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Selling Yourself With Your First Sale
by Jessica Solomon
You've finally done it! After a million and two
queries, you've had one accepted. Well, now what? You could just write the story
and turn it in, but why not use your first sale to sell yourself? I'm talking
about providing your editor with the extras that make your manuscript and your
professionalism stand out from the rest.
Editors are extremely busy and overworked. Any
extra help writers can give them is greatly appreciated. And sometimes, editors
don't even know what sort of help they can use until it's actually given. So
what can you do? Follow these 4 basic steps:
1. Communicate with your editor
Often, when writers have a query accepted,
they dive right into the research, choose their own direction for the story,
write it, and then turn it in. There's no communication with their editor
along the way. The best approach is a solid communication plan right from the
start. That means touching base with your editor (either via phone or e-mail)
as soon as the query is accepted and volunteering to give her updates of your
progress. Tell her when you expect to have your preliminary research done and
that you'll send her a brief outline to make sure you're both on the same
wavelength. Don't wait for her to ask about your progress; be proactive. If
there hasn't been regular communication, an editor might not know until it's
too late whether you've gone in the direction she wanted. She may go ahead and
use your article this time, but you can bet she won't come back.
It's also important to be up from in your
communication, says Deborah Douglas, editor of healthfile magazine.
"Believe it or not, it's OK to be late for a story," she says. "You just have
to keep your editor abreast of what's going on so she's not surprised. ...
Good editors can deal with schedule changes with the right amount of
information. If I know lateness is going to make a story better (a conference
is coming up, a great source will be back in the country), I appreciate the
Of course, don't bombard your editor with
questions every other day. Editors have different working styles, so you
should take your cues from them.
2. Be a slave to technology.
Yes, we all have e-mail, but you'd be
surprised how many writers don't check it regularly (at least three times a
day) or don't know how to use it properly. "Every once in a while, you happen
upon a very good writer who doesn't have his or her technology stuff together,
and it's an issue," Douglas says. "They need to have e-mail, and the e-mail
needs to work."
And when turning in your story, submit it in a
variety of formats. If you're turning it in via e-mail, pop a disk in the mail
with the text saved in a couple of formats, as well as a hard-copy version.
Even if your editor doesn't end up needing it, she'll appreciate your
3. Make your editor's job easier.
All you've been told to do is write a story,
but there's so much more that the editor has to do before the article makes it
to print (or the Web, as the case may be). And there never seems to be enough
time. Why not include a few headline suggestions with your article? Your
editor may not end up using them, but they could spark another idea. Or, you
could include an optional sidebar that wasn't requested. Stories and art fall
through regularly, so editors never know when they might need some filler
copy. Not only will your editor appreciate the extra effort, but you may also
make a couple of extra dollars out of it.
4. Follow up.
Your job doesn't end when you submit the
story. Be sure to call or send an e-mail a couple of days after you turn it in
to make sure everything was OK. Volunteer to fix any problems your editor may
have with the finished piece-before she mentions whether or not there were
any. And after you receive a copy of the piece, send a thank-you note (the
hard-copy kind), and let the editor know what you thought of the final
It's the little things that will leave a good
impression in an editor's mind and keep her coming back. When an editor's in a
bind, she looks to the writer who can give her those extras; make sure that
writer is you.
© Copyright 1999, Jessica Solomon
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