How to Get Twice as Many Writing Assignments When Your Editor Leaves

Business woman leaving with a red suitcaseIt’s the moment every freelance writer dreads: You email an editor with a query, and it bounces.

Surprise: Your editor contact has been fired. Or they’ve quit.

This used to be a disaster, a decade or so back.

Especially when it was an editor you had an ongoing relationship with, who could be relied on to feed you a steady stream of article assignments.

Suddenly, hundreds or even thousands a month in previously reliable monthly revenue just vaporized. And you were scrambling to find a new gig to replace it.

Before the Internet, when this happened, your editor went “poof” and disappeared.

The email and phone number you had for her were no longer good.

She just vanished. You didn’t know where she’d gone. And you had no way to stay in touch.

Often, that was the end of your relationship with that publication.

It happened to me more than once. But then, the Internet was born.

Turning editor loss into opportunity

More recently, I’ve learned how to turn unexpected editor departures into opportunities to double my income, or even more.

In one case, I added tens of thousands of dollars of additional annual income, thanks to an editor change!

How? Here’s the first step: Don’t freak out.

Keep a positive attitude. Feel confident that this situation can work in your favor.

Remember, this is not about you. Sometimes, it’s not even about your editor, but about changes in leadership or direction higher up at the organization.

If you’re heartbroken this editor relationship has ended, mourn in private.

Then, you’re ready to take steps to double down your income. Here’s how I dealt with multiple editor departures over the past few years:

1. Pitch the new editor

Keep your ears peeled for the announcement of the new editor at the publication where you’ve been writing. The minute you know who it is, swing into action.

Send her a LinkedIn connection invite and introduce yourself: “Hi! I’m a longtime writer for your magazine — looking forward to working together.”

Yes, get the subliminal suggestions rolling: You’re going to hit it off.

Follow this up by immediately pitching a few well-researched story ideas that show your value to the publication. New editors are always scrambling to put together that first issue under their watch. Show you’re a problem-solver she can rely on.

2. Do not discuss the past

If your new editor rings you up, do not stoop to gossip. Answer any attempts to pump you for info on the previous regime with, “I was just a freelancer, so I didn’t hear the details” or similar vague reply.

Do not bring up that you were the past editor’s favorite. Or that you’ve been writing here for years.

You don’t have tenure anywhere as a freelance writer. This editor owes you nothing.

Don’t spend a moment discussing the previous editor or your previous work. You don’t want this editor to associate you with the past regime any more than she already will.

Many new editors come in with a plan — sometimes even a mandate from the publisher — to “clean house” and bring in new writers. Your job is to show her that if this editor is looking to take the quality up a notch, you’re the writer who can deliver that.

You’re here, you’re up to speed, you know their topic like the top of your kid’s head, and you’re ready to help refresh this publication.

3. Snag an assignment ASAP

Often, in the chaos that follows editor turnover, there’s an opportunity to make a good impression on the new editor.

Keep your head down, keep pitching, and if you can get an assignment, crush it and turn it in on time.

Remember, you need to prove yourself all over again. Your past track record at the publication means little to an editor looking to make changes, and may even work against you.

Show her you could be a valued part of the new team, even if it means taking a short, front-of-the-book type assignment. Anything to start the relationship going with your new editor.

Meanwhile…

4. Find your previous editor

If you weren’t already connected on LinkedIn, send an invite to her the minute you hear she got the ax.

Be sympathetic and supportive, without asking any questions about why she’s left:

“Sorry to hear you’re leaving X Magazine. I’d like to stay in touch on here — hope we have a chance to work together again soon!”

Yes, once again, start the subliminal suggestion machine going: You’re going to work together again in the future.

For that to happen, your editor needs to find a new publication to edit. And that gives you a chance to do something that will make your former editor love you forever — and call you the minute she gets a new job.

5. Send your editor job leads

If you’re scanning writer job ads, you’ll often find a few editor gigs in there, too.

Find any that seem remotely appropriate for your out-of-work editor? Send them over.

“I spotted this opening, and it made me think of you!” I’d say.

Back in 2009 and 2010, when every editor seemed to be losing their job, I did this a lot.

One former editor got a steady stream of job leads from me. Eventually, she got another job — and assigned me dozens and dozens of articles, over the next several years. Many of them were at $1 a word.

