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How to Get Assignments from an Editor
by Susan Denney

Do you ever wish you had a crystal ball? Getting assignments would be easy if you knew exactly what a certain editor was looking for. Gazing into your crystal ball, you see that she is looking for an article about pickle manufacturing. You write a query about your friend who makes gherkins and quicker than you can say “abracadabra,” you’ve got the assignment.

Well, magic lives only in books. But having a crystal ball is not the only way to know what an editor wants. Sending out queries is not the only way to get an assignment. In fact, you can avoid the query process altogether. If you had already developed a professional relationship with that certain editor who was interested in pickles, she might have called on you to write that article. Having an editor contact you and ask you for a piece is the easiest and most satisfying road to publishing I can think of. It was a thrill the first time an editor asked me for an article. It feels great to be trusted with a project.

Here’s how I’ve developed relationships with editors. There’s no magic involved. In fact, it just boils down to a few steps. All the editors in my life want exactly the same things from their writers.

The hardest part comes first. You must break into a magazine. I won’t go into that process as there are plenty of articles and books about how you do that. Building a relationship with an editor comes after you’ve gotten that first assignment.

Once you’ve gotten an assignment, you should do your very best work. Submitting clean, well-written copy on or even before the deadline is the second step in your process. It is not an editor’s job to copy edit your work. It is not his or her job to make your article match the style or slant of the magazine. That’s your job. His or her job is to gather content and create a magazine. Your job is to turn in a story as perfect as you can make it, a story that the editor can use with few or no changes. If the editor does request some changes, your job is also to be cooperative. Put yourself in the editor’s shoes. If you were the editor, what kind of writer would you call on if you needed an article?

The next step is to publish more articles in the same magazine. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It is unlikely that an editor would call on a writer who has only written once for a magazine. Getting a second article published is usually a lot easier than the first. Keep writing your best stuff and proving to the editor that you can do what he or she asks. After several successful articles, that editor will know that you are a committed and responsible person and a good writer. 

As you are writing these articles, the editor may give you a telephone number and a request that you call him or her if you have questions. If a legitimate question comes up while you are preparing the article, don’t be shy. You should absolutely call the editor. It is often much easier and quicker for an editor to talk to you directly than to play email tag with you. I think it’s a good thing if an editor can hear your hearty Irish brogue or your authentic Southern drawl. You have become a real person to the editor who speaks with you on the phone. Editors do not have time for chitchat and will not appreciate it if you waste their time, but they are real people who will be able to tell if you are really excited about writing for their magazine.

After you have proven yourself to the editor, you can begin to use your best people skills to convey messages like these as you communicate with them by phone or by email:

  • I’d really like to write for your magazine again.

  • I live in Saskatchewan. If you’re ever looking for a story about Saskatchewan, I’d love to write it for you.

  • I’m an expert on crop dusting. Would you ever be interested in a query on that topic?

  • I like learning about new things and I’m available for assignments.

  • I have a few ideas for future articles. If you have a couple of minutes, I’d like to run them by you.

These kinds of brief messages have worked for me and they can work for you. The main thing is to listen carefully to everything an editor says to you. Then respond with tact.

If you can become the kind of writer who builds relationships with editors, I gaze into my crystal ball and see many assignments in your future.

© Copyright 2009, Susan Denney

Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published childrenÂ’s fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.

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