Q: I know that you’re an editor as well as a writer. Can you offer some tips for writers from the perspective of an editor?
A: It’s interesting to be on the other side of submissions. I think it’s certainly helped me understand what I did to tick off editors all these years! Here are some of the most common mistakes I witness as an editor.
- Not sticking to your assigned word count. This is a big issue and now I see why. If I assign 500 words, it’s because it’s all I can fit in the allotted space. I often have writers turn in pieces that are WAY too long with a note saying, “I’ll just let you cut this down.” There are two problems with this: First, it’s more work for me. Second, I don’t always know what information is most important. I may cut something out that the writer deems as vital. When in doubt, stay within 5 percent of your assigned word count. For 500 words, go between 450 and 550.
- Spelling names, places and other proper nouns wrong. Unless you’re writing for a HUGE magazine, chances are the publication does not have the budget for a fact-checker. That means that whatever you send to the editor is presumed to be spelled correctly. If it’s not, the editor probably won’t catch it. Double check your spelling, stats, Web sites, phone numbers, etc.
- Ignoring our writer’s guidelines. News flash: publications have writer’s guidelines and style guidelines for a reason. If we ask for everything in Times Roman size 12 font with no double spacing, that’s what we want. If you ignore that, it’s more work for us. We have enough work as it is. If you want to keep writing for us, make our jobs easier, not harder.
- Being non-responsive – or slow in responding. When an editor is on a deadline and contacts you with a question about your article, you need to get back to them ASAP. If I write to you to request that you get the photo in high-res format because you sent me a low-res version, respond to me immediately – even if you can’t get it till tomorrow. If I don’t hear from you, I may spend two hours looking for a stock photo – or may scrap the entire article because we’re going to print and the photo is too vital to the piece to let it run without it.
- Being TOO persistent. If you sent me a query or article three weeks ago and haven’t heard back, feel free to follow-up…once. If I don’t respond again, chances are that I’m swamped. While I try to respond to all my e-mails in a timely manner, some editors get thousands of e-mails each month. If they don’t respond to your follow-up, assume they’re not interested and move on to the next magazine.
Q: When should I refer to an editor by his or her first name?
A: Once an editor e-mails or calls you and uses their first name only (“Hi Susan, this is John at Men’s Health”), feel free to call them by their first name. Until then, stick with their more formal titles (Ms. Smith or Mr. Jones), or use their full name if it’s a gender-neutral name like Chris Smith. (Don’t assume that the editor of a women’s magazine is necessarily a woman or vice versa!)
Articles, books, greeting cards, oh my! Wendy Burt is a successful full-time freelance writer and editor who has more than doubled her income since leaving her job as a newspaper editor just three years ago. With two women’s humor books for McGraw-Hill and more than 1,000 published pieces, Wendy’s typical day might including writing ad copy, greeting cards, health articles, personal profiles or her marketing column for Her Business magazine. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as Family Circle, The Writer, MSNBC.com, NewYorkTimes.com, Home Cooking Magazine and American Fitness. Wendy teaches “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” and still finds ample time to spend with her beautiful baby, Gracie. Visit www.BurtCreations.com to see books by Wendy and her award-winning dad. More info at www.WendyBurt-Thomas.com.