Here’s the magic: I don’t even think the gig she got was from one of my leads. In the end, she found it on her own.

But that didn’t matter.

When you help your editor job-hunt, your relationship changes forever.

She learned you don’t just care about her when you can get money from her. You care about her. You’re friends.

Build personal friendships with editors, and you’ll never go hungry.

Meanwhile, what about the publication my editor left years ago? The editor staff has turned over several times since then…and I’m still writing there.

What do you do when an editor leaves? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

 

 

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22 comments on “How to Get Twice as Many Writing Assignments When Your Editor Leaves
  1. HeatherL says:

    Just wondering how you had email before the Internet?

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s a great question! In the very old days we had Intranets — I’d email my company through their private email system, and be able to use their address to email others as well. Email was happening for quite a few years before websites and the Internet as we think of it now came into widespread use.

  2. Amel says:

    When this happened to me at the first publication I regularly wrote for, I felt lost and frustrated because I didn’t know what had happened to the old editor, and the new one was slow and unresponsive whenever I tried to get in touch. This pretty much forced me to branch out and approach new publications…which is really the best thing that could have happened to me at that time. I got out of my comfort zone and landed several really good clients. The lesson I learned is that you simply cannot depend on a single client or publication for your income, even if it is a “dream” client providing you with a steady stream of assignments. Changes can take place very suddenly and leave you scrambling if you are not prepared.
    Amel recently posted…Earn More by Writing for Markets that Pay 20 to 30 Cents per WordMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You bring up a great point — editor changes should also be a signal to freelance writers not to get complacent about the clients we already have, and to be always looking for additional publications we could write for.

    • Erica says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Even as a corporate copywriter, the first signs of trouble were changes in the upper management that influence or own the creative/marketing department. And it always resulted in positions being eliminated.

      Nurture your relationship with marketing managers while they’re there. Play nice with new ones coming in. And always always always always always always always be growing your skills and looking for new opportunities. Always. Seriously, always. 🙂
      Erica recently posted…How to Win a Stare Down with the Blank PageMy Profile

  3. Chris Fuller says:

    Change “editor” to “marketer” and this advice works just as well in the corporate arena. Last year, one of my marketing contacts told me she was leaving her position with my client. We were connected on LinkedIn, so I was able to stay in touch. When she landed somewhere else, she contacted me and I’ve since done several assignments for her new employer, a/k/a my new client.

    Also, I had developed multiple contacts with her previous employer, so when she left, I was able to transition quickly to one of them for continued assignments. I still have my original client and now have a new client, all due to making the effort to build relationships. Win-Win, I think . . .

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Chris – thanks for bringing this up. Definitely great marketing managers are also ones to stay in touch with, help, and follow to the next job. Sometimes it’s even better than the last company!

  4. Carol, what a wonderful post! I wish I had seen it a few months back when my favorite editor suddenly left his publication and another took his place. It’s been an unhappy partnership since, at least for me, and I’ve realized I’m fine with not working with the new editor in the future. However, i’ve saved these tips for the future and will feel more prepared for the next time an editor heads out suddenly.

    As always, what excellent advice.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Emily — but meanwhile, where did that favorite editor go? Find them! Help them, if they’re still looking. Now’s your chance to get positioned to earn more with them in the future.

  5. Jawad says:

    Carol,
    When my editor left to join another non-related publication and with whom I had develop great professional terms, she introduced me to her successor.
    Initially all seems to be working well with the new editor. However, with the passage of time, I am now beginning to get uneasy with the amount to time it takes him to repsond to queries. Even the article submission-to-publication duration seems to take a lot longer than in the past (with this new editor as compared to the previous editor).
    I had politely and subtly tried to point this status to the current editor, but he seems to be in no hurry or mood to make amends. This publication pays GREAT and is highly respectable and very-well known, so I wish to continue having the steady flow of income as well also maintaining the professional relationship. At the same time, I don’t know what can I do to make things any better? Sometimes, waiting for 3-4 months from submission-to-publication seems too long and I feel like I am running out of patience. I also don’t want to feel like I am ‘pestering’ the editor, by sending follow-up emails.
    For now, I am still slightly confused how to manage this situation, with this specific publication? Perhaps… someone can help or guide! 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jawad —

      Ah yes. You bring up the dark side of editor changeovers. Editing STYLES often change, too.

