Freelancing From Both Sides: An editor-turned-writer on having your narrative published

By Lorrie Lykins

Jim Collins
Jim Collins
I figured this session would be packed with battle weary freelancers in search of a revelatory bolt from the heavens, or at least some insider info on how to successfully pitch narratives. But Jim Collins, journalist and former editor of Yankee Magazine, conducted a relaxed discussion that was interactive from start to finish with an audience that held as many editors as freelancers. And the editors were eager to share their experiences and preferences when it comes to how they prefer to be approached with story ideas.

The following points may sound like plain old common sense. But the editors agreed it’s amazing how often freelancers (and other writers) forget that, in the end, it’s all about the writing (Jim’s suggestion for the unofficial subtitle of the conference)—and a little attention to detail doesn’t hurt either.

  • Query via hardcopy. Most editors want to see it in writing. This is your first chance to begin a conversation with an editor, and voice comes across loud and clear in a query. Skip the e-mail unless you’ve already established a dialogue.
  • A follow-up e-mail is fine, but stay off the phone. Calling an editor who is up against deadline is no way to score points.
  • If you have a solid clip you’re proud of, include it with your query, but forget sending stacks of your most riveting clips – they just don’t have the time to read everything, even if it’s your personal “best of…” and Pulitzer worthy.
  • A good cover letter is golden. But make sure you spell the editor’s name correctly. Take the time to check and recheck. As one editor commented, “If they’ve spelled my name incorrectly, it’s in the trash can.”
  • Explore niche publications. Trying to break in to Harper’s right out of the gate isn’t realistic and niche magazines are more likely to consider unknown writers and run longer narrative pieces.
  • Read the publications you’re trying to break into.
  • Do some up-front researching on the story and make sure it shows in your query. Invest some time. It will show in your work.

Lorrie Lykins ([email protected]) is a full-time freelance writer based in the Tampa Bay area.

Posted in freelancing, publishing, sessions.Freelancing From Both Sides, speakers.Jim Collins on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink