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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 regularly.

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 candid communication."

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 thoroughness.

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 product.

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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