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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Worry of New Freelancers: Do Editors Steal Ideas? (and How to Prevent it!)

I'm revisiting some classic freelancing topics over the next few weeks. Every time I speak about freelancing, I hear from at least one writer who is afraid to pitch an idea to a magazine--because the editor will steal his or her idea. 

Here's the thing. It happens less than you might think. Magazines tend to run the same types of stories over and over. Parenting publications run stories on discipline, sleep, and children's health, for example while fitness magazines run workout and diet stories every month. So just because you pitched a piece about ways to work out on the beach to a magazine like Fitness and the editor rejects your query (or you never hear from her) and then you see a beach workout a few months later, that doesn't mean she stole your idea. (Now, if you had pitched a piece on a new cutting-edge workout that no one has heard of, and the same thing occurred, then maybe, yeah, she took your idea.) 

Here's what I mean. Early in my freelance career, I was pitching dozens of different markets. I was thrilled when one editor took the time to call me and ask for story ideas. I spent a lot time coming up with a specific idea, researched it, and mailed the query. I didn't hear anything from her, so I followed up on the query. Still, no response. Still, I sent her another idea...and then months later, I saw “my” idea in the magazine, right down to the specific sidebar I’d suggested. A little strange, huh? 

Wondering how I handled this? I stewed about it for a while, then decided to send her a new query. I opened with language like "I was delighted to see you included a piece on aquatic fitness in the August issue, an idea I'd pitched you back in January. This lets me know I'm on the right track, and I have another idea for you to consider." She never responded. Here's the thing. I'm 99 percent sure she stole my idea. Remember this was an editor who contacted me personally, asking for ideas...and then never responded to me. I didn't even want to write for her at this point or accuse her of anything, but I did want to let her know that I knew  what had happened. And no, I never heard from her. (Footnote--the magazine folded a year or so later.) 

So, how do you prevent an editor from taking your idea and assigning it to another writer? YOu write the best query you can--it's your only opportunity to make a first impression. Your query should demonstrate that you’re already researched the story idea. If you’ve already spoken to possible expert sources, quote them in the query. Cite statistics or recent studies if relevant. If you're pitching a profile and you’re received the subject’s permission to write about him, include that information. And highlight your unique qualifications in your ISG. Your goal is to convince the editor to let you write the story. A detailed, professional query that demonstrates why you’re uniquely qualified to do so is the most effective weapon you have as a new writer.

Readers, what about you? Has an editor ever "stolen" your idea? How did you handle it? 

***Are you a new freelancer who stumbled onto my blog? Welcome. If you want to make the jump from unpublished to published (and it's a big one), check out my new ebook, Dollars and Deadlines Guide to: Selling your First Article. You'll find everything you need to know to get to published and paid! :)