Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tips for Editors - these will make *your* lives easier!

Above: Nick van der Leek interviews 98-year-old legendary gardener [and one time freelancer] Una van der Spuy.
A top freelancer offers well meaning advice suggestions to mainstream magazine editors - by Nick van der Leek

What is the most irritating part of your our job? The wading through emails?  The waiting for emails?  The delivery failures?  Yes, yes and no.  The problem, the root of it, is inconsistent, intermittent, unclear communication. Poor communication. It wastes time, energy and emotions.  It's like a slow dial up connection.  It's a constant source of fuc frustration.  Your day is reduced to waiting and sorting out errors compounded on one another.  FTW Not fun!

Less ADD, More me-Time

One way to solve this is to speed up the entire process, like taking medication for ADD the improvements to an internet connection, and to do that you have to clear out the clutter. Clutter management is all your yes your responsibility.
Communicate what it is you require, be specific and encourage a pattern of consistent, comprehensible and usable information. Such as:

I want a 1000 piece first person present narrative on what it was like meeting Cameron van der Turd by Monday lunchtime.  All gossip, and touchy feely please, no facts this time.

A good strategy to clear away a traffic jam is to nuke the highway make sure either your channels are open or that less traffic needs to flow to and from their destinations. [See Top 10 Tips at the bottom of this post].

When it comes to email, less is more.  

Editors may not agree to this in public discourse, but one of the realities of web 2.0 and social media is the rise of the non-media, of acts of shall we say 'social media journalism' from unqualified journalists into the media milieu.  More and more conversations and media players are intruding into a place that all audiences can access. The editor is no longer the lord above all that he once was.  Sorry. The editor is however still the landlord over all the intellectual property he or she surveys.  Increasingly this job is more about access and opening the channels and letting all the conversations be seen and heard than simply fixing mistakes.

These days more and more media practitioners are also bloggers, who also perform some sort of editing function, whether it is a teenager on facebook or a grandpa on Twitter. This makes our needs even more specific when it comes to recognising what we want and don't want - whether on our walls, in our friends and followers, or in the publications we purchase.

Now, let's face it, one of the unacknowledged results of the Digital Age, where any Joe Schmo can afford a camera, or a computer [instantly becoming a potential desktop publisher], is that every now and then a journalist [gasp] slips through the cracks, and their content begins to compete with other journalists, you know, the real journalists.

Fact is, more and more content from freelancers like me is coming through.  Use it, or lose it.  In the current economy, you lose it [and the time and cost savings that come with it] at your peril.

Your Inbox - A Toil Free Zone?

Freelancers can offer customised content at a value proposition most editors find...hard to turn down.  Of course that's presuming the quality is acceptable.  The problem is a freelancer is often an unknown quantity.
If, like me, you've built up a track record, it's easier.  But either way, Editors can make their own inbox a toil free zone, and free up perhaps an extra half hour or two a week, or even a day, by following these simple steps:

1. Respond to your email.  If you don't, a freelancer like me is likely to email you either the same or a new pitch again, or both.  Respond, and you've saved yourself 33-66% of emails from freelancers right there.

2.  Don't be shy to say 'No thanks.'  A 'No thanks' is better than a no answer.

3. Say what you want, not what you don't want. Consider adding to your no thanks a response that could actually help your monthly needs.  Do you always struggle with particular content each month.  A consistent freelancer knocking on your inbox could be your go-to-guy [or gal].

4. Spread yourself over social media, and not just your own.  Consider the additional coverage and publicity of blogs, facebook and twitter, and get involved.  Ask them to market [which often is a mere mention of] your particular story/expo/subscription offer. 

5. Pay what you owe, on time.  You want regular contributions, like clockwork, on spec and on deadline, exactly the way you want it when you want it, reward those efforts without too much complaint ifs or buts or backchat.  This, we all know, works both ways.

6. Get personal but don't get too personal.  It's not easy being an editor and a nice person.  Say what's wrong simply and without the sarcasm, and consider the context, especially if a large amount of time has obviously been invested.  Writers and editors know all too well the pain of having their sensitive accrual of mental investment squandered.  Show appreciation if you can.  That sort of touch can instill a valuable loyalty, and it only requires one word to make the difference [Thanks].

7. Be open to new ideas.  So your magazine is for 20-40 year olds.  You're offered a piece you would read on a supermom with superkids.  You really think because it's not a perfect fit for your demographic it's not worth thinking about.  A more creative way of looking at it is a publication is only as good as its content.  Content sells it.  A good story is like gold.  Demographics are a guideline, but that won't keep your magazine in business for the next 20 years, good gut feel will.

8. Spot the angle. Be interested.  If you get a pitch, especially an unsual one wihere obvious thought and effort has been invested [and especially if the freelancer is particularly passionate about it], find out more.  You may never have time, but by treating a pitch on its own merits, you might actually find what you're looking for. Remember the freelancer is trying to be brief, but sometimes the best stuff gets left out of the spartan email pitch. Also, keep track of your star players. Keep 'em in the loop because if they're snoozing you're losing.

9. You're the editor remember, so edit. How often do I send pieces that are 90-95% correct.  Editors or their subs must make sure the text is salient and grammatically correct.  Give the whole piece at least one read from top to toe before signing off on it.  It's a schlep, but two pairs of eyeballs are better than one. And that's why you're the editor.  Don't make your magazine or the writer look bad because you didn't do your job.

10. Spam is spam.  There are freelancers worse than me that need to be throttled set free to do something else.  Time wasters, one hit wonders, never hit losers.  That's what your spam folder is for.  Just make sure you're not sending a potential Pulitzer into Neverneverland.

Thanks for reading this. Really. Now go and get that Latte.

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