As an executive secretary, a loooong time ago, I learned an invaluable lesson: do everything you can to make your boss successful and you will succeed. As a freelance writer of magazine articles my boss is the editor. So I ask myself, “What does that editor need?” Time. If my editor spends less time preparing my story for publication, she has more time to do other work. So, how can I make sure my story doesn’t take up too much of the editor’s time?
There is another thing I learned long ago to set myself apart from the pack. Remember, in school, your teacher walking the aisles of the classroom handing back graded exam papers? When she handed you yours you looked down and thought, “Seventy-nine? What did I get wrong? How?” Then, you anxiously scanned your paper for errors and rushed out to go re-calculate the problems. Finding your errors is exactly the practice that will set you apart from the competition and save your editor time. Let me explain.
After I’ve retrieved my contributor’s copy in the mail, rushed up my driveway to do the happy dance with my family, and stared at my name in print for several minutes, I get to work.
Check the Changes
I take the published piece and lay next to it a printed copy of the Word doc I submitted and compare. I check every word, punctuation mark and detail to see what the editor changed in my story. I mark it up and commit to memory what she has done, as this shows me what this particular editor wants. This method helped me to see that one particular homeschooling magazine spells home school as two words, yet another spells it as one. One publication never uses the words student or teacher, the other doesn’t care. I’ve found editors that prefer the Oxford comma, while others do not.
Formatting of recipes is always tricky. As is that of addresses, whether a magazine uses the state name after mentioning a large city. Do they use contractions or spell everything out?
Generally, contributors guidelines don’t reveal these nuances of editing. They may even change when an editor leaves a publication. And unless you pay close attention, you may never notice the subtle changes. But the editor will notice when he has to spend too much time on your third or fourth submission. Then, you will wonder why he quit buying from you for no apparent reason.
Surely you study the publication, know your readers, and use the active voice. Next time, though, check the changes and see the difference it makes.
What do you do to set yourself apart from the competition? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.