How to Survive as a Broke-Ass Writer: What Editors Want
Before I became a professional editor and journalist, I was a super green blogger trying to build an impressive portfolio. I have achieved all that I have because I had a few editors and writers in my life who were incredible mentors. Scott Schultz of L.A. RECORD and Thomas Murphy of the Denver Westword laid the groundwork for me to obtain a great work ethic and helped me learn the reality of what it took to write a great story.
I currently work as the editor for The Deli Magazine San Francisco and am an entertainment reporter for the New York Amsterdam News among other publications. I keep it simple these days, but I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Of course, to this day I have to work to maintain great communication with my editors. I am not always perfect, but I know that being honest and ambitious can help any writer. I’m going to give some pointers on how to know what editors want and how to keep your job as journalist and creative writer.
Read and Understand the Publication You’d Like to Write For:
Every publication has something called “a voice”. The voice of a publication is a general verbal and grammatical flow that stays consistent through the entire issue. VICE focuses on immersion journalism and humor. If you’re not into being sarcastic and a bit sadistic in your writing, don’t submit your work to VICE. The New York Review of Books is a highly intellectual and opinionated publication. If you can’t crack open your soul and eloquently write exactly what you think while making courageously sweeping statements about politics, society and anthropology, you might not want to submit to them.
Link your style and taste with the publications you plan to write for…or vice versa.
NEVER Pitch to a Writer:
NEVER try to submit your work to a writer. First of all, they are your competition and you asking them for an” in” makes you look very unprofessional. Unless they are a close friend, no writer is ever going to give you their editor’s email address because if you are a crappy writer, you will make your reference look bad, and if you are a great writer, you may surpass them quickly. Plain and simple. Only pitch and submit to editors.
Quietly Stalk Your Editors:
Don’t be creepy. I just mean there are ways to find editor’s work emails without having to ask other people. First of all there is a “Contact Us” section at the bottom or top of every online magazine. If you can’t find the editor’s information there, look for a section on the menu called “About Us”. You’ll be able to find the editor’s direct email.
LinkedIn is a great way to connect to editors. Twitter is a great way as well.
PS: PERSONAL FACEBOOK MESSAGES ARE NOT GOOD. Leave people alone unless you know they’ll be cool…but still use that method wisely and sparingly.
Read Your Editor’s Writing:
All editors are writers. You will never find an editor who did not start out as a journalist, author or blogger. Editors will most likely continue to write for their publication, so if you know their name read their work! When you pitch an idea, you can tell them how much of a fan you are and reference their articles. They love that. Really.
So You Stalked and Found Their Work Email:
You’ve been reading a publication for years, you’ve got a strong resume and samples and the editor’s email. Now it’s time to pitch. Be very clear in your subject line. Editors IGNORE 90% of emails. Write eye-catching pitches in your subject line and you’ll get your pitch read.
Here are some examples of my pitch subject lines:
“Pitch: Guaranteed Publish – Interview with The Breeders”
“Live Review / Interview – Pink Mountaintops – May 28th The Chapel”
“Pitch/Sample Draft – Wash Post Style”
Working with Your Editor:
Your pitch has been accepted and you have the assignment. Nice work. Once you get the green light leave your editor alone. There’s nothing to say until a couple of days before the assignment is due. If you’re reviewing a live event, just give a heads up and confirm you’re going to the show and if there’s anything they need or want you to include in the piece. It’s always good to send a “I’m alive and about to send you my article” email.
After You Submit Your Piece:
Most of the time you’re going to get notes on your submitted article. This means your editor is going to ask you to make a few or a million corrections on your piece. Don’t get defensive. Be professional and make the changes. Don’t make excuses.
You’re a professional writer and an adult, so I’m not saying don’t clarify or stand up for something if you think it should stay in your piece, but if you want to get another assignment, step lightly. You knew who you were writing for and the voice of the publication before you got the assignment, so do what you have to do to get published time and time again.
Once You’re Published:
They’ll send you a link to the published online version of your piece. You can respond saying thank you and that you look forward to a great future with them. Don’t contact your editor again unless you’re going to pitch another piece. I mean, if you guys become friends and want to have cocktails like our awesome editor Stuart, by all means…but it doesn’t usually work that way.
UNTIL NEXT TIME…keep writing, and do it well!