      I had it happen at one of my pubs. It went from super-easy to get $1 a word assignments on long features to suddenly nearly impossible to get a $300 assignment, and it would take three months to get it firmed up.

      Sometimes the answer is to find another editor at the publication to work with — I switched in one case from the print side to their online blogging and feature writing editor, and lived happily ever after. Publications often have multiple editors and silos…if one situation is going downhill, look around and see who else you might write for there.

    • Amel says:

      Having been in this situation before, I would recommend that you continue to query the new editor every now and then, but it is also important to branch out. Take the clips you have amassed at this publication, and use them to acquire assignments at publications in the same niche or industry as you now have valuable experience that may be of interest to similar or competing publications.
      Amel recently posted…Earn More by Writing for Markets that Pay 20 to 30 Cents per WordMy Profile

  6. Nida Sea says:

    Great advice, Carol. Knowing myself, the first thing I’d do is freak out. Glad you put that in there as a first step. 😉

    • Yep, don’t freak out. Gotta agree with you Nida that this is the most important point in Carol’s post.

      I think we all feel like freaking out when this sort of thing happens. But if you keep your nerve and thoughtfully and calmly go about redressing the situation then things usually come good.
      Kevin Carlton recently posted…7 reasons why you’ll want CommentLuv on your WordPress blogMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        Oh, definitely, the first time it happened to me I was completely panicked. Up until about 2008 or so, it seemed like editors were all in the same spot for ages…sometimes, for life. But we all have to change with the times.

        And the thing is that editor musical chairs can benefit us by turning every connection we have into TWO connections, if we play it right.

        We can all be distressed by our life in modern media, or we can learn how to surf this wave to our advantage. 😉

        • Carol, I do like the fact that you think of every new editor as a potential new connection. In other words, turnover of staff is, in many cases, a good thing.
          And, unless the previous editor is retiring, very often they’re moving up the ladder – good news if you maintain that connection.
          Kevin Carlton recently posted…7 reasons why you’ll want CommentLuv on your WordPress blogMy Profile

          • Carol Tice says:

            It can be great news…though in recent years it’s more often due to economic upheaval. But in any case, hang onto those editor relationships, because you never know where that editor might go next, or who they might be talking to who is looking for a freelance writer.

            I’m just grateful we have LinkedIn now, which makes it SO easy to stay in touch when people change jobs!

            • LindaH says:

              I’m so glad you wrote this post and people are checking and realizing the truth of it. I’ve recently read numerous threads from journalists and writers who have that “giveitupitis” and it can really draw you down to repeatedly hear it. Yet knowing that there is opportunity out there, that Linked In bridges the global gap we couldn’t reach before is really encouraging.

              And I’m with Carol–don’t freak out if an editor gets fired, look at it as a new opportunity! My motto has always been when one door closes another opens and it’s my job to step through that new open door. Something better is planned ahead. It’s easy to step into the negative, but having posts like this to reference when you get down is huge in maintaining a positive outlook.

              I’m glad others have seen the value in this advice and Carol’s post. It really makes me smile to know that despite the naysayers out there, many are still positively looking toward new opportunities, building and strengthening relationships with editors, and finding work that pays well for their efforts. That’s really what it’s all about.

  7. Rob S says:

    After a former editor of mine left, she privately informed me that I should ask for more from her former employer. It was my first clue that I was undercharging and was a real turning point in my career.
    Rob S recently posted…How Much Can a Freelance Copywriter Make in Australia?My Profile

  8. Julie Shannon says:

    This advice is Gold. I have gotten jobs 10 years down the road from relationships that I built and treasured. Do your work, know your topic, write well and turn things in on time — but create relationships and you will be wealthier all around. Glad to see this in print and know that it is working for you, too, Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right back at ya — glad it worked for you!

      Now that media is changing so fast, editors are on a merry-go-round. I’ve just met SO many writers who tell this story: “I was earning great, then my editor got fired…and now I’m starving!” There’s a lot of ‘give-up-itis’ out there when editors leave, and I just want to say…it doesn’t have to be a disaster.