Editors are elusive beasts. I should know. I have dealt with many of them in my years as a freelance writer. They operate according to a strange code of behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable under ordinary circumstances. Yet because they wield a lot of power, both writers and business are eager to jump through hoops to gain access to them.
Newspaper and magazine editors are like circus ringmasters. They are required to juggle many balls. They balance budgets, lay out pages, pounce on copy errors, organise their staff and keep an ear to the ground for interesting new ideas. Surviving on coffee and adrenaline, they keep all these balls in the air, to ensure that the publication ‘goes to bed,’ on time.
Budgetary constraints are making the lives of editors even more difficult. Perhaps this is why some of them play cat and mouse games, leaving you dangling while you wait for their verdict on your article proposal or press release. Perhaps the worst situation of all, for writers at least, is when they accept your proposal and you send your article in after hours of sweat and toil, only to find that it has sunk into a void.
Fortunately, there are good editors out there. Editors who tell you clearly what approach they’d like you to take and how long they want the resulting article to be. Most of all, they’ll tell you what you’ll be paid without you having to put your hands out in supplication. If you are a business, they will give you a swift verdict on your press release and work with you to make sure the final copy accurately reflects what your business offers.
A particular approach is required to butter up an editor. Budding writers often believe that they need to slave over an article before sending it to a publication. But what editors like is a pitch, a concise explanation of your idea and what it offers to their readers.Your pitch should reflect your knowledge of their publication, its tone and content. This will flatter their egos and show that you’re serious.
In your pitch, begin by introducing yourself and briefly outlining your writing background. Don’t worry if you haven’t published much before; you may have expertise in a particular topic, or be aware of a particularly interesting issue the editor might not have considered before.
Then give them an indication of the approach you’re going to take. This gives the editor an indication of what will make your article stand out. Explain the relevance of your idea to their readers. For example, you may want to turn the spotlight on a little-known health condition that actually affects a lot of people. Then outline how you plan to approach the article, who you will interview etc.
If you’re a business, the opposite applies. Editors receive hundreds of press releases. Make it easy for them to access yours by including it in the body of your email, with an introductory note about you and your business to give it personality. Remember than when it comes to being included in newspapers and magazines, the editor is your customer. Give your customer what they want. (Refer to my previous blog post, The Write Angle, for more on this).
Once you’ve sent in your pitch, it’s time to follow it up. Most editors won’t get back to you straight away. Often, it’s a simple case of their inbox being clogged. Send them an email to check whether they got your idea. It’ll jog their memory. If they haven’t received your idea, it will pique their interest. A phone call is also a good idea, particularly if you want to be included in a newspaper. Give your follow up a day or two for ewspaper editors and a week if it’s a magazine editors.
The stress editors are under makes them a grumpy lot. If they’re unfriendly to you, it’s a good sign. It means they’re taking your idea seriously and will expect you to deliver the goods. If they are friendly, it’s quite likely that they’re humouring you. This gem comes from the mouth of an editor of several high profile magazines. Good luck.