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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Choose Relationships Over Assignments

You know I do a lot of reslanting, which means I often send the same idea to different markets at the same time. In the publishing business, this is usually called simultaneous submitting or simultaneous submissions.
            When I do this, though, I have two rules. First, I make sure I’ve tweaked the idea for the market I’m pitching. And second, I never simultaneously submit to competing markets. 
            Let me explain. Say I come up with a story idea on developing a better relationship with your in-laws. I might send that query to a bridal magazine like Bridal Guide and then tweak it to apply to marriages of all types (not just new ones) and send it to Family Circle at the same time. My logic is that readers of one magazine aren’t likely to be reading the other—and the publications aren't competing against each other for readers. (Note that if both pieces are assigned, I’ll write two different articles, with different angles, different sources, and different approaches.) However, I won’t query the same idea to Bridal Guