As a freelance writer, a big part of your job will be working with editors.
Great editors will serve as partners and coaches, providing valuable feedback that helps you become a better writer. Not only does working with a great editor help improve your skills over time, but developing a good rapport with them can also help scale your freelance business.
As someone who’s worked as an editor in digital publishing for several years, here’s some info on the freelance editors you’re likely to encounter—and why it’s beneficial to build relationships with them, as well as tips for doing so.
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Who your editors are and what they do
There are several types of editors you’ll likely encounter as a freelancer, including managing editors, content editors, and copy editors.
Managing editors lead a team of editorial professionals, and individuals in this role could be involved in content strategy and onboarding new freelance writers. If you’re interested in pitching ideas, you’ll also want to submit them to the managing editor for consideration.
“You do not equal the project. Criticism of the project is not criticism of you. […] It’s people who have projects that are never criticized who ultimately fail.”Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow
Content editors are responsible for reviewing pieces for style, tone, accuracy, and value to the reader. You’ll likely collaborate with content editors the most in your day-to-day work. They’re going to be the ones sharing feedback on your work and requesting changes.
You may also occasionally interact with copy editors, who will give your copy a final pass to ensure it’s as clean as possible before publication.
Why it makes sense to build relationships with your editors
Building solid relationships with your editors can enhance your freelance career in several ways. Doing so could help you get more work and more flexibility, as well as improve your writing skills over time. Here are some benefits of relationship-building.
Land consistent work
Your editors will be more likely to offer you consistent, regular assignments if you show that you respect them as a person and a professional.
The predictability of regular assignments can be valuable when you’re freelancing full-time and trying to budget with a variable income. Consistent work can provide some much-needed peace of mind
“Continually nurturing existing relationships has helped me stabilize my income and makes freelancing sustainable. Before I had so many relationships, it was easier to fall into the feast and famine cycle.”Taylor Medine, CFEI and freelance writer
Increase flexibility (when you really need it)
One of the biggest drawbacks of freelancing is the lack of paid time off. When life inevitably interferes with work, having solid relationships with your editors can be helpful.
If you have a good rapport with your editor, they’ll be more likely to be flexible about moving deadlines if you’re sick or you need to take some time off to handle a personal issue.
Get more referrals
Your editor likely has professional relationships with other editors in their niche. This is especially true if you’re working in a particularly small niche.
For instance, I work in the personal finance space, and I’m connected with several editors across different personal finance publications. When another editor in my LinkedIn network mentions they’re looking for a writer with specific expertise, I pass along the names of my favorite writers with relevant experience.
Investing the time to develop good working relationships with your editors could result in referrals and new clients for you. More than half of six-figure freelance writers say they get most of their high-paying gigs from this type of referral:
Improving your writing skills
Working with editors consistently grants you the opportunity to improve your writing skills over time. A good editor will act as a partner and coach, providing useful feedback designed to help make your work even better.
For instance, one of the most frequent pieces I offer is “this needs more context.” It might annoy writers to hear it often, but over time, I notice that they start providing the context I’m requesting without me having to ask for it. I like to think they’re also implementing this feedback in their work for other clients, too.
“When you’re writing a piece you’re so into it and if you put so much work into it, you’re going to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes in writing a piece. It’s nice to have another person to go over it and just make sure everything is correct—someone who’s not as close to the piece can be more removed and look at it from a different perspective or more of a blank slate.”—Conan Tobias, freelance editor
How to build relationships with your editors
If you want to build strong relationships with your editors, there are several things you can do—and chances are, you’re already doing some of these things well.
Here are six of the best things you can do to make yourself your editors’ go-to writer.
- Communicate and collaborate effectively
- Hit your deadlines
- Be proactive, not reactive
- Be consistent
- Make a note of frequent edits
- Don’t be afraid to push back
1. Communicate and collaborate effectively
Clear, effective communication is a big deal if you’re trying to build a strong relationship with your editors. Asking questions, getting clarification, and staying in touch will help make the editor’s job much easier.
