How to Work with an Editor: Tips for Getting Your Article Published

More times than not, when an editor looks at an article proposal, she will see something worthwhile in it. What dictates her acceptance is often what the publication has recently included and what they already have slated for the future.

An editor may very well like your query, but she included a similar article in the last issue. Or she has already agreed to include something similar in a future issue.

If that is the case, oftentimes you will receive an outright rejection of your proposal. However, sometimes editors will see promise in your idea—even though they did something similar previously—but will want you to tweak it a bit.

As a writer, be open to these suggestions, especially if you’re a relatively writer with few clips. Each published article helps you build your portfolio and opens the door to future opportunities. Make sure you do not become so tied to your particular idea that you can’t make changes or additions to it.

For example, say you send an article proposal on the demise of big box bookstores. An editor gets back to you and says he likes the idea but also wants you to look into small, independent bookstores that are succeeding—thus combining your idea with something the publication thinks would be of interest to its readers.

Unless the suggested changes violate a moral or ethical issue—or require too many extra hours of work without requisite compensation—it’s usually a good idea to accommodate the publication.

First, by agreeing to the changes in the article, you are getting a chance to write for publication, which includes a clip and payment.

Second, you are making yourself known to the editor—and the publication—that you are someone who is open to working with them. This willingness on your part may lead to future opportunities down the road.

Finally, as a writer, you are learning more about the process and how to make it work better for you in the future.

In addition, it’s always good—for the same reasons just listed—to work with a publication on deadlines. Usually a magazine will want to move up a deadline from what a writer usually proposes—if the publication is interested in the article. Many publications work many months ahead. Be willing to accommodate them on deadline changes.

Word count is also another area where negotiation can ensue. Your proposal might suggest a 1,000-word article, and the magazine only wants 600 words. Again, it’s always a good idea to work with the publication on these sorts of things.

Publications will often have word count limits for certain sections of the magazine. They might have other pieces already lined up for the section in which your article will appear. Maybe they normally include 3,000 words an issue in this section and 2,400 of them have already been assigned.

It might be difficult to cut or limit your article by 400 words—or 200 or 800 or whatever. However, in the end, it will be worth it to see your name in print and to receive a check a few weeks later for your work.

It’s also a nice challenge—for all writers—to try and be concise.

Also, don’t be stubborn when it comes to trying again. Rejection is part of the writer’s life, and he who understands this and doesn’t become burdened and frustrated by it will no doubt reap the rewards down the road. Don’t be stubborn … be willing to try again … and again.

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Secrets Your Editor Wished You Knew

This may seem like a no-brainer, but this oversight costs writers—and editors who read them—valuable time. If you needed a new transmission for your car, you wouldn’t drive around town for an hour looking for a mechanic only to arrive at one who only did oil changes.

That hour is only a fraction of the time it takes most writers to develop an article and to write a compelling query, but you get the picture: Don’t waste your valuable time focused on things that have little or no possibility of success.

It’s fairly easy to find out all the pertinent information about a publication before you query it. Find out how often it publishes, what specific types of articles it normally includes and how often—if ever—it publishes freelance writers. Each of these will play a pivotal role in how you query the publication.

Many people peruse a writer’s guide and come up with dozens of publications to query without taking the time to determine if a particular publication fits their specific query.

For example, over the years I’ve worked for several religiously-themed publications and have received countless queries that would in no way be appropriate for us. It’s obvious that the sender didn’t even take five minutes—or in some cases one minute—to determine if the query he was mass-sending to publications was appropriate for each one. It’s the shotgun approach: send out as many queries as possible and hopefully one sticks.

This rarely works. It also puts a bad taste in an editor’s mouth and can make further querying from that person even more difficult. If an editor receives several unsuitable queries from a particular person, she is likely to block that person’s email or just delete every email that person sends without ever reading it.

By determining the basics of each publication, the writer can tailor the query to fit the specific needs of the publication and its audience. Some argue that you should read several back issues of a publication before you query them. That’s fine and certainly is helpful.

However, most writers don’t have that kind of time. Do your best to familiarize yourself with the publication through perusing its website and conducting Google searches for the name of the publication and your topic—to determine if it has previously done something along the same lines as you are proposing.

Find out from a writer’s guide if the publication uses freelance writers and how often. Some writers will go through the effort of composing a query and sending it to a publication without checking to see if it even uses freelancers.

Also, some publications will use freelancers but only on assignment or only those with significant clips to their name. By determining this simple requirement, you can save a lot of time, energy and emotional well-being.

Finally, determine the frequency of publication for each magazine/journal you query.

When I was at Decision magazine, we published 11 times a year (we had a combined

June/July issue). We also worked seven months ahead of schedule.

So, if it’s June and you are querying the magazine, we are already working on articles for the January issue. So that means if your article has a seasonal focus or in some way is more suitable for a certain time of year, then you need to be mindful of this when sending your query.

This can also serve as an advantage for the prepared writer.

If your query relates to the importance of fathers, sending it several months ahead of Father’s Day can give you a head start on other freelancers who are hoping to query on the same topic.

Knowing the publication you are querying can also earn you points with the editor.

If you are a regular or committed reader of the publication, don’t just say “I’m a committed reader of The North Shore Review.” Show the editor that you’re a committed reader by referencing a previous article in the publication and how that might relate to your query.

This isn’t a necessity, but if you have the ability to tie your query into something previously published—without it being the same type of article—mention it and demonstrate your knowledge to the editor. Things like this can only help; they rarely hurt.

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