I’ve read a lot of books on freelancing (and written a couple!), and most focus on the practical aspects of the business like developing a writing niche and stepping up to higher-paying markets. That's excellent advice.
Yet many ignore one of the most essential aspects of successful freelancing--the willingness to go beyond what editors and clients require.
For example, several years ago I interviewed a cake decorator for a trade magazine story. During the course of the interview, she mentioned that the magazine had recently run "her" photo. There was only one problem--the person in the picture wasn’t her.
Hey, I had nothing to do this. It wasn’t my problem. Most writers would have shrugged their shoulders, and thought, "so what?" Instead, I apologized on behalf of the publication, and told her I’d let my editor know. After the interview, I called my editor and told her what had happened, suggesting that we use a photo of the woman and her cakes to accompany my story on cake trends.
My editor agreed, and thanked her for letting her know about the mistake. I called the decorator back to tell her the magazine would be in touch—and this time I promised, she would be in the magazine. And she was.
I didn’t have to take this extra step--I'm just a freelancer after all. But I realized I could probably address what had happened and make the publication (and my editor) look good as well. That helped me build a relationship with an editor who was new to me—and good relationships are critical to success in this business.
How else can you go the extra mile with a client or editor?
• Turn stories in early. When you beat your deadline, you give your editor some unexpected breathing room. Trust me, they like this!
• Suggest story ideas—even if you don’t write them. I don’t do short pieces anymore, but when I come across new studies that would make good FOB, or “front of book,” material, I pass along the information to my editor. It takes only a few seconds, and I know she appreciates it.
• Compliment her when you can. When I get my contributor’s copy, I always scan my article for any editorial changes. If the edits strengthened the piece (and they usually do), I’ll send a quick note thanking her and telling her the final version looked great. Editors like to receive praise just like writers do.
• Keep her up to speed. Several of my editors freelance as well, and I share contact names and industry gossip when I touch base with them. Writers may have access to info through the freelance grapevine editors don't.
• Put yourself in her shoes. Say you’re an editor who’s turned in a story only to have it slashed to ribbons by your boss. Now you must make your boss, the senior editor, happy. Would you rather work with a writer who complains about revisions or listens carefully and agrees to revise the story? That’s an easy call.
Stop thinking of your clients as merely the people who sign your checks, and consider how you can make their lives easier. I promise it will pay off with more regular clients, and more work in the long run.
For more smart, savvy advice about freelancing, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House, 2005.)