How I Got a Great Freelance Gig After a Royal Screw Up

Frog princeWith a deep breath, I pressed “send” on an email containing months of research and my first article for a trade magazine.

It was done!

But my excitement was short-lived when my editor replied. I’d called her the wrong name. I screwed up before she even looked at my story.

I panicked. Would she blacklist me? Would she even read my pitch now? Did I just cut myself out of a potentially great freelance writing gig?

Turns out, it all worked out okay. One year later, I’m her editorial assistant.

How did I get myself out of this jam and land a great freelance gig? I focused on three E’s.

 

Excellence

I immediately replied to the editor with an apology. Thankfully, my gaffe would be forgotten, because my story on virtual assistants was the best I’d written in a while.

She gave me another assignment! In return, every email was professional, my stories were done well and on time. Naturally, I always double-checked to make sure I called her by her correct name. At one point, she said I was a great writer. (I saved that email.)

For Your Checklist
Step one in maintaining a great writer-editor relationship: create high-quality work in a timely fashion. Use the best sources you can find, adjust to the publication’s writing style and complete edits immediately.

Always over-deliver.

Empathy

I noticed a few things about my editor. She sometimes takes a while to respond. I’d have to send multiple copies of an invoice.

Turns out, she was overwhelmed with work. She revealed her job encompassed far more than editing the magazine. I became a welcome ear.

For Your Checklist
It’s easier to be annoyed with your editor than empathize with her. But try it, even if it’s tough.

If an editor apologizes for a late email, tell her you understand — everyone’s juggling work. Get to know her as a person and not a faceless entity behind an email address.

Enthusiasm

She was opening up to me, and I was grateful. One day, I emailed her jokingly that I wanted to move to where the magazine was published so I could work for her full time.

Apparently this gave her an idea. In a later email, she asked about helping more with the magazine. I’d get assigned features and assist with other sections.

A few phone calls later, it was done. I was an editorial assistant. The best part? She was so grateful for the help and included me in planning for 2015. My editor valued my input.

I made my excitement known and continue to do so. Generally, I don’t use emoticons and exclamation points in professional email correspondence. I broke that rule when I got this opportunity. I’m always grateful to do the work, even when it’s difficult.

For Your Checklist
Being enthusiastic implies, “I love my work, and I want more.”

Yep. Excitement equals assignments.

Your editors may not react the same way mine did, but trust me, these three E’s will take you a long way in your writing career.

Have you ever screwed up with an editor? Tell us about it in the comments.

Williesha Morris has a strong passion for writing and administrative assistance. You can read the successful query that landed her the trade-magazine assignment mentioned above by subscribing to her blog.

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30 comments on “How I Got a Great Freelance Gig After a Royal Screw Up
  1. John says:

    Good presentation. I think it’s often useful to have another pair of eyes to proof read the work because it is so easy to miss what end up being “obvious” mistakes.
    John recently posted…What is BPI?My Profile

  2. I once changed the gender of the person I was querying. It went from “Mr.” to “Ms.” Thankfully, the person was very understanding and even had a laugh about it!
    Jennifer J. Chow recently posted…Why Do I Write?My Profile

  3. Rob says:

    I can definitely vouch for empathy. One of my editors is so overworked, he often doesn’t get my weekly assignments to me until Thursday. Rather than get angry, I offered to send him title suggestions every Monday. It was going to be a freebie, but he was so appreciative, my titles now count as one paid article assignment. I also get my assignments by Wednesday at the latest and if he is late, he’s okay with my invoicing “TBA” and getting paid even if I haven’t finished my full weekly allocation.

    Now imagine what would have happened if I’d gotten indignant. He probably would have found another writer or cut back my allocation and given half my work to someone else.
    Rob recently posted…Freelancing, Expat Living and FreedomMy Profile

  4. Last time I can remember getting really red-faced with an *editor* was several years back when she e-mailed to ask how the assignment due in two days was going–and I’d completely forgotten about it and hadn’t done a thing!! I think that’s the only time I made that particular mistake. Anyway, she was a regular client and she forgave me, but I did some major scrambling to get that article–complete with multiple interviews–finished ASAP.

    I can relate to the “empathy” issue in particular because I’ve been under a lot of transition stress lately and it’s taken a toll on my patience (which for me is frequently in short supply in GOOD times). One thing I learned a while back: never ask a doctor or therapist sarcastically if they kept you waiting so long for a matter of life and death–it well might have been.

    As a P. S., sometimes (even in this day of computerized cut-and-paste) the glaring typo wasn’t the writer’s fault; it was just a couple of years back that someone published an article of mine that listed National Geographic magazine as first published in “1988” instead of 1888, which sent me rushing back to my e-manuscript to verify I’d written it correctly myself. I like what one magazine editor said in response to a reader leader pointing out a mistake in one article: “The editors created that error without any help from [the writer], whose original text was correct.”
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Saving Tomorrow’s Time TodayMy Profile

    • Willi Morris says:

      Um, Katharine…I’m in that situation right this second so…watching my inboxes like a hawk to see if I can get it done today. LOL When I made the error with her name, she was really unhappy about it, but it was late in the evening. I’ve had another error since then and she was totally cool about it.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Man, I live in fear of doing that — totally spacing an assignment!

      • Penny Hawes says:

        I did kind of the same thing – when my editor said the article was for the December issue, I wrote down the deadline as December! Then when she emailed me saying she was running way behind with the issue and realized she didn’t have my article yet and could I get it to her ASAP, I went back and checked and realized the deadline had been in September… and this was mid October!

