Business Basics

As a Freelancer, How Can I Make the Editing Process Go Smoothly?

Because there will always be edits, be ready to take them on

It’s hard enough to land a freelance writing assignment, but, sometimes, a grueling editing process can be even worse. You want the process to go smoothly, but you also want to keep your work from getting walked all over. You want to stand up for language and structure that you labored over, but you also don’t want to jeopardize your relationship with the publication.

For guidance on how to make the editing process work best, we checked in with freelance editor and journo professor, Charlie Butler, who works with many of the magazine’s freelancers.

“Being a freelance writer is tough,” he says. “Of course you have to be a solid writer and reporter, but it’s also important to handle yourself in a way that makes the process collaborative.” So how do you make the process collaborative? Here are Charlie’s tips:

1. While you’re working on the article, it’s hugely important to keep your editor updated, whether by phone or email. This is particularly key if this is a new relationship; there’s a lot of anxiety—on both sides—the first time around. Most editors are in a position to offer a bit of wiggle room on a deadline as long as you give them one to two weeks’ warning. Whatever you do, don’t surprise them on the actual due date with a note saying the piece isn’t ready.

2. Follow the instructions laid out in the assignment letter. When an editor gives you specific details about what to include in the piece, make every attempt to get them. If during the reporting process you find that some of the information just doesn’t exist or you can’t track it down, contact your editor and brainstorm a solution. If you find yourself veering off track, let your editor know. If you’re having trouble getting the sources the magazine needs, see if he can help open a door and lead you down the right path. No editor wants to be surprised when the piece comes in.

3. Don’t hand in crummy copy. Know the level of writing a magazine regularly publishes, and meet it on your first attempt—or at least give it your best shot.

4. Don’t get cranky when an editor asks for additions to your original manuscript or a revision with a different spin. He knows you’re ready to move on to the next project, and he appreciates the time and effort you’ve devoted up to that point. He’s ready to move on as well, but until the article is up to snuff, you’re still the one responsible for fixes.

5. Don’t be late with a revise. By the time you’ve been through a second or third draft, there’s precious little time remaining in the production schedule for playing around. Make the changes and kick it right back.

6. Approach the process as a collaboration between you and your editor. It is not a competition, so drop your battle gear and never get defensive or emotional. Attempt to resolve all differences in a respectful manner. Remember, both of you share a common goal to produce an article of the highest quality. If you don’t like or don’t understand something your editor has done to your copy, raise the issue in a professional way.

7. During the revise phase, focus your attention on answering the specific questions your editor has asked. This is not the time to add new topics that you think might be better.

8. When your editor asks for more substance in an anecdote, or for greater depth in your reporting, don’t balk. These are reasonable requests. While it’s tempting for writers to think an editor is overreaching, it’s unlikely. Think of it this way: It’s your editor’s job to understand the idiosyncrasies of his magazine, as well as the unique preferences of its editor. Often, requests for additional reporting fall into those categories. So instead of saying, “I looked everywhere and can’t find it,” just roll up your sleeves and start digging.

9. Don’t hit your editor with a major fact-checking change in the final stages of production (i.e., close week). And even more importantly, don’t rely on the magazine’s fact checker to catch sloppy reporting.

10. And speaking of closing week, don’t be that MIA writer so many editors find annoying. You’re the primary point person for this article and the person your editor turns to for answers to last-minute questions from his bosses or the fact checkers. The night your story is shipping is not the time for a spur-of-the-moment trip to a secluded cabin out of cell-phone range.

At least not if you want to work for that mag again.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get our best career advice and job search tips.


Business Basics, Go Freelance