How Can You Impress Editors?

Easy wins for building a rapport as a freelance writer

Following on from last week’s issue where I talked about what editors can do to improve the pitching process for freelancers, I wanted to reflect on what you can do to impress an editor. The single most important thing you can do at the beginning of your journalism career is filing clean, accurate copy on time. And be polite. Read that again. That’s really all there is to it.

You don’t need to have mind-blowing ideas or be a literary genius to establish a good rapport with an editor; being creative comes further down the line where it’s more likely that a structural gamble or niche investigation will pay off. All you need to do is deliver what you said you would when you said you would deliver it, and be nice when interacting with the editor.

I’ve been editing other peoples’ work since I was 17, as music editor at The Indiependent. We’ve published over 2,264 music articles in the last 7 years. That’s nearly an article a day. Although I have help from the brilliant editorial team, I’ve edited a big old chunk of those articles personally. That means I’ve also received thousands of pitches. The people who impress me are the individuals who:

  • Have a short, snappy pitch that makes it super clear what they want to cover and why they’re the person to write it
  • Are communicative throughout their writing process; they tell me when they hope to file (if it’s not time-sensitive). If they need an extension they give me ample notice rather than emailing on the day of submission to ask if they can have more time
  • Are friendly, they include email pleasantries about my week or something that I said on social media
  • Listen to feedback, realising that the editorial process makes their writing better
  • Say thank you for the time I’ve spent working on their piece

One thing many early career stage journalists don’t realise-especially if they’re used to publishing their writing on their own blog or website without asking a friend or family member to proofread their work first-is that being edited is part of the professional writing process. It is not a personal attack on your understanding of grammar, your word choice or your ability to string a sentence together. An editor’s job is to take your ideas, and your articulation of those ideas, and polish them until they are as shiny as possible.

A good editor is approachable-if you feel like you’ve been too heavily edited, then by all means, pushback. But appreciate that their suggestions come with the benefit of emotional distance from your subject matter: they read your piece as a reader would and as such, they are primed to tell you what is and isn’t working. Editors have also been doing this a long time-they’ve read enough pitches and articles to know what goes down well with their audience, and they also know which ideas have been done 100 times before. If they suggest a different angle to take, there’s probably a very good reason. Maybe you’re missing your ‘So what?’ hook that is going to keep readers invested. Or maybe they’ve already read twenty pitches about why vinyl is great this week alone.

It’s so easy to write long, clunky sentences or to submit your work at the end of a long week without proofreading it first. But there are some very easy things you can do to ensure the version of the work you submit is the best it can be:

  • Use spellcheck — you wouldn’t believe the number of articles I’ve received that have misspelt the name of the band or artist they’re about. There is no excuse not to use a decent spellchecking software or browser extension like Grammarly
  • Read your work out loud to yourself — if you’re struggling for breath then the chances are that you need more punctuation or shorter sentences (preferably the latter)
  • Print out your work and go through it with a coloured pen — it’s a lot easier to see mistakes on the page than it is on screen. Laura Snapes of The Guardian also advocates putting your work in bright pink size 16 Comic Sans
  • Go on a walk and then come back to the article with fresh eyes — ideally you would sleep on it, but time doesn’t always allow for this if you have a tight deadline. Instead, take a quick loop around the block and by the time you get back hopefully you’ll spot any mistakes that eluded you before
  • Ask a journalism friend to be your proofreading buddy — this is your last line of defence after you’ve done the above. The idea is you check their work for typos and clunky phrasing, and then you do the same for theirs-it’s good to pick someone who has a similar schedule to you so that they’re available to help you when you need them

My week

… in editing

This week I enjoyed editing Sian Kissock’s piece on how livestreaming is actually making live music a lot more accessible to a whole bunch of people.

… in writing

Pitches: 4 new, 2 re-pitches, 4 follow-ups

Commissions: 1

I got 1 unpaid commission, 3 rejections, and one ‘Email us again with this next year’ from The Guardian, which I’m gonna bank as a win.

Articles written: 1

Articles published: 2

I rarely share stuff from my day job in this newsletter because it’s not always relevant, however, I was rather proud of this one: ‘ How to create with LGBTQ+ inclusivity in mind ‘. It’s the first article in a series for LGBTQ+ history month; I wanted the content to be practical and useful as I’m uber conscious that so many brands piggyback off awareness days/months.

Do you want to be a fly on the wall at the Handforth Parish Council Christmas party? Well, now you can be thanks to this piece I wrote for The Indiependent. Dress code: beige. Thanks to @TaraFair_ for her edits!

… in listening/watching

I really enjoyed speaking to Bryony, George and Oli from Jobs Bored last week about all things journalism. You can listen to my episode of their brilliant podcast here:

In personal news, I managed to convince the guy I’m dating to listen to a playlist of Taylor Swift’s best songs and give me a running commentary.

… in reading

Originally published at

The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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