        I got the article (which I had already done much of the work on) to her the next day – and she loved it. I sure sweated that one out, though. Lesson learned? My calendar is my friend – as is double checking my contract!!
        Penny Hawes recently posted…Horse Sense, Book Learning and the Perfect Fruit SaladMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Penny, lateness is an epidemic among freelance writers. I once about had a heart attack when I got an email from Entrepreneur three weeks after my tax column was due, saying that all outstanding columns needed to be in immediately! I called my editor, and apparently mine was the only one in the can, out of about a dozen columnists.

          I once arrived at the airport at the time my plane was supposed to land on the other end, having read the wrong part of my ticket…so I feel your pain on that.

          • Penny Hawes says:

            LOL, glad to hear I’m not the only one. I sometimes wonder if I don’t need a few years on a therapist’s couch to try to figure out why I seem to self-sabotage so much 🙂 I guess the couch would be a little crowded 🙂

            (PS – I also just botched the math question on the captcha 😉 I guess it helps if you check and see if you’re supposed to add or multiply ;-D
            Penny Hawes recently posted…Horse Sense, Book Learning and the Perfect Fruit SaladMy Profile

  5. I once accused an editor of letting his dog eat his emails because I was so frustrated about not getting a response. I repented. He forgave. And years later, he wrote me a glowing recommendation. We now have a great working relationship. I wish I had this post to read then, before I brought up the dog.

    • Willi Morris says:

      HHAHAHAHAH wowwwwwwww. I’m guessing that didn’t go over well at first. But as we progress in this business, I’m realizing that not everyone is sitting on their email waiting to respond, and I’m also not getting the number of messages a lot of people do.

      Really glad that worked out, and that makes a great story.
      Willi Morris recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year TwoMy Profile

    • Tom Bentley says:

      Carol, that had to be the same hungry dog that wasn’t satisfied with your emails and ate mine too.

      Willi, good stuff here. I’ve had solid, years-old relationships with several editors using those practices (though once in a while my enthusiasm flags if we’re four rounds deep in revisions). Thanks!
      Tom Bentley recently posted…Emerging from the Storyless SwampMy Profile

  6. Wow! Well done Williesha! You’ve been doing really well! Great story. 🙂

  7. Williesha,

    This is such good advice to remember! I find it’s far too easy to get in your head and panic about all the things you could do wrong, to the point where you end up not doing anything at all. You don’t pitch that new client, you don’t read that email, you don’t respond to an editor…

    Your story does a great job emphasizing that, hey, we are ALL going to make mistakes at some point. We’re human, it is going to happen. At that point, how you recover matters more than anything else. And professionalism + compassion will always be a win!
    Katharine Paljug recently posted…6 Quick Ways to Improve Your SEO (Free eBook!)My Profile

    • Willi Morris says:

      Thanks Katharine! I think if you didn’t follow up on things you freak out about, nothing would ever get done. Ever! And, yes, compassion will get you very far. Good guys (and gals) do win!
      Willi Morris recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year TwoMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      After one of my worst errors ever, I was completely devastated and depressed. My editor noted that I had turned in several *hundred* articles for the paper — and this was the first major mistake. And that tomorrow, that paper would be fishwrap. And that I had a pretty good overall track record. That really helped me — he had a point!

  8. Penny Hawes says:

    And PS – I agree with Daryl! What’s up with the math questions? 🙂
    Penny Hawes recently posted…Horse Sense, Book Learning and the Perfect Fruit SaladMy Profile

  9. Williesha says:

    Carol & Jennifer – thanks so much! Love the headline and the frog. 🙂

    Carol – I’ve told you this about a zillion times, but thank you. Saying “I’m honored” doesn’t feel like enough after these last couple of years. I still can’t believe I got to write for you again!
    Williesha recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year TwoMy Profile

    • Penny Hawes says:

      Great post, Willi! My biggest blunder (so far), was misspelling the name of the main subject of an article I did for a national magazine. I realizedy blunder and emailed my editor immediately. She had already noticed (and corrected) the error. I still want to hide in a corner when I think about it!
      Thanks for sharing. Misery (and acute embarrassment) really do love company 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hey…I’d never say no to a great success story that I think will help MALW readers. 😉

  10. Daryl says:

    Mis-spelling the name of one of the subjects I was writing about and it was published without the correction!

    I later apologized and sent the correct name, thankfully it seemed not to have made any major negative difference.

    I think it’s often useful to have another pair of eyes to proof read the work because it is so easy to miss what end up being “obvious” mistakes.

    And these math questions are getting really hard Carol! Lol
    Daryl recently posted…September 2014 Freelance Writing Income ReportMy Profile

    • Williesha says:

      I did the same thing! And after working at a newspaper where you get written up for that sort of thing I try to be careful. I still mess up sometimes though.
      Williesha recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year TwoMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        When I was a staff writer at a business journal, they put a lot of effort into avoiding having to do correction notices. Whenever we had one, we had to write a post-mortem on how it happened and how we would avoid it in the future. A great exercise I recommend — really helps you up your fact-checking and writing game and avoid mistakes.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sorry about the math, Daryl — just way too much spam around here otherwise.

      I’ve had name misspellings hit print, too. Usually the subjects understand the basic law of publicity — it’s all good. You can usually run a correction, too.

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