6 Tips for Successful Writers From an Editor-in-Chief

It’s rare for writers to get an inside peek into the editor-in-chief’s job, so when I received this email from Terry-Lynn Stone, the big kahuna at British Columbia-based alive magazine, I jumped on the chance to share her writing tips with my fellow scribes! These tips are based on a writer who sent an email to the wrong person.

successful writer tipsIf you’re new to freelancing – or if you want to learn something new about freelancing – read Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer by Moira Allen (because I guarantee that even the most seasoned freelance writers have stuff to learn!).

“If you want to be a famous writer, keep at it for ten years,” said a Hollywood legend. “By that time everyone else wll have quit and they’ll HAVE to hire you.” This quip is from If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman, and who the legend is remains a mystery.

I’m telling you, fellow scribes…perseverance is where it’s at! Ten years of determination, and you’ll be a successful writer. And, if you apply these tips from editor-in-chief Stone, you might make it in eight years!  🙂

Tips for Successful Writers

Here, Ms Stone explains how – three months after she was hired as the editor-in-chief of alive, a health magazine in Canada – she established some new writing policies for freelancers.

“After three months on the job, I needed to put some new procedures in place,” says Ms Stone. “Before I arrived, writers regularly missed their deadlines – and I’m talking about many regular freelancers who would miss deadlines by weeks, not just days. This made the whole editing process almost impossible. Articles would sometimes come in so late, they had to be edited the day they were being designed by art!”

Remember that your article is simply one piece of the puzzle, and editors may be working with a 5,000 piece jigsaw. Be as flexible and accommodating as possible – and don’t miss your deadlines unless you’re sick, injured, or giving birth. 

Ms Stone says that she wrote a very nice email to all of the offenders, explaining the need for a new submissions policy (submit your article on time!). “While some freelancers were fine with the new rules, others pushed back like crazy, saying ‘I only turn in well researched well written articles and those take time’  and  ‘I always get extensions – that’s the way I work.’  I politely told them I only accepted well- researched, well-written articles, but if they weren’t in on time, then I wouldn’t accept them – and the writers wouldn’t get paid.”

Work with your editors! If they ask you to do something crazy – like submit an article on time – don’t argue, threaten, whine, or cry. Roll with it, fellow scribes.

Ms Stone continues, “After I sent the ‘new policy’ email, I received a response from a writer, which was obviously addressed to someone else. I guess the writer pressed reply instead of forward. The writer thought she had forwarded my email to a friend – who she regaled with my shortcomings. One of the sentences she wrote was, ‘Who the hell does this Terry-Lynn woman think she is? I give her three months and she’ll be gone.'”

Playing nice with editors will guarantee you’ll get more writing gigs.

Check your “To” line before you hit send.  Twice.

What was Ms Stone’s response to this writer? “Well, of course on one level I was hurt, but I recognized how easy it is to make such a mistake,” she says. “I replied to the email saying, ‘Dear…I don’t think I was the intended recipient for this letter.’ I then went on to explain how saddened I was that she found the new rules – which I considered reasonable – so difficult.”

Thank your lucky stars if your editors actually communicate with you! This was a very real, honest email from a busy woman – and it deserves a tip of the hat.

“I believe we’re all capable of sending emails we regret later, so getting angry and on my high horse didn’t seem genuine,” says Ms Stone. “The writer was mortified at her mistake, and even more mortified when she saw herself as she must appear to me. She insisted she thought of herself as a moral person who didn’t make snide remarks behind others’ backs, but she saw how badly her behaviour represented herself. She was very apologetic. Of course, I accepted her apology and I continued to commission articles from her.”

tips for successful writers

“6 Tips for Successful Writers From an Editor-in-Chief” image by RyanMcGuire via Pixabay, CC License

Be willing to eat humble pie when you do wrong, because you could actually repair the damage – some editors will actually continue to work with you. And, before you send any correspondence, take a look at yourself through your editors’ eyes.

Ms Stone thinks she and this writer both learned a valuable lesson that day. “If you are sending a strong message of any kind, file it in your drafts for a minimum of 24 hours!” she says. “I’m shocked at how often I open my draft folder and find emails I wanted to send days earlier, only to realize that, written in the heat of the moment, they wouldn’t have served me or the recipient well.”

Always, always, always let your writing gel for several days, before you share it with the world. You’ll thank yourself later, when you catch harsh words, unintentional meanings, and even a typo or two.

What do you think of these tips for successful writers – and do you have any other tips? I welcome your comments below! You might also be interested in learning my reasons I’m not succeeding as a writer.

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4 thoughts on “6 Tips for Successful Writers From an Editor-in-Chief”

  1. Hi Nel,

    Thanks for your question — it’s a great one!

    In my experience, editors rarely reject a query to do the story themselves. I’ve read that they don’t do this as standard practice, and when I send pitches, I’ve received responses such as, “Great article idea! We’re already working on it,” or “We’ve already assigned this story, but keep pitching!”

    Though I have heard of editors misappropriating articles and seemingly lifting ideas, I think those are few and far between. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, and they seem to travel across the universe. That is, if I see a new research study or find out that a new band is doing a concert, then an idea is triggered — both in my brain and other writers’ brains, and editors’ brains….

    It works for me to send in the query letter, secure the assignment, and then write the article. It saves you time and energy, and it allows editors to shape the article the way they see fit.

    Good luck – and do check out the sample query letters I’ve posted here! They might help…


  2. Great advice. I love to do music pieces for various publications (event reviews, artist profiles & updates etc.)

    Question: Should I do the article first and submit to publication or should I send query letter first?

    Sending the query letter is obviously the best choice but, editors may reject the query and do the story themselves. On the other end the article may be completed and rejected… never published.

    What’s the best approach?
    a torn Nel 🙂