As a Contently managing editor, I often find the writers who stand out are those who make life easier. While there’s merit in trying out new contributors, many of us managing editors will return to the same pool of talent time and time again. This isn’t favoritism (well, not entirely); we’re choosing contributors who have demonstrated the ability to deliver quality work time and time again.
Of course, writing skill and experience play a part in what keeps editors going back to star writers, but it’s more than that. If you want to go above and beyond with your next assignment, here are a few things managing editors love.
1. Align your piece to the style guide every time
In my experience, a writer’s first story will stick closely to the style guide as they refer back to it while they write. But that attention to detail can sometimes slip once they’re more comfortable with the client and aren’t as diligent in checking their work against guidelines.
For example, I have a client with a rather hefty style and legal guide, which adds another level of complexity to my work as an editor. When I find a writer I can trust to consistently adhere to those guidelines, I keep assigning them work because they require less editing.
Tip: Make sure you’re referring back to any guidelines — as well as the specifics of the brief — for every single story you write. Even the little things add up; know how to format titles and subheads, words/phrases to avoid, whether to use first person, whether to use a % or the word percent, etc.
2. Clarify incomprehensive briefs
Depending on the client, you might come across breezy story briefs or long and complex ones. The client’s intentions in those instructions might be very different from how a writer understands them, and this can result in stories that feel like they’ve missed the mark.
Communication is an incredibly important skill for a freelancer, but sometimes you can benefit from an ally. At Contently, all of our freelancers are assigned to client teams with managing editors, and they’re just a message away. Managing editors encourage contributors to reach out because writers who take the time to read the story brief early on and ask for any clarifications tend to produce higher-quality first drafts.
Tip: As soon as you get an assignment, comb through the brief and note areas you might need to clarify with your editor. Also pay attention to the deadlines, workflows, and fees to ensure they’re correct.
3. Ask guiding questions early on
It’s important that writers ask questions as early as possible to allow time to get a response from the client and/or internal teams. For example, if you have a statistic from a company that could be considered a competitor, it would be best to confirm whether it’s appropriate to use it in the story. If you leave it until the last minute, there’s a chance your editor won’t be able to get a response from the client before the deadline. This can lead to revisions that could’ve been avoided simply by asking questions earlier on in the process.
Other questions to ask early: Do you have SEO keywords to incorporate? Is it okay if I go over word count? Do you have examples of other stories that the client likes? Is the style guide and audience description up to date?
Tip: Even if you don’t start the writing process immediately, get to work on outlining and researching your story as soon as possible. It’s usually at this stage that questions crop up and will give you enough time to get an answer before the deadline.
4. Suggest SEO keywords
Good briefs usually have one or more SEO terms to include in the copy. Writers who can integrate those terms organically, and even better, align the article with search intent, are a prized group. Best practices say the term should be used in the headline, the first paragraph, the body copy, a subhead, and the meta description. If you don’t see a required SEO term or know that they’ll be adding it after you submit your story, this is a great opportunity to suggest SEO keywords to your managing editor via the comments. Highlight where the term could be added or where you’ve already used it.
Tip: As you research, note the keywords that keep cropping up and consider what people might search for to find your article. You can then suggest some of these in a comment to help streamline the SEO process for your managing editor.
Bonus tip: If you’ve already been given the keywords for a story, consider bolding them in the copy so your managing editor doesn’t edit them out — just let them know that’s what you’re doing.
5. Include comments on the copy
Context is everything, so it’s helpful to have extra clarification from writers on the choices they’ve made. For example, a writer could add a comment about the source used to give insight into why they included it.
Similarly, if the writer has left out a small section that was in the brief because it was out of date/irrelevant/didn’t fit, the editor needs to know. If the editor comes across something missing, they’re likely to send the story back for revision. But, if the writer has left a comment with the reasons why it was left out, the story could move forward in the workflow.
Tip: Leave comments on anything you think might help your managing editor. Whether that’s extra info, a clarification, or more context. This helps us avoid having to come back to you with questions or edits.
There are more things editors love
These are just some easy targets to hit during your next assignment. You can take it one step further and ask your assigning editor what their preferences are. It might be something really minor — an easy lift that will set you apart from other freelancers. Forging a strong relationship with a managing editor by anticipating their needs is a great way to make it onto their star writer list.