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BY PAUL QUENEAU
Getting an assignment from an editor is exhilarating. Do well by them, and years of work may follow. Get cross-wise and you may burn a valuable bridge. Here are some simple guidelines to assignment success:
GET ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
When an editor comes to you with an assignment, ask lots of questions to make sure you fully understand exactly what they are looking for, even if a question seems obvious. Editors might be in a hurry, but they’ll be glad they took the time when you deliver just what they wanted.
REITERATE THE FINE DETAILS
Toward the end of the conversation, tactfully establish what an editor plans to pay, a story’s word length, a hard deadline, travel expenses and any other important details. Then type it all up in an email to them afterwards to make sure you’ve got it right. This will not only put things like pay in writing, but often catch points of confusion before they cause trouble.
Editors worry. Keep them apprised on how a story is developing with occasional short update emails, and it will put them at ease that things are progressing and further put your name on the good list.
DELIVER A SVELTE KNOCKOUT
Deliver a story on or before deadline with an engaging lead that will hold a reader’s interest right to the end. Be sure it’s edited down to meet length requirements. I can’t tell you how often I’ve dealt with stories that were half again or twice as long as what I asked for. That means more time on the editor’s end trying to cut it down and less likely that they will turn to you for future assignments. Notice if they typically include writer bios, and if so beat them to the punch by including one at the end of your manuscript.
LET IT GO
Editors often have to mold stories to match the style of their magazine. It can be difficult seeing your work transformed when it reaches print, but as long as the facts are still correct, be patient with the changes.♦
Paul Queneau grew up in Colorado hunting, fishing and backpacking. He started with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine as an intern and is currently the conservation editor. Contact him at pqueneau@RMEF.org.