Someone who turns in a draft and says, 'Do what you want with it,' or tends not to know the answers to follow-up questions off the top of his or her head--indicating a minimum of curiosity about the subject--scares me."

Writer

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