How Freelance Writers Can Keep Editors Happy

by John Soares on May 19, 2014

Make an editor smile! Courtesy drewzhrodague

Courtesy drewzhrodague

We freelance writers thrive with quality, long-lasting relationships with editors. So we need to know how to keep them happy so they keep hiring us, and we also need to know what to do if one of our favorites leaves her position with the company.

I’m taking the perspective of a freelance writer who creates supplements and ancillaries for college-level textbooks, which is my main specialty. However, you can easily adapt this advice to your own particular niches.

5 Ways to Make Your Editor Love You

1. Ask for what you need before you need it

Examples for a textbook supplement writer like me include the old edition of the textbook or the specific supplement I’m working on (like an instructor’s manual), photocopies of page proofs, or PDF files of page proofs. Sometimes editors are off for the day, or they are in meetings, on vacation, or out sick, so don’t assume they can provide you materials immediately.

2. Be available for e-mail or phone communication

If you are going on vacation or will be otherwise unavailable for two or more business days, let your editor know, especially if you are in a crucial period of the project where prompt communication is essential. This means using a vacation response for your email, and perhaps also changing your outgoing message on your voice mail, if your editor calls you often.

3. Answer all e-mails and phone calls within a reasonable time frame

This doesn’t mean you drop what you’re doing when an e-mail pops into your in-box; it does mean that you check e-mail two or three times a day and respond promptly to time-sensitive messages. Whenever I can I answer an email as soon as I see it in my inbox. If I need to think about my reply, I save it as new so it will catch my eye the next time I check email.

4. Listen to suggestions with an open mind…

and with a desire to keep her happy and to do a great job on the project. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Remember, she’s answerable to her bosses, and it’s her company that’s paying you.

5. Always be pleasant…

both in writing and in person. Take the time to be personal, to inquire about how the editor is doing. And also make sure you do the small social things in communication that can make a difference, like signing off an email with “Warmest regards” or “Yours” or “Kindest regards” — the small things that can make a big difference.

So now that we know how to stay on an editor’s good side, what do we do when she leaves the company? It’s rare that an she remains at the same job for more than a few years. The longest I worked with one editor was eight years, and some only last a few months in the position.

4 Ways to Deal with Changes in Editors

1. Maintain Good Relationships

Rapid turnover is a very important reason for maintaining good relationships and good communication. If an editor you work for leaves her post, you want to know about it, and you want her to recommend you highly to her replacement.  I’ve been very fortunate in my textbook supplement writing career that most of my best clients have gone out of their way to promote me to their successors.

2. Do This When An Editor Leaves

When you find out an editor is leaving or getting promoted, ask for the name, title, phone number, and e-mail address of her successor, and ask her to sing your praises to her replacement.

Contact the new person a week or so after the transition. I usually do so by e-mail. Mention the work you have done previously for the company, and say that you are very interested in continuing a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Send your writing samples and a link to your LinkedIn profile, along with your main qualifications,  just like you would do when seeking projects from a new editor.

3. Find Out Where Your Editor Is Going

Frequently she’ll leave one company or magazine and then take a position with a similar company or magazine. This means your writing services may still be needed. Stay in touch and continue to ask for work. Don’t hesitate to ask for her new work email, or her personal email. LinkedIn is another good way to keep track of such important people (and you can usually contact them through LinkedIn using InMail or the actual email address).

4. Be Nice to Everyone

Make it your policy to always be polite, friendly, and professional with everyone you work with. Some people may not seem very important to you, but those people may eventually take your editor’s job, or move higher up in the company and be in a position to help you.

For example, the lowest person on the college textbook publishing totem pole is the editorial assistant. I’m usually working with this person’s boss, typically an assistant editor or associate editor. However, the editorial assistant position is the starting place for most people working in publishing. With the frequent turnover of personnel at textbook publishers, there is a real chance that this person at the bottom of the hierarchy will eventually be promoted and then be the one deciding whether or not to hire me.

Your Take

What do you do to maintain good relationships with editors? And what do you do when they leave for another position? 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anne Wayman May 19, 2014 at 6:59 AM

Excellent list, John. I’d only add, based on my experience as a newspaper editor – remember that the editor is human too.
Anne Wayman recently posted…4 Secret Ways Freelance Writers Make Sure They Get Paid


2 John Soares May 19, 2014 at 7:58 AM

Very good point Anne. Whenever somebody doesn’t respond the way I want, or act the way I want, I try to remember that we all have many burdens we carry that others don’t see.
John Soares recently posted…When a Freelance Writer Gets Only Silence from an Editor


3 Tom May 19, 2014 at 9:06 AM

Solid info, John. I have had a relationship with one magazine editor for 10 years this month. A lot of that is from using the kind of open communication you suggest. I’ve had another with a national magazine editor for almost 3 years, and that fellow now reminds me to submit pitches, rather than the other way around.

If either of them leave, I’m sure they’d give me a good recommendation, and be open to submissions to their new publications. Thanks for the good stuff.
Tom recently posted…Breathing New Life Into Your Writing


4 John Soares May 19, 2014 at 9:34 AM

That’s a testament to just how good of a job you are doing for these editors Tom. My longest relationship was about 7 or 8 years, and it ended because my editor left the company and went into a totally different field.
John Soares recently posted…How to Align Your Writing Income with Your Career Goals


5 Cathy Miller May 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

I ghostwrite so I don’t work directly with editors, John. However, your points are valid no matter what role your client has. For example, I always prepare a list of items I need for white papers, blog posts, whatever.

And my relationship with one Marketing VP garnered a new client (her new employer) when she left her old employer, and I maintained her former employer as a client. I call it breeding new clients. 😉
Cathy Miller recently posted…25 Overused Business Words With Alternatives


6 John Soares May 19, 2014 at 2:29 PM

I like your analogy Cathy. I’ve also had situations where I’ve gotten assignments from an editor’s successor, and then gotten assignments from the editor who left once she arrived at a similar position with another company.
John Soares recently posted…Six Copy Editing Tips for Freelance Writers


7 Hiten Vyas May 25, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Hi John,

Excellent post, indeed.

I can really appreciate the point you made about listening with an open mind. As you say, keeping our ego out of the way is key. By taking on board feedback, we demonstrate maturity to the editor and a willingness to do the best job we can.
Hiten Vyas recently posted…The Benefits of eBook Publishing


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