At Hammock, we have a talented staff of writers and editors who contribute to the print and media we produce for clients, but we also rely on a network of amazing freelance and contract creators to help us tell our clients’ stories. What does it take for a freelancer to catch our eye? We asked Hammock editors to share their thoughts on the topic. Check out the Q & A below for tips on writing winning queries, impressing editors and building ongoing relationships with publications.
Q: How do editors like to be approached?
A: Most editors prefer to be contacted via email, at least initially. Along with your query and a note of introduction, be sure to include your resume and a few clips to demonstrate your writing style. If you have a Web site, that’s even better because editors can just go to one link to get the information they need. “If a writer calls, that’s OK, but I will ask for a resume and clips, or the link to them anyway,” Semper Fi editor Bill Hudgins says. “An email with the complete package saves me and the freelancer some time.” If you choose to call, keep the conversation brief and polite. It’s OK to follow up if you fear that your query has gotten lost in an editor’s inbox. Summer Huggins, editor for the Business Resources section of NFIB.com, prefers follow-up phone calls because “I get so many unsolicited emails that an email I don’t have my eyes open for might get lost,” she says. After talking with a freelancer, “an email from there to check the fit is the natural next step,” she says. Keep in mind, though, that you may have to wait a few weeks to get an answer to your query.
* Bonus tip: Though a query should showcase your writing skills, keep it as short and succinct as possible. “One of my freelancers does what I think every freelancer should do: He sends an e-mail every couple of months with five quick ideas,” MyBusiness editor Lena Anthony says. “It’s nothing too detailed, just enough to give me an idea of what he’s thinking. The fact that I get five ideas makes me more likely to choose one.”
Q: What makes a query stand out?
A: Editors get so many queries it’s hard to find time to look through them all. So, how do you make sure yours gets read? For starters, proofread for any egregious spelling or grammar errors. “Nothing gets an email deleted faster than someone who misspells my name,” Summer says. Secondly, show that you have done your research. Request a sample copy of the magazine or some articles beforehand to get a feel for the style and voice. “I like it when I get the feeling a potential writer has spent some time on [NFIB.com] and is familiar with what is there,” Summer says. She also appreciates writers who pitch ideas from the start. “I respond much better to ‘I was thinking about an article on the benefits of XYZ’ than ‘What can I do for you right now?'” Not only should a query fit the publication, it should also present a unique story angle, Bill says. Avoid anything too broad (we call them “category killers”). For topics that get written about often, focus on a little-known event or person. Line up your most interesting source before writing your pitch so you have colorful anecdotes to use.
* Bonus tip: When submitting an article, include a source list with contact info and links to any studies or research cited. Not only does this help editors with fact-checking, it also gives them a quick, easy way to track down information. Other ways to impress? Do as much fact checking on your own as possible—and don’t complain when getting an article back for a little editing. Revisions are part of the process, so be grateful for the opportunity to improve your work. Got extra info that won’t fit into the article? Offer to write a sidebar or blurb.
Q: What do editors expect from freelancers—and what can you do to exceed their expectations?
A: Probably the most important (and easiest) thing you can do to impress an editor is to meet your deadline. If you run into a delay because you can’t get in touch with a source or a last-minute conflict arises, let him or her know what’s going on and how soon you can complete the article. “For the first assignment, I like writers to keep me apprised of the progress,” Bill says. He encourages his freelancers to call to “discuss a new thought or approach, or to relate a fact that might make a sidebar or some other addition to the story.” You don’t want an editor to hold your hand through an assignment, but it’s better to ask questions and clarify expectations up front rather than turn in a piece that doesn’t measure up. What do editors look for in submissions? A few on our short list include: a great lead, good imagery, a strong narrative flow, and transitions between paragraphs and sections. Also, “writers who can work some humor or irony into a piece get extra brownie points,” Bill says. Lena appreciates “getting articles that are already formatted in an interesting, easy-to-read way. Also, headline ideas are huge … it bothers me when I don’t get one (which is often).” Save editors extra work by keeping grammatical errors to a minimum and sticking as close to the word count as possible.
Q: How do you build relationships with editors—the kind that will have them contacting you instead of you contacting them?
A: Editors have stories that need to be written all the time, but they probably won’t come to you with those assignments until you have proven yourself to them. It isn’t hard to get in their corner, though. All you have to do is be dependable, turn in well-written, interesting articles and know how to communicate well via phone and email. As you build a reputation with editors for quality work, they may be willing to push higher-paying jobs to you because they know they’re getting their money’s worth. “The best way for a writer to build a relationship with me is to wow me with their submission,” Lena says. “Turn in a flawless article, and you’re my go-to writer, especially if it’s an assignment with a quick turnaround or a big feature.” Bill keeps “writers who come up with good ideas and who share things with me that may be of interest, such as news stories about a topic” on his short list. Staying on the lookout for ideas and sending them as often as possible (along with bits of research, fast facts or other quick links) will also keep your name at the top of an editor’s list.