Understanding your editor: The other side of the email divide

what travel editors want

For those who feel a freelance writing career is more akin to wading through a swimming pool of cold molasses in a suit of armour, this post is for you.

I know one of the things that affects a freelance writer’s morale is the (non)communication of editors. You pitch, you wait, you keep waiting, and then you give up. You pitch someone else, you wait, you keep waiting… and on it goes. Pitching doesn’t feel so much like contacting editors as it does shouting into a series of deep, dark, empty tunnels.

Busy vs. cautious

The rather generous claim is that editors are so busy they simply don’t have time to respond to every failed pitch. I feel this is something of a myth, for the most part. If they have the time to read your pitch (which they do, and they did – no editor wants to miss out on a great story, even if they have to read a hundred bad ideas to get there) they should also have the 20 seconds it takes to write even a bland and generic response.

It’s more likely a strategy of psychological avoidance, I think. Put yourself in their shoes. I’ve been wearing those shoes for many years. Responding negatively to dozens of pitches a week can become a drain on your own morale, as well as the writer’s. Without wanting to glorify myself, I actually DO respond to nearly every pitch I get. When it’s not a yes however, it’s nearly always, verbatim, “Not this time, but thanks.” I do this because I was once a freelancer and understand the frustration of the pitch-and-wait game. And my tonic is to have a standard response to ideas that don’t fit, so I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

So there’s your first lesson in today’s ‘Understanding your editor’ workshop – we’re human too!

The other message you need to understand, if you’re continually frustrated by failed pitches and non-communicative editors, is that your ideas simply may not be very good, or at least may be wrong for that editor and that publication.

So what makes for a good pitch?

This is a topic close to my heart – I’m working on an ebook on exactly this subject. If you want to follow my thoughts there, get excerpts from the book and be the first to know when it’s launched, you can add your email to my mailing list here.

Editors as agents

There’s too much to go into in a single blog post (that’s why I’m writing a book!) but one point I would like to highlight, that when I mention to other freelancers gets a kind of ‘Aha!’ response, is this:

When you pitch to your editor, the line doesn’t stop there; your editor then quite often needs to pitch your idea to his or her editors and other senior personnel. It’s not a one-to-one sale, in other words. It’s rare the editor you pitch is the end of the chain. If you convince your editor, he then becomes an agent for your work, and needs to convince his own colleagues and superiors that your idea has merit.

What does a story with merit consist of? It must fit the brand’s voice and style, it must slot into the pages (and its surrounding content) seamlessly, if it’s for online it has to have a headline that could drive clicks, and content that could drive social shares, and it preferably should come from a writer, or include at least one interview subject, with experience and credentials in the topic.

Editors are not the buttoned up, detached beasts we can often seem to be. We’re just under a lot of scrutiny, just like you and your ideas are, by our own editors, and don’t want to miss a mark.

Understanding this workflow and that there’s a convoluted, corporate world on the other side of your email with its own complicated politics and fears, should at least give you a little more clarity on exactly why your pitch failed, this time.

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