Your Favorite Editor Just Left. Now What?By Michael J. Solender November 12th, 2014
For many freelancers, you have a go-to client for consistent work. Concentrating a majority of your income with a single publication is great when the work is flowing consistently, but that type of relationship can be a double-edged sword when your assigning editor leaves for another opportunity.
Unfortunately, it happens. And when it does, dealing with the unknown that comes with a regime change is never easy. However, navigating editorial staff transitions can actually work to your advantage—if you’ve prepared accordingly.
Here are five tips for protecting yourself.
1. Understand the publication, not just the editor
“It’s much too easy to operate as an ‘email-freelancer,’” said Emiene Wright, staff writer at Charlotte’s Creative Loafing. “It’s been important for me to make personal contact with editors either by phone or in person and share ideas with them that demonstrate I understand their publication and can contribute beyond a single story.”
Instead of getting complacent, Wright, who worked as a freelance copy editor at Creative Loafing before securing a full-time position, made a significant effort to understand the publication. She managed through two editorial transitions, partly because she went out of her way to help out editors with story ideas and big-picture knowledge.
“I got an invitation to editorial meetings where I met other editors and showed them the value I brought to the publication,” she explained. “I gained champions, and when editorial changes happened, I was seen as part of the team and someone the new editors wanted to work with.”
2. Diversify your contacts
Establishing more than one contact at a publication makes good business sense for both the editors and the freelancer, since vacations and shifting internal editorial responsibilities are occasional roadblocks.
To accomplish this, start by asking your main contact who they’d like you to follow up with in case he or she can’t be reached.
When I first began writing for the regional editions of the Charlotte Observer, I made a point of asking my editor to introduce me to his boss and other regional editors. This led to other assignments and also strengthened my overall position within the paper.
When my regional editor moved into a new area, he not only took me with him, but I also kept contributing to my old section. The adjustment helped me gain valuable experience reaching out to other editors at the paper directly with story ideas; not long after, I began writing for the Observer’s lifestyle magazine.
3. Get an endorsement
Freelancers who delay in connecting with new editors during transitions do so at their own peril.
Perhaps the best way to make contact is to have the editor who’s leaving make the introduction and (hopefully) endorse you.
After I landed a travel assignment with Ocean Home Magazine, the editor I worked with left for a job outside of publishing. Naturally, I was disappointed, especially after working for months to cultivate this relationship.
But instead of sulking, I immediately asked her if she would introduce me to the new editor. She made a wonderful email introduction, copying me and provided a solid endorsement of my work. This gave me a great opportunity to follow up directly with the incoming editor.
Sensing I was “in” however was a bit misguided, which takes me to my next point…
4. Diversify your clips
The new Ocean Home editor liked my work, and based upon the endorsement of the departing editor, assigned me a golf travel story.
My initial euphoria turned to dismay after I pitched a second story to the new editor and found out the editorial direction was changing. He told me the publication was doing less travel, and since I was a “travel and golf” writer, I’d have fewer opportunities down the road. I thought what he wanted was exactly what my previous editor wanted, and that’s what I pitched.
Usually, when new editors take over, you should anticipate a change. Once the editor explained the publication’s newly sharpened focus that included home automation and technology, I was able to share my related experience and gain additional work.
Jeff Jackson, freelance contributor for such publications as Jazziz, Village Voice, and MTV.com, had a similar experience when his longtime editor at the Valley Advocate left, and the new editor decided to discontinue a regular column he wrote. “They saw me strictly as their monthly music guy and an observational opinion columnist,” he said. “They didn’t want to continue with my column. Rather than waste energy pursuing that avenue, I let the new editor know about my experience as a reviewer and ended up writing more conventional album reviews for them.”
Jackson, taking advice from his departing editor, took full advantage of tip No. 5…
5. Research the new editor
This advice is solid whether your old editor is leaving or not. Check out Twitter feeds and LinkedIn profiles to see if you have shared interests related to work. See what they have to say about your beat; learn a bit about their background.
You may find out you share some of the same contacts, some of whom may be able to offer insight about their style, likes, and dislikes. Like Jackson, ask your transitioning editor for any input.
Regardless of what your research turns up, don’t treat new editors as if they owe you anything just because you’ve contributed to the publication in the past. Be flexible and show how you’d like to build upon the solid track record you’ve already established.
As for transitioning editors: Be certain they know you want to continue working with them in their new roles. Since they know your work, find out what they need and let them know you can help. Don’t assume they’ll just reach out to you when ready.
Editorial transitions are simply part of the freelance game. But even though change can be tough on our careers, with a bit of planning and foresight, the savvy freelancer should always be prepared to adapt.Image by Jay Mantri