Become Your Editors’ Life Preserver – Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Bad things happen to good people, including good editors. Sometimes they’re faced with a hole in the periodical’s layout when the deadline to go to print looms. Your story can save the day if you’re the editor’s go-to writer and they’ll likely return the favor to you.

You may get a higher payment. The editor of a business publication for which I regularly write desperately wanted an article within a week, not the usual lead time of six to eight weeks from assignment to deadline. Since the editor knew I am willing and capable of turning around a piece quickly, the article was assigned to me and I received a bigger fee because I had to drop everything else and pursue that article immediately to make it happen.

A grateful editor may send you more work. After occasionally writing for a particular trade publication, I received a phone call from the editor requesting a sidebar within two weeks, not the normal three months. The volume of assignments for the magazine increased substantially after I proved my dedication to help an editor in need.

A different trade magazine editor had been giving me regular assignments with a two-month lead time. But when a story from another writer fizzled out, she emailed me with a plea for help. After I came through, she asked if I would be interested in writing for two sister periodicals printed by the same publisher. I ended up writing monthly articles for all three magazines.

An editor may give you larger, more prominent assignments. Many times, I have written a short article or sidebar on a tight deadline for a trade or consumer magazine and have found that the next time, instead of a small piece, the editor assigned me a full-length feature. Of course, the higher the word count, the bigger the fee.

To get on your editors’ speed dial, keep your name in front of them. If you write for an editor just a few times a year, he might forget about you when he’s racking his brain for who can help him. Query a story at least once a month.

For editors who use your work frequently, you must master the basics before they’ll ask you to go the second mile. Consistently hand in solid articles that need few changes so that when time is tight, the editors can count on you to provide copy that’s nearly (if not completely) ready to go. An occasional typo is not as bad as articles that require substantial rewriting, such as those that lack substance, use convoluted logic, sound hackneyed or miss the periodical’s tone and style.

Make your editors work as little as possible. If it makes their jobs easier, provide art, note sources’ contact information, and stick with the formatting they like (usually plain formatting). Paying attention to many little things can add up to lots of time savings.

Always make your deadlines. If possible, hand in articles early to demonstrate you can turn stories around in a jiffy.

Avoid coming off as a prima donna. Editors edit. Publishing is a business, not a calling inspired by the muse. Unless an editor mistaken about a proven, verifiable fact, their judgment on your work should trump yours. If you are too sensitive to edits or constantly submit revisions after you’ve handed in articles, it’s unlikely editors will call on you when they’re in need.

Once you establish yourself as a writer editors can count on, tell them you don’t mind last-minute assignments. Many times, my editors sound pleasantly surprised that I am willing to write without much lead time. Since most of my regular work appears in weekly or monthly publications, I can honestly say I can manage to squeeze in a last-minute assignment.

I make note of eager, available interview contacts and a bookmark informative websites so I can crank out articles more quickly. I also keep a few files of stock interview questions such as for “business profile” or “consumer service piece” that include the basic questions pertinent to that type of article. This shaves many minutes off the time it takes to shape a piece.

Ideally, a huge lead time can let you dig into a subject and allow extra time to polish the story. But writing “emergency” articles can be good for your writing career. And with the benefits available, it’s worth it.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant has been freelance writing as her full-time career since 2000. She has completed more than 3,000 paid projects, including magazine and newspaper articles, press releases and marketing materials, web copy and resumes. Visit her online at