“Don’t be afraid to ask the editor why they did something. A lot of the people I work with do that. And I’m more than happy to tell them why I did what I did. I’m hoping it helps them improve their own writing over time.”—Conan Tobias, freelance editor
If you’re unclear about a content brief or what your editor expects from you, send them an email and ask for additional guidance. Here’s a simple but effective email template:
Hello [editor’s name],
Thanks again for the recent assignment! I reviewed the content brief, and I was hoping you could clarify something OR a few things for me.
[Include relevant questions—e.g., would you like me to include expert quotes, how many FAQs would you like, what key points would you like me to address here, etc.]
I appreciate your insight and look forward to your feedback.
2. Hit your deadlines
Having been in publishing for a while, I can tell you that I’m more willing to work with writers who consistently meet deadlines. It makes my job easier and my workflow more predictable.
Meeting deadlines will help you build a strong rapport with your editor. That said, if an editor is reasonable, they’re going to understand if something comes up and you miss a deadline, which brings me to my next point about being proactive vs. reactive.
3. Be proactive, not reactive
Being proactive is crucial if you want to develop a rapport with your editors.
For instance, if you know you’re going to miss a deadline, reach out as soon as you realize you won’t be able to deliver your article on time. Briefly explain the issue, apologize, and set another deadline you’re certain you’ll be able to meet. Don’t wait until several days after the deadline has passed or your editor has emailed to ask when you’ll be delivering your assignment.
Proactive communication not only shows that the work is important to you; it’s also a sign that you respect your editor’s time.
4. Be consistent
Delivering consistent, high-quality work is a good way to become your editor’s favorite writer. Invest in yourself and build your skills by taking a writing course, reading other publications in your niche, and dissecting content from your favorite writers to understand how (and why) they write the way they do.
Also, leave yourself some time to read over your work and ensure your copy is clean before submitting it to your editor. Doing so will make your editor’s job much easier and instill confidence that they can count on you to deliver great work.
5. Make note of frequent edits
As an editor, repeating the same feedback to the same writer over and over again gets tiresome. To avoid this scenario, make a running list of frequent edits.
Do you notice that your editor mentions you need to add examples or context to your writing often? Make a note of that. Are you frequently misusing semicolons? Write that down. Understanding your weaknesses and paying attention to them as you’re writing can help you improve and show your editor that you take their feedback seriously.
6. Don’t be afraid to push back
If you have questions about the feedback your editor provides or you disagree with their feedback, don’t be afraid to ask questions or push back kindly. Doing so will demonstrate that you’re taking your work seriously and you care about your deliverables.
“We believe that the [writer and editor] hashing it out will produce a better piece. This kind of thing was actually encouraged, and it was not uncommon for an editor and a writer just to be going back and forth in a comment and then being like, “we’ve got to get on a call and hash this out.” That’s great. If that’s happening, you know the piece is getting better.”Jimmy Daly, founder of Superpath
Remember: respect is a two-way street
At the highest level, developing strong relationships with your editors comes down to one thing: respecting them as a professional and a person.
However, it’s important to remember that respect is a two-way street, and your editors should also respect you as a professional and a person.
“My editor and I work together; it’s an ongoing thing, not just a transaction of words for money.”Richard Byrne, freelance writer at Topia
This respect could look like:
- Offering fair pay
- Providing constructive (not overly critical) feedback
- Setting reasonable deadlines
- Communicating clearly and professionally
Unfortunately, there are crummy humans in every profession—editorial roles included. If your editors aren’t treating you with respect, take the time to consider whether continuing to work with them is worth it. You may find that you’re better off looking for other clients who view you as a valued partner and respect your time.
Make your editor love you by becoming a better writer
Making connections with your editors can help advance your freelance writing career, whether your goal is to build a successful side hustle or freelance full-time.
The tips above will help you build a strong rapport with editors, which can pay dividends over time. Just remember that in addition to treating your editors with respect, they should also respect you as a professional and treat you as a valued member of their team.
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