The Renegade Writer

How to Build a Relationship with an Editor That Will Net You More Assignments

Handwritten text and red heartIt can seem strange to talk about building relationships with an editor…I mean, they hire you, you do good work, and they hire you again, right? But editors are more likely to hire writers they personally like, and those who act professionally. They’ll look at your queries more quickly, and may add you to their stables of writers they go to with assignments they generate in-house.

You can start building a relationship with an editor before you even start working with her, and the relationship building spans through your working relationship and even after you’ve completed an assignment.

Here’s how to become one of those writers that editors really want to work with.

Before the Assignment

You’re pitching an editor and she sends you a nice rejection. Guess what? That’s the start of a relationship. If you nurture that relationship, you’re more likely to get an assignment in the future.

Don’t Be a Freak

One important tip for how to relate to an editor before you get an assignment is not to be a freak. By that, I mean, don’t stalk an editor, and don’t whine. Everyone says they would never do that and that they act with the utmost professionalism, but then why do editors tell me stories of writers who e-mail or call them every day to follow up on a query, and who freak out when they get a rejection?

It even happened to me: Recently a writer asked me a favor, and she e-mailed twice and left four hang-up messages in two days.

Be cool. Give it a couple of weeks before following up. If an editor rejects your story, don’t try to talk her out of it — unless you think she misunderstood some major part of your pitch — just say thank you and move on.

Writers have a reputation for being over-the-top and emotional, so let’s change that! You can’t let your eagerness to write for a magazine come across as desperation…no one wants to build a relationship with a writer who seems desperate.

Do Your Homework

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Put forth your best work. Get the editor’s name right. If you can’t tell if an editor is a male or female, call the magazine after hours and use the dial by name directory to hear the editor’s voicemail message. Don’t just use spell check, which can miss typos…proofread your letter or query before sending.

Make a Connection

If you have anything in common with the editor, bring it up. For example, if you used to write for a magazine she used to work for, mention this. If you found out that she went to your college, that’s something to talk about. If she wrote an article on a topic that you happen to have expertise in, mention that.

Touch Base

If you send a letter of intro or a query and the editor says he’ll keep your info on file, touch base every few months just to update him on your professional activities and offer to send more recent clips.

Send News

If you run into some information that you think would be of interest to an editor, even if you don’t want to pitch it as an article, send it along. You can do this both with editors you haven’t worked with yet, and those you do write for.

During the Assignment

When you’re working on an assignment for an editor, you can build your relationship — or ruin it. I hear plenty of scary stories from editors, so I’ve put together a list of things you can do to build a positive relationship with your assigning editors.

Head off Deadline Crunches

Let your editor know if you run into difficulties with your article, and do it early. For example, I had three weeks to do an assignment for a custom publication, but one week in I wasn’t hearing back from any of the sources they wanted. I let my editor know then, instead of waiting until the last minute when it’s too late to do anything about it. She gave me some alternate sources to try, and all went well.

You should tell your editor if you know you’re going to miss your deadline, even by a day. For example, occasionally I get sick in the middle of an assignment and it throws off my whole schedule. Rather than waiting until crunch time, I write to my editor early on and ask if I cab have an extra few days for the assignment. I’ve never had a problem.

Stay in Touch

But also keep in touch with GOOD things. For example, let your editor know all is going well with an assignment. I used to write for a martial arts custom pub, and they gave me an assignment that required me to talk to certain hard-to-reach people in their organization. When I had my interviews set with all these sources, I e-mailed my editor to let her know that I was all set, so she could stop holding her breath!

After the Assignment

Just because your assignment is over doesn’t mean you stop building a relationship with your editor. There are ways to keep in touch.

Say Thanks

I always thank my editors for assignments, and when I get a copy of the magazine I write again to thank her for doing such a great job on my article. There’s always something good to say — for example, they may have used some really great artwork, or your editor may have tweaked your lede and made it much better. Editors like to be appreciated as much as writers do!

Keep Them Updated

Whenever you have a new phone number or e-mail address or any other change, that’s a chance to get in touch with your editors. When I started renting an outside office, I wrote to all my editors — even those I hadn’t worked with in a while — to give them my new address. And when I sublet the office because I ended up never using it, I wrote to them again! Another reason to contact your editors is to let them know you’re going on vacation and won’t be available for assignments until date X.

Finally, I just send touching-base e-mails every few months even if I didn’t have a reason. I let my editors know what I’d been doing and ask them if there’s anything I can do for them.

Connect on Social Media

Editors I interviewed for a blog post a while back agreed that following them on Twitter was fine, but friending them on Facebook was not so good — though if the magazine itself is on Facebook, you can follow that.

Make sure you’re on friendly, not distant terms with your editor before following. And remember if they follow you back, so you won’t accidentally post something too personal or something negative about an editor or an assignment. Keep your posts positive and be sure to include updates on what you’re working on.

