The Secret Language of Editors: “Lead Time”

Abigail GreenFreelancers’ Phrase Book

By Abigail Green

Who, besides Santa and seriously organized people, starts thinking about Christmas in July? Freelance writers. That’s because they know if they have any hope of selling a holiday-themed article, they’d better keep the magazine’s editorial calendar in mind.

Most magazines decide on their editorial line-up months or even a year or more in advance. How far ahead they work is called “lead time.” A magazine’s lead time is usually spelled out in the writers’ guidelines, and it varies greatly from publication to publication. For instance, Yankee magazine requests that seasonal topics be pitched one year in advance so photos can be arranged. The Christian Science Monitor, on the other hand, will sometimes publish a timely article the week it’s submitted.

This means that for most publications, you can’t send out a timely piece a month or even two months beforehand and hope the editor will find a slot for it. By then it’s too late–unless you’re submitting to newspapers or you’re pitching a magazine for next year. But even then, it helps to consider a publication’s lead time.

Some magazines make their editorial calendars available to writers. Hint: On a magazine’s Web site, if you can’t find the editorial calendar in the writers’ guidelines, look in the “For Advertisers” section. You might learn, for example, that a special vacation issue is planned for June and that the deadline for editorial copy is in March. Then you can fire off your “Teen Travel Tips” article at the end of February and have plenty of time to follow up with the editor. Sending the right idea–at the right time– just might make the difference between selling your story or not.

Abigail Green (www.abigailgreen.com) is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written about health, travel, weddings, business, education and more for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog: http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com/.

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