With the fast pace of digital media, the days of leisurely lunches with editors (perhaps with a martini or two à la Mad Men) are mostly behind us.
However, given the chance to grab a quick lunch or coffee with an editor, savvy freelancers can still make a positive impression and gain valuable insight into the publication. Here’s how.
Make the ask
A reporting trip or conference is a good excuse to invite editors in that area to coffee or lunch. “You have nothing to lose by saying, ‘I’m going to be in your town, I’m going to be in your area,'” said Teresa Mears, former Miami Herald editor who’s now a freelancer and publisher of Living on the Cheap. “If they say no, it just might mean that they’re busy.”
“The exceptions were anyone who obviously hadn’t done their research on me or the publication,” she said, “anyone that was clearly a terrible writer — I don’t want to string anyone along — or anyone that sent what read like a mass email to a bunch of editors.”
Freelance writer and editor Steph Auteri uses a slightly different approach. “Near the end of my query letters to new-to-me editors, I’ve said something to the effect of, ‘If these ideas don’t float your boat, I’d love to chat about what you are looking for,’” she said. “In a handful of cases, this has led to editors asking me out for lunch.”
Do your homework
Know the publication so you don’t ask questions that could be answered by a simple Google search. Auteri studies the types of stories the publication runs so she can brainstorm a few quick story ideas to pitch. She also researches the editor to find common ground such as a shared alma mater or hometown and create a personal connection.
“That — plus writing ability, knowledge of the publication, and fantastic ideas — the things that make an editor’s job easier — is what will make an editor remember me,” she said.
Kelly James-Enger, author of books including Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, agrees.
“I like to go in with a few story ideas/pitches,” she said, “but I also use the time to get to know the person better and just chat — what does she like about her job, where did she do before, what’s her dream assignment if she freelances.”
Dress (and act) to impress
The outfit of choice for work-at-home writers may be pajamas or yoga pants, but according to Auteri, “Making an effort with your appearance is a sign of respect and gratitude to the editor who’s taking time out of their day to share valuable information with you.”
Her go-to outfit for meetings? Dark-wash jeans, a cute top, and a blazer.
Be respectful of the editor’s time and arrive on time. “If I have an hour of my time to give to someone, I don’t want to spend 20 minutes of it looking at my watch and sighing dramatically,” Vilibert said.
Offer to pay for the editor’s coffee or lunch.
“Sometimes the editor has a corporate account for that so they may pick up the tab,” Mears said. If not, she may accept your offer. Either way, reaching for your wallet makes a symbolic gesture that you’re invested in building a relationship with that editor.
Treat editors like people
Don’t agonize over every little interaction with an editor, whether in person or online. “When I became a writer it was interesting to hear what writers had to say about how you’re supposed to approach an editor,” Mears said. “You don’t have to spend two days writing the invitation.”
Putting an editor on a pedestal can make things needlessly awkward. “Thinking of oneself as an editor’s peer — someone who can relate to them, someone who knows what their job is like, someone who has something of value to bring to the table and who does not consider the editor the ultimate arbiter of their fate — can stop anxiety in its tracks,” Auteri said.
Follow up afterwards
Keep the conversation going by staying in touch with the editor. If the editor paid, James-Enger sends a handwritten thank-you note. “If not, I will send an email a day or two later, saying it was great to get together and following up on anything we discussed,” she said.
Auteri also acts quickly. “As soon as I get home from our little date, I email to thank them for their time, and to assure them that I will be hard at work brainstorming the types of stories that are exactly what they’re looking for,” she said. “Then I send them an official query email — containing one or more ideas — within the week.”
Image courtesy of alisdair/flickr