5 ways for freelance writers to impress their editors

5 ways for freelance writers to impress their editors

Writers can impress their editors by going above and beyond.

For about 15 years, I’ve been on both sides of the freelance fence: I’ve assigned stories to freelance writers as an editor, and I’ve been assigned stories as a freelance writer. To be honest, the grass isn’t any greener on either side.

Thanks to my both-sides-of-the-fence perspective, it’s easy to understand what it takes to be a go-to freelance writer and also know what it takes to recruit good freelance writers.

Earlier this year, freelance writer Lisa Furgison put out a HARO (Help A Reporter Out) request seeking five tips about how a freelancer can “wow” an editor. “These tips should assume,” Lisa wrote on HARO, “that the freelancer is already meeting deadlines and turning in error-free copy.” Fair enough.

Right away, I cranked out a response to Lisa, who featured my tips, mostly paraphrased, in an article for Ebyline.com.

Here are my five (slightly edited) tips in their entirety for how freelance writers can impressive their editors.

1. Pitch me something different. Far too often, I receive general pitches like “How to find a storage unit.” Since my employer, SpareFoot, operates an online marketplace for self-storage, we’ve covered that basic subject already. Send me a pitch that offers a new take on a story that we perhaps already have done. Blow me away with something that I’ve never heard or seen before. Be sure to scour the blogs and websites you’re pitching before you send your pitch.

2. Cultivate some of your own sources. While I am more than happy to provide suggested sources, it’s great if a freelancer can find sources who not only are credible but also are highly quotable. If you can find a great source we weren’t already aware of, that’s golden. Going back to the tried-and-true well of sources is fine in most cases, but it’s nice to get fresh voices into a story.

3. Go above and beyond. I recently asked one of my longtime freelancers to track down a person who had lived in a storage unit and tell that person’s story. He did find that person — without any help from me — and turned in an incredible story that has spawned two related pieces about people living in storage units.

You also can go above and beyond by contacting more people than your editor may have asked for. About a year ago, I wrote a freelance story for a trade publication, and the editor was floored at the depth and breadth of sources I ended up including in the story. You don’t want to overdo the sourcing, but it’s nice to include more than two or three sources if can you make that happen.

4. Weave interesting details into your stories. Many people think of self-storage as a dull topic; other editors out there may be assigning stories about “dull” topics. Well, storage — and so many other subjects — doesn’t have to be dull. One way to combat that is to include specifics in your stories: What did the inside of the storage unit look like? Precisely what sorts of items did that person have in storage for 10 years? Paint a picture with your stories, rather than just providing run-of-the-mill quotes and reams of data.

5. Be on the lookout for other stories. Several weeks ago, I assigned a story to a freelancer I’d never used before. The assignment was a roughly 700- to 800-word piece about the self-storage market in a midsize metro area. In the midst of reporting that story, she came across another, more intriguing story — a man in that region who is renting 75 storage units for his stuff. The freelancer was so startled by the number of storage units that she double-checked it with the self-storage manager she’d interviewed. Yes, that astonishing figure was correct.

She pursued the apparent hoarder as a separate story, but it didn’t pan out. Still, I appreciated the fact that she was thinking beyond the original assignment. Curiosity can lead to so many great stories. Now, she’s part of my regular stable of freelancers — even though neither one of us probably will ever know more about that guy with the 75 storage units. 

Editors: we want to hear from you! What are some other ways freelance writers and journalists can impress you?

John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that operates the country’s largest online marketplace for self-storage units.

Photo: The extra mile via Shutterstock

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