There are some things editors are tired of hearing.
Like that a staff writing candidate “can research and write articles in a timely manner.”
They already assume you can do this. Otherwise, why would you be applying for a writing job?
You’re not “wrong” to mention it. But you kind of don’t need to.
As a former editor and someone who works under several daily, I know what they expect — not just in day-to-day communications as part of a job or project, but from the moment you first reach out to them in a pitch email or cover letter. You have to demonstrate you’re skilled from the very beginning — not just in the way you write, but in the way you operate as a writer.
Allow me to share my wisdom with you. Because I want you to be able to write the things you want to write and get paid for it like I do.
For the purposes of this pst, we’ll focus on the skill set typically expected specifically of writers pitching to magazines, blogs, or websites, or applying for freelancing or other content writing jobs. But there’s still plenty of overlap — this could apply to any kind of writing job, such as working with an agent or publisher.
Exceptional communication with an editor via email typically means:
- You respond to messages quickly and clearly
- You keep your correspondence short but purposeful
- You provide information such as when an editor can expect a sample article
- You ask questions and clarify instructions given in an email
- You remain professional, yet casual.
Your ability to communicate — or lack thereof — becomes apparent the first time an editor comes into contact with you, whether it’s through an email, in person, or through a piece of writing they see of yours before any formal contact has been made. Make it count.
2. Time management
An editor generally expects a writer to demonstrate good time management like this:
- You start assignments early enough to give you time to ask questions — and an editor time to answer them
- You leave yourself enough time to self-edit and fact-check
- You maintain communications with sources and respect their time
- You turn your own work in one time, preferably early
- You allow plenty of time for back-and-forth, revisions, and rewrites per an editor’s request without delaying the publishing schedule.
Unacceptable behaviors include saying you’re going to turn something in on time, but failing to do so; always contacting an editor with pressing questions the day of a deadline; treating deadlines as flexible dates when they are anything but. Show an editor you are ALWAYS dependable.
As an adaptable writer, you must prove to an editor:
- You can shift assignments around to prioritize trending or more time-sensitive requests when and without being asked
- You are OK with having an assignment queue that could change drastically at any time.
- You adhere to publishing guidelines as they change — and they will change frequently
- You can tackle last-minute assignments in a timely manner
- You demonstrate flexibility without complaint, but bring up concerns if it hinders your productivity.
In the world of online publishing, assume everything is unpredictable and fluid. In the year I’ve worked at a media company, the process we maintain of completing and submitting our work has changed no less than five times. If you can’t prove you’re flexible, you won’t last long.
Good problem-solving skills, from an editor’s perspective, mean:
- You do everything you know to do to solve a problem on your own before consulting an editor
- You operate with a “there could be a better way” mindset
- You work well under pressure (as well as most of us can, anyway)
- You tackle problems early and exhaust all possible efforts to resolve them quickly
- You proactively come up with ways to solve issues before they become real problems.
An editor is not a babysitter, and if you have a good one, they will deliberately avoid micro-managing you. Assume you are on your own. Obviously if you have questions, need something clarified, or there’s a real problem you can’t fix, your editor is usually the person to reach out to. But there’s a reason freelancers, for example, are considered “independent” contractors.
A creative writer is more than a good storyteller. Editors look for creativity in the following ways:
- You stick to a set of guidelines, but apply your own voice and style to your work
- You formulate headline ideas on topics that have been done before, with a twist
- You don’t hesitate to bring up new ideas, even if they might get turned down or ignored
- You work well in an environment that encourages independent thought (within reason)
- You know when it’s appropriate to veer from the norm and when it’s necessary to stick to the script.
Creative writers often assume their creativity applies exclusively to their work — can I write a story with a good angle or twist? Can I maintain the element of surprise without being deceitful? But creativity also applies to every work culture and environment you encounter. You have to be willing to think creatively, share your ideas, and have the courage to go “out there.” There’s a time for sticking to the rules. And there are plenty of times in which it’s a good idea to break them.
Your editor will assume you can do all these things. But you also need to prove you can — whether you’re submitting a sample article as part of a job “interview” process or you’ve just started a brand-new staff writing job. If you go into anything with these skills already nailed down, you’ll go far. Trust me.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.