What do editors want from freelancers? #ahcj14

Lisa Krieger

About Lisa Krieger

Lisa Krieger is a science and medicine writer at the San Jose Mercury News. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ-California Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

Editors from four newspapers, magazines and web platforms offered great tips on how to conceive, pitch and write a freelance story during a Friday panel at Health Journalism 2014 in Denver.

In the interest of efficiency, here is a summary of their advice:

New York Times’ Science Times: David Corcoran, editor

The opportunities for new freelancers in Science Times are quite limited. Most materials come from staff writers or regular contributors. Major findings out of science and medical journals are likely covered by staffers.

What is Science Times looking for? “Something newsy and timely, especially topics that make a reader sit up and take notice by calling attention to a surprising or underreported development or trend.”

Pitch? “Tell me something I don’t already know. The first few graphs should answer the question ‘Why are you telling me this now?’ Say who you are, where you studied, your authority on the subject, where else you’ve been published, and summarize your pitch in less than 300 words.

Articles run 500-1500 words. Pay is $1 a word on publishing.

Links to previous pieces? Yes. Website? “Sure, but I won’t have time to look at it.”

Men’s Health: Tyghe Trimble, senior editor

1.) Know the process. MH holds stories all the time. Pages get bumped. News breaks. Ads fall out, or come in.

2.) Meet deadlines. The most ready piece is the most likely to run. “When the Managing Editor asks ‘Is it in?’ a ‘no’ may bump it back an issue or two.”

3.) Be organized. Provide fact-checking materials immediately. Bonus: Help art department by providing contacts early.

4.) Collaborate. Be sure you understand the editor’s requests in every round, from assignment to second/third draft.

5.) Check in. There is an opaque process of editing – feel free to ask where we are in the process. Tell us what your schedule is. Check in while you’re reporting.

6.) Have a “must-publish” news peg. Examples: seasonal peg (cold season) or breaking news peg (H1N1 outbreak).

8.) Pitch to Special Issues. Check in to see what topics will be covered.

9.) Make a relationship. If you’re new to a publisher, you’re more likely to get held. If you know the timing, tone, editors and process, things will go faster.

10.) Write for the Web. Websites don’t usually pay as much but find the right one and you can benefit. There’s more demand. There’s less back and forth. The need for content is urgent. You can take on more off-beat or daring topics. It is a great way to break into a publication.

Links to previous pieces? Yes. Website? Yes.

AARP Media: features editor Betsy Agnvall

1.) Send in a well-crafted query. Don’t write the whole piece but enough to be imaginable.

2.) Don’t just copy and paste a press release. Tell us how you would write about a study and why it works for the publication you are querying. Consider the audience.

3.) Include ideas on how it could work cross-platform.

4.) Write a catchy headline. It helps get our attention.

5.) Paste the query into an email. We’re too busy to open attachments.

6.) You catch more flies with sugar. It’s OK to pester editors, but not too often and use good manners.

7.) If you send an editor a reminder about a previous query, make sure to paste the query into the reminder email because we probably don’t remember.

8.) Beware of getting on the “bad” list. Word spreads quickly when a writer is rude or snarky. Even if the editor drives you crazy, it is not worth it.

9.) Present at least one good study/piece of evidence in the query. “Studies show” doesn’t work.

10.) Suggest a fresh way to package the information. Sidebar? Video? Online?

11.) Get ideas from what your friends are talking about. Think: How can you turn this into a story? WSJ’s “Personal” section does this brilliantly.

12.) Don’t take rejection personally. If you’re totally ignored, it may be time to move on, but if you even get a nibble, try again with another query.

Links to previous pieces? Yes. Website? Yes.

Family Circle: Lynya Floyd, health director

Tips for getting your foot in the door when you don’t know the editor:

1.) In pitch email, write a really amazing subject line that could work as a title for story. It will make me excited to read email and readers pick up magazine.

2.) When writing a pitch, remember your goal: Entertain the reader. Inform her. And Inspire her. What are you inspiring readers to do to make lives better?

3.) Write a lead that really grabs me. Create a nice narrative read.

4.) Flies and sugar. Compliment my magazine: “I loved the X package, I learned X Y and Z.”

5.) If we have met before – throw that in there.

6.) Have an amazing pitch. “When you click ‘send,’ make sure it is a pitch I can forward on to the editor-in-chief.” Make it tight and grabby. Say why it is perfect for our readership.

7.) Think of packaging: what are the sidebar elements? A list of tips? A flow chart? An infographic? A first-person narrative? Focus on how the piece will be put together.

8.) Go through old issues online to see what we’ve done on your topic in the last year.

Links to previous pieces? Yes. Website? Yes.

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