Send Cards

I always send holiday cards to my editors. To make them stand out, I order nice cards with cut-outs or other fancy features from the Museum of Modern Art. I get them out early in December to beat the rush. And I’ve heard of other writers avoiding the rush altogether by skipping the Christmas cards and sending cards for other holidays instead, such as Thanksgiving.

Be Gifty

Some writers send holiday gifts to their editors. Food is always appreciated, and other ideas include funky office supplies and gift cards for local coffee shops. Just don’t go over $25, because sometimes magazines have rules about how much employees can accept as gifts. And you don’t have to send gifts to all your editors — just the ones who gave you the most work.

I don’t send holiday gifts, but I have sent gifts for other reasons. For example, on the tenth anniversary of my first published article, I sent my editor and his staff a big box of brownies from Fairytale Brownies. When I did my taxes one year and noticed that Family Circle accounted for the majority of my income, I sent my editor a Starbucks gift card. And when an editor of mine was promoted to editor-in-chief, I sent her a magnetic poetry kit with a stand so she could use it on her desk.

Remember, Editors Are People Too

Writers often e-mail me and say, “The editor said X, what should I say back?” or “How do I explain that my clips are old because I took time off to raise my kid?” Here’s the thing: Editors are people, too. They’re not looking to catch you in a gotcha moment. They understand that people make mistakes, and that people take time off, and so on. You can often just come clean with them.

Here’s an example: Writers often ask what to say when they try to sell a killed article to another magazine. Should they let the editor know the article’s history? Here’s how I handled it: When my first narrative-style profile was killed when the assigning magazine went under, I sent the completed profile out to other business magazines. When I did that, I came clean: I told the editors that my article had been killed and that I really wanted to find a home for it, and that I could rework it as needed for the magazine I was pitching. I ended up selling the piece as a short to Inc. No editor was angry or insulted. One of them even added my e-mail address to her list of writers that she sent e-mails to when she was looking for pitches.

When you’re not sure how to respond to an editor, apply the Golden Rule: If you were an editor, how would you react to possibilities X, Y, and Z?

Your challenge: Think about how you can start building solid relationships with your editors at all stages of the assignment process!

Like this post? This was one of my recent Monday Motivations for Writers emails. To get advice like this in your inbox every Monday, and snag two free e-books as well, join my mailing list!

Feb 16, 2014 Advice, Editors, Marketing

6 Responses

  1. Lauren Tharp says:

    Hooray! I’m so happy to see this on here. I was one of the people that wrote in asking how I could share this EXCELLENT “Monday Motivation” with my followers. :D

    Thank you so much for turning it into a post. I recently wrote a similar article on my site – – but the information bears repeating again and again. You’re the best, Linda. Keep up the great work!

  2. The ‘Be Gifty’ tip is a great one, as I have done something similar in the past. Nothing extravagant, just small tasteful items.

    Also if you know what your editors main hobbies are, you can tailor make the present just for them. So for example if your editor enjoys fishing, you can send them a small fishing ‘fly’.

  3. Linda, excellent tips! I wouldn’t have thought to send out the updates on my vacation dates or what I’ve been doing recently to editors I’ve worked with, but it’s a good idea. Two questions:

    1. Would you do this to editors who have only assigned to you once in the past year?

    2. How often would you send updates (quarterly? twice a year?)?

    FYI, I just did your deadline tip last week. I had an assignment due by Friday. I was really crunched as a moonlighting freelance writer (I got back from the trip I was supposed to write about Sunday evening and my deadline for three writing assignments was Friday). I simply emailed the editor on Wednesday asking if 8 a.m. Monday would be okay to turn the story in so I would have the weekend. I didn’t want to cause any inconvenience to the editorial team, but figured they most likely wouldn’t get to my assignment until the following week anyway. She said, “no problem” and I gained much needed time. In the future, I’ll negotiate the time frame for assignments from them to include at least one weekend!

  4. Ilka says:

    Hi Linda!

    Brilliant post. Thank you so much! These are all great tips, and a lot of them I wouldn’t have thought of. I can truly see how important it is not to annoy an editor if you want a long lasting relationship ;-)

    Thank you, Ilka

  5. Zachary Costas says:

    I really enjoyed what you said regarding being patient with editors. A friend and I were discussing this exact same issue over coffee the other day. In recent weeks he has been flooded with e-mails from the same 4 prospective writers. Patience is a virtue, and showing it does reflect professionalism and a lack of desperation. You represented some great advice in this article, and I appreciate that!

    One of my recent blog posts tackles the issue of the establishment of trust, and how that leads to more consistent writing work. If anyone would like to read it, you can find it at the following link:

    Thank you for this informative site!


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