Expert Assets By Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD

Freelancers who write for magazines know the importance of building and maintaining working relationships with editors. Besides archives of clips and reprints, our lists of editors’ names, needs and preferences may be our greatest business asset. In my experience, cultivating relationships with expert sources is equally fruitful.

On more than one occasion, I’ve stumbled on a new topic or angle, or been offered advanced access to an expert’s forthcoming work as a result of our prior work together. Sometimes that work took place in a completely different context.

When the presenter of a session on the topic of “writing a non-fiction book proposal” at last year’s Philadelphia Writer’s Conference described her most recent book, I immediately recognized the topic would be a great fit for Military Spouse magazine, one of my regular customers. Within weeks I’d written a quick query, landed the assignment, and completed the article.

At the end of an interview on seasonal depression, a psychiatrist I interviewed asked which other publications I write for. My response prompted him to describe some new and exciting research on Transcendental Meditation and what I learned resulted in another lucrative assignment with a different editor.

Sources frequently tell me I ask great questions and they enjoyed our conversation. Sometimes, they tell me their interviews with other journalists are boring or superficial. As a personality psychologist and former university professor, I realize my specialized knowledge helps me ask deeper, more nuanced questions than a journalist without my background might ask. But I think the secret to my success with expert sources can be recreated by other freelancers.

Approach the interview preparation process with a genuine desire to learn. Ask questions designed to provoke a conversation, not just a sound bite. End with something along the lines of “which of your current projects are most exciting or promising?” Curiosity is contagious, and experts love to talk about their work wi’s th people who are engaged and engaging.

Yes, you’ll have to do your homework. Yes, the interview will probably last longer. And yes, the transcripts will be more complex. But you’ll likely enjoy the interaction more and find yourself with several additional ideas (maybe even commitments) for future collaboration when it ends. That’s working smarter, not harder.

Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a personality psychologist turned full-time freelancer whose work has appeared in more than 70 magazines, including Parents, Pregnancy & Newborn, Costco Connection and Arthritis Today. She’s a regular contributor to Military Spouse magazine and Heidi shares life lessons from the science of psychology at

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