Writers love to gripe about frustrating things editors do, like assign rush jobs then wait weeks to edit them, or require a certain source be included in a story then ignore a writer’s frantic phone calls when said source goes AWOL.
But freelancers make their fair share of dumb mistakes too. A friendly editor recently sent me an example that’s a doozie. This editor is no. 2 on the masthead at an award-winning trade magazine that publishes twice a month and runs a busy daily Website. In other words, she assigns tons of stories to staff reporters and freelance writers, and gets all kinds of queries.
This particular submission stood out because so many things were wrong with it, the editor said. It “violates not just one, but 3 cardinal rules of freelancing,” she said:
1. She sent a story to me, but (in the cover letter) mixed me up with my direct competitor. Strike 1.
2. She’s apparently simultaneously submitting a story to me and my direct competitor. Strike 2.
3. She sends me a story that is totally wrong for my audience. Strike 3.
The editor showed me what the freelancer had sent, and I found a couple other major flaws. For starters, instead of querying, the writer submitted a complete article, which is a huge waste of time in my book, especially if you’re pitching a market you don’t know much about.
But that’s not all. The first paragraph – which on a spec piece should showcase your best writing in order to hook the editor into buying the story – was too long, overly general, used passive tense and didn’t even include the lead. No sale.
We’ve all made mistakes as we’ve grown in our profession, but some things are inexcusable, like putting the wrong editor’s name on a query or failing to research a publication before pitching a story. That’s just sloppy.
What’s the worst freelance faux pas you’ve ever committed?