An Open Letter to Editors from Your Freelance Writers

November 29, 2016 Erin Ollila

freelance writers

It’s Tuesday evening, and instead of being at your local watering hole competing in trivia with your closest friends, you’re at home struggling through a post that was assigned to you on a tighter-than-usual deadline from an editor who doesn’t seem to have much regard for his freelance writers’ time. However, you can’t really be sure that your editor disregards your time, because, to be honest, he rarely ever talks with you—so you’re just making an assumption.

trivia night for freelancers

You promised your team you wouldn’t ditch trivia yet again, but you can’t live up to your word. You’re frustrated—with yourself, your work situation, and even your editor—and your feelings are getting in the way of your thought process. You’d much rather be procrastinating right now (Hello, Facebook!) so you’re struggling harder than ever to finish your work. The assignment summary is vague. You’re grasping at straws as to what the editor wants, and it’s not as if you can call him at 9:00 pm to check, even though you probably wouldn’t call him during the day, either. So, you stay mum and try to figure it out on your own.

You know that no matter what, you’ll complete the work, turn it in, and your editor will work his magic on it. The article will get published, looking mostly close to your original draft, and you’ll—hopefully—get more work assigned to you at some point. (The key word being hopefully.)

For many freelancer writers, this situation is all too familiar. You’re always pitting your personal and professional lives against each other as deadlines vary and work comes in unexpectedly. And, like many freelancers, you probably have a running conversation going on—in your own head, of course—with your editor. It takes place in your head because you’re worried your questions, concerns, or comments will be taken as complaints, or you’ll be marked as a “needy” freelancer. So, instead, you avoid communications altogether and try to figure it out on your own.

But, what good is that doing anyone? To be honest, none. Without an honest dialogue, neither editors nor freelancers can become better at what they do—which can lead to wasted time, lower-quality content, and an ultimately dismal future.

So, on behalf of freelancers everywhere, I’ve written this note:

Dear Editors,

I don’t know how to say this. I really don’t. It’s just that, well, you’re not so easy to approach. This isn’t to say you aren’t personable, it’s just that you make us nervous, and there’s just a lot we want to talk with you about. We don’t know how to start a conversation with you, because it’s important to us that you view us in a positive light. We’re nervous that if we ask too many questions, you’ll grow frustrated with us, and in turn, we’ll get less work over time. However, it’s just as important to us that we build a relationship with you in which we feel comfortable approaching you with our thoughts. Here are three of our biggest concerns that we’re often too anxious to come right out and admit.

1. There’s Too Much Pressure On Our Schedules

Deadlines are the worst—for you and for us. There are too many factors that affect due dates, such as the writer’s schedule, the time it takes an editor to edit, and the expected date of publication. All are moving pieces that aren’t easy to control. We understand this, but please keep in mind that you’re probably not the only person working with our words. We write for multiple clients at a time, and all our editors want work written quickly and well. Editors have complete control over deadlines, and we’re at your mercy.

Writer Maria Marmanides said, “I get a lot of pressure from editors with quick deadlines and not a lot of information. Just a quick note that says, ‘Any new pitches? I would love some articles up by tomorrow or the next day!’ Then, I’m scrambling to brainstorm ideas and churn out copy in not a lot of time. I know editors are busy, but sometimes I feel like a content generating machine versus being appreciated for my writing craft.”

Do you want a content machine? Of course not. You want a qualified thought leader who has the time to research, ruminate, draft, edit, and feel confident in their completed work when they turn it in to you. The more effort your writers put into their writing, the less time you’ll spend editing it. So, first, value our process by giving us ample time to complete the work. We’re happy to reprioritize our schedule if you need something rushed, but a rush job needs to be an exception, and not the norm.

2. We Don’t Consistently Get the Feedback We Need

Are you ever annoyed with our content? Maybe we’re consistently using a comma in the wrong place or writing in passive voice. It could be that we’re forgetting a call to action or using sentence case instead of title case in our subheads. You’re not doing us—or yourself—any favors by keeping quiet about these edits. If we don’t know the errors we’re making, we’re going to consistently keep making them. Similarly, if you don’t tell us whether we’re living up to your expectations, we’ll never be able to meet them.

Marmanides noted, “After submitting an article to my editor, I would often say that I’d be happy to fix anything that needs to be changed, or to let me know if she had any feedback in general. And often times, I wouldn’t know how she felt about the article until I saw that it had gone live. So I could only assume I was doing a good job, but I never really knew if I was completely hitting the mark. This made me feel both nervous and frustrated. Nervous that maybe she really didn’t like what I had written, but simultaneously frustrated because I would be more than willing to make it right. It created a feeling that I was not doing my best to maintain our working relationship.”

The only way to avoid situations like this with your freelance writers is to be the person who builds the respectful, trustworthy relationship. Editors often have more control in a relationship than writers simply because you are the one in control of the money. Share your feedback to start conversation and take the time to regularly ask your writers if they have anything to discuss with you, as well. Marmanides agrees, “In general, open lines of communication work best, particularly to help inform the kind of content they want to see, or even if they want a particular tone or style. I’m always willing—and always wanted—to experiment if they’re open to it.”

3. We Aren’t Always Sure What’s Working

I know from my days as a managing editor that writers often perform better when you share positive information with them. If an article was performing well or I enjoyed the direction they took with the assignment, I tried to remember to reach out and let them know. Now, as I switch roles, I understand how vital the positive nudges editors give you can be. Freelance writers are regularly asked for revisions. This doesn’t mean your work is bad. Sometimes, the client needs a point to be a little more vague or specific. Or, the editor forgot to ask you to add an angle. And, while we know this is par for the course, revision requests can often be discouraging, especially when it’s paired with no little (or no) feedback. So, when we get a quick note that our newest article was “super engaging” or “the analytics for the last post are impressive,” we hold on to those nuggets of kindness for dear life.

Marmanides had this experience: “I worked for a start-up as a freelancer writing articles, reviews, and blog posts. The company was new, about a year in. The best news I got was when the editor contacted me to say that several of my recent articles had the highest click-through and share rates ever on their social media pages. That felt great to know that even though I was not a company employee, I was still part of helping build their brand up and be a small part of their success story.”

freelance writers need a sunshine file

This year I made it a goal to collect positive feedback I received from my writing network, and save it for the tough writing days when I felt like I was the worst writer in the world. I call it my “Sunshine File,” and it has completely changed the way I work. When I start to doubt myself, I double-click on that folder and read the kind words my editors and peers share with me. Long gone are the days of wallowing in self pity. Now, I simply scan through my notes and hop right back into whatever article I was working on. So, the next time you find yourself thinking, “This writer is such an easy person to edit. Her content is always so clean,” tell her! It only takes a moment out of your time to send a few sentence email, but it will mean so much to your writers.

Oh, and there’s one more thing we want you to know, editors: Thank you for trusting us to write your content. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to work with you, and we hope for a long, continuous relationship.

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