An award-winning journalist for TIME and the New York Times on what writers can do to make editors love them and give them regular work.
There are writers that editors like fine and will happily assign stories to. Then there are writers that editors love, the ones they’d bet their careers on. In my experience, editors often like to work with a select group of freelance writers or journalists, those who’ve earned their respect and trust over time.
How can you be the writer who is called upon each time there’s an important piece to be assigned?
1. Deliver more than you promise
When an editor asks for two ideas, send her three. If she gives you an assignment, instead of waiting for the final deadline, file the piece a day in advance. If she’s asked that you provide notes, make sure she has everything and doesn’t have to call you repeatedly to get what she needs.
If you make an editor’s job easier, she’ll love you for it. And, of course, be willing to trust you again with more work.
2. Find stories they don’t know about
Editors love writers who can save them time by doing research and coming up with new stories and slants for them. Make your editor look good in front of her superiors by consistently coming up with good ideas that she can take with her to staff editorial meetings. (Read this post on why you should be proactive about finding ideas instead of waiting to be assigned stories.)
3. Have all the answers
It’s important to know the subject you’re pitching and that’s partly why so many experienced writers advise that you specialize. When an editor calls you to discuss your pitch it’s in your best interest to have the answers.
I’m not saying you have to report before you’ve even sold the story or be an expert on it (I’m often not). But you do need to have enough information and know why a story works for a particular publication. An editor won’t give you an assignment unless you can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. Not having enough information about a topic you’ve proposed is a sureshot way to convince her that you don’t.
4. Come up with clever additions
A technique I recommend to new writers to is to visualize their article. Picture how it would appear on the page. Granted, it’s not going to eventually turn out anything like you’d imagined it, but for a moment forget that you’re a writer and think like a designer instead.
See the beautiful fonts and the shaded box on the side? See the slideshow that could accompany the piece on the website?
That’s how your editor is thinking. She’s not focusing on your writing, much as she may love the story. She’s thinking about where it fits in the magazine and what else needs to be done to make the page shine. Funnily enough, editors love writers who understand their magazine and suggest things that make their job easy.
5. Understand the audience
This should really go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. If you’re writing for a magazine for home PC users, your editor isn’t going to appreciate ideas on network security no matter how wonderful they may be. Similarly, when writing for a small business owner, you might want to forgo organization tips of the “avoid distractions” variety. Always be familiar with your average reader’s knowledge level. That’ll help you make the distinction between good ideas and great ones.
6. Make boring subjects come alive
Editors love writers with a dash of style, attitude, and chutzpah. One editor I worked with repeatedly told me once that the reason he continued assigning me technical stories was that I was able to translate them to the average reader’s level by humanizing the subject. I loved that my work was seen this way and started learning how to do that even better.
This is especially true with technical, business, and trade magazines, where sometimes the numbers and the facts get in the way of telling a good tale. Remember, your job isn’t only to inform a reader, but also to entertain her (or at least hold her interest).
7. Offer the whole package
If you can write well but not meet deadlines, you’re replaceable. If you can get great interviews and dig up little-known statistics, but make the fact-checker’s life hell, you may not get work again. If you come up with brilliant ideas but have little follow through, you’re dispensable.
Give an editor all those things and more, and she has no reason to look beyond you ever again.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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