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Be a Better Editor for Your Freelancer - 11/13/2012 -

Here are several good tips on how to set up your freelance writer for success—and help reduce the headaches on your end.

By Maureen Glasoe

A freelance writer can be an association editor’s greatest asset — or the source of missed deadlines, mediocre content, and all-around stress. So what’s the key to an editorial match made in heaven?

There are several, according to Lynn Valastyan, a managing editor at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, and Kristin Hunt, a freelance writer. The two teamed up in a presentation at Association Media & Publishing’s Chicago Education Series, "People, People, People: Strengthening Relationships for Business Success.” (Other talks focused on editors and administrative leadership, and publishers and printers.)

Tapping into their own experiences, Valastyan and Hunt shared these tips with the group:

1. Ensure the proper fit. To start out on the right foot, it’s worth investing time to find a good match. "Word of mouth tends to be the best way for editors to find writers they can trust,” Valastyan says. "LinkedIn is a good avenue for this, especially since people can list their specific skills.”

Of course, no freelancer should be hired blindly. A writer Valastyan once tried based on a recommendation didn’t work out because his interviewing style was off-putting to members. She acknowledged it would have been difficult to know that ahead of time, but she advises some sort of vetting process. "Try a new freelancer on a less visible project,” she notes. "If it doesn’t work out, or the submitted article needs lots of work, it will be easier for you to recover.”

Hunt suggests that editors look for writers who specialize in their industry. A former editor with the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Journal of Property Management, Hunt now regularly freelances for that publication. "I developed a niche in real estate and insurance,” she says. "I network in groups related to these industries, so I can connect with good leads and provide more value to my clients.”

2. Build in ample time. Valastyan suggests editors look for new writers when the pipeline is full—not when facing a tight deadline. She also advises building in wiggle room when scheduling a project. "If your piece is due Oct. 15, give the writer an Oct. 1 deadline, especially for an initial assignment,” she says.

Hunt’s advice for freelancers on this front was simple: "Don’t miss deadlines.” If a conflict arises, she adds, let your editor know immediately and propose a solution. For example, if a piece is turning out to be shorter than anticipated, suggest an information graphic or sidebar that enhances the story.

3. Select the right sources. Without solid sources, an article idea can fall flat. Ultimately, editors are responsible for providing sources, but freelancers who take the initiative to identify them on their own can set themselves apart.

This is all part of being prepared and making yourself indispensable, according to Hunt. She recommends that writers do their homework before approaching editors. "Know what a publication covers and what angles are effective,” she says. "You can save an editor hours by providing a clearly outlined story with specific, credible sources.” She says posting queries for sources on LinkedIn has been effective for her.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. As with any relationship, good communication between editor and writer can head off problems, particularly at the outset.

"Fill in a new writer up front,” Hunt says. She suggests providing a chart outlining: 1) the number of words the article should be; 2) the story angle, not just the topic; 3) the style to use (e.g., AP or Chicago) and explanation of any technical terms or industry lingo; 4) sources, as well as association members who might be helpful; 5) the approval process and how many drafts are expected; and 6) any additional notes—for example, is there a specific question you’d like the article to answer or outcome you’d like to see?

"This process can be time-consuming,” Hunt acknowledges, "but it will help everything go more smoothly.” Valastyan agrees that detailed instructions are important. "Give your freelancers the tools they need to succeed,” she says.

The speakers also stressed the importance of communication as an article develops. "As a writer pursues the story, the angle may change or a source may not pan out,” Hunt says. "Editors should be accessible in case roadblocks appear. And they should be prepared to pay more or allow for more time if the project scope expands.”

Maureen Glasoe owns Virgo Words, which provides writing and editing services for associations and nonprofits. Association Media & Publishing thanks Maureen for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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