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business of freelancing

Want to get in an editor’s bad books? Do this.

By December 11, 2019 9 Comments

Okay, so I know the title of this post could be misleading. I don’t mean to say that there is only one thing freelance writers should never do. Because, of course, there are multiple sins in the freelance world. But recently I’ve had similar conversations with different editors and all have mentioned one thing that freelance writers do that was unforgivable in their eyes.

The quickest way to get in an editor’s bad books

You know how I’m always banging on about the importance of developing meaningful relationships?

Well, it won’t come as any surprise to you that one of the biggest no-no’s that I’ve heard editors talk about comes down to how you manage your relationship with them.

But it’s probably not what you think it is.

You may think that editors don’t want you to follow up multiple times with them or argue with them about their decision not to commission you (and they probably don’t), but there’s something else.

According to these editors I was speaking with, there’s something that really gets their goat (wow, I never thought that I’d get to use that phrase).

You know what it is?

It’s something that writers complain editors do to them all the time.

Ghosting.

Most of the articles that have been written about ghosting are about clients or editors going quiet on freelancers.

But it happens the other way around too.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories from editors about writers not returning emails for weeks, not filing deadline copy on time (or filing it weeks late) with no communication why or ignoring requests for revisions.

Last year one editor told me she has never been more stressed than when a writer didn’t turn in her (already six days overdue) cover story.

The editor called the writer, emailed, texted, messaged her on social media and nothing.

The writer just disappeared.

The editor had a mad scramble to put together another cover story.

The writer eventually filed 3 weeks late, saying: “Sorry this is late.”

No explanation. No reason. No real apology.

The editor’s response?

She never used that writer again.

And, she told all her colleagues (editors and PRs) what had happened.

I’ve heard so many similar stories from editors over the years, and had two conversations in the last couple of weeks that really made me think.

These editors were talking about the chain reaction of events that happens when a writer doesn’t hold up their part of the commission.

An editor’s job is already stressful, and even if they’ve allowed extra time, if we don’t deliver what we said we would when we said we would, we’re jeopardising not only the story, but our future relationship.

Ghosting an editor has a long-lasting impact

This isn’t to say that things don’t go wrong.

They do.

Sometimes you can’t deliver what you promised.

In my experience though, if you communicate with editors and let them know early enough, they totally get it.

When it gets hairy is if you leave it until the 11th hour to let them know you can’t deliver the copy or you’re having problems.

I do understand the impulse to ignore things if it’s not going well – to pretend that a deadline isn’t looming or to ignore an editor if things have gone wrong.

But like the editor I spoke with the other day said:

“Just tell your editor if you’re late, going to be late or can’t make the deadline. Just email them and tell them. We’re all human, we get it. We are relying on you, so don’t leave us hanging. But get in early. Give us time to organise another story or re-negotiate your deadline.”

“But why should we always bow down to editors?”

When we pitch to editors and get so much silence in return, it’s easy to feel disgruntled with my advice above.

But the truth is, on the whole, editors aren’t ghosting you on purpose.

If you pitch and don’t get a reply, it might be the editors way of letting you know they’re passing, they may have earmarked your pitch to discuss with their team or they’re just slammed with pitches.

One editor I know gets over 300 emails a day and about 25 of them are pitches.

That’s a lot of emails to read and respond to before she even does her work as an editor.

Yes, freelance writers would love it if all editors replied to us one way or the other, but it’s a fact of freelance life that some (or lots) of your emails will go unanswered.

But that’s no reason for you to ghost editors.

Being a writer is about being an excellent communicator, but it’s not just about words on the page for an article.

It’s about using your words to communicate with your editor throughout the process – from pitch, commission, filing and revisions.

If you want to build a long-lasting career as a freelance writer, you need to ensure you build strong, respectful relationships with the people you work with.

And the best way to do that is with regular, respectful communication.

What do you think about ghosting? Have you ever ghosted an editor?

9 Comments

  • Cat Woods says:

    Wow, I’ve never ghosted an editor. Or anyone, I don’t recall.
    I am sure I do wrong things, but I think as with many freelancers, we’ve been burned by really bad experiences (not being paid, not being paid for over a year, no response, our pitches given to in-house staff) and sometimes we want clarity, fairness and reliability. Just recently, I’ve accepted much lower rates than I’m worth and accepted multiple excuses why they can’t provide me a contract before I start work. It’s a hard world out there. The importance of communicating is elemental though – for both editors and writers.

    • lindyalexander says:

      I’m the same Cat, and it kind of stuns me that there are writers who would ghost an editor.
      And yes, there are so many frustrations that come with being a freelancer, but like you say, clarity, fairness and reliability doesn’t seem too much to ask, from writer, client or editor!

  • Ashley says:

    My most frustrating and disappointing experience as a freelance writer so far was getting a response from an assistant editor for a well-known national publication that her editor was interested in my piece and she was CC-ing her on the email. I immediately responded, but then weeks went by and I heard nothing. After a few weeks of silence, I followed up, but still nothing. Neither editor ever responded. The only thing worse than getting rejected is thinking you are getting accepted, then being ghosted by the editors. Has anyone else had this experience? Any advice on how to handle it? Thank you!

    • Gabrielle says:

      I’m in the midst of a very similar experience right now. The editor’s initial response was “loved your pitch, thanks for your patience, send me a reminder email next week, look forward to connecting.” Since then I’ve tried to contact her several times, always politely, and… crickets. Mystifying and frustrating, to be sure.

      • Yes! It is so frustrating to think you have found a home for your piece, then nothing…

        Thank you for sharing your experience with me! It’s good to know I am not the only one who has experienced this situation.

  • Rachel Smith says:

    We asked a heap of editors for their bad freelancer stories a while ago and omigawd… I was floored by some of the ghosting stories we got back. Literally, HOW do some freelancers make money? The mind boggles.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t happen the other way – it absolutely does, and it’s hugely frustrating when you’re waiting to hear on a pitch (and never do). I wish I knew what the solution was.

    Key thing though: annoying as it is, you can’t (as a freelancer) have control over how editors behave, only yourself – and I guess you have to realise just how important (and tenuous) your reputation is, and communicate with editors in a timely way as much as possible.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Oh yes, I loved that post of yours Rach! But it was horrifying to read. You’re absolutely right – we only have control over our actions, not how editors respond (or not) to us.

  • Marion Ross says:

    I’m getting used to not receiving responses from most pitches and don’t really consider that ghosting. However, I was hired for a piece, submitted it on time,(Nov. 2019) the editor said she loved it but needed some edits. I completed all the edits right away and months later none of my follow-up emails have been returned. So, I assume I have been ghosted?

    Is this a good time to request my kill fee that was included in my contract? Should I try contacting her once more and ask if she still plans to publish? Am I allowed to request my kill fee or do I wait for it to be offered? I understand from another post, even though a kill fee is included in the contract the publication can still opt to not pay me. I don’t mind, at this point, burning a bridge with this editor after the way she’s treating me. I don’t understand the ghosting after saying she loved my work. I would say I learned a valuable lesson, but I honestly thought I did everything right and not being a flaky freelancer 🙁

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Marion, it doesn’t sound like you’ve been flaky at all. There may be any number of reasons why you haven’t heard back from the editor, but I know that doesn’t make your situation any easier.Is this for a print publication?
      I would a) make sure that the editor is still working there and then b) send her a follow up email (and include a subject line like “quick question” or “kill fee?”) and ask if she’s still planning on publishing the piece or whether you should invoice for a kill fee. Sometimes there are factors at play that we freelancers just don’t know about, but editors may need a little prompt to communicate those issues with us.
      Let me know how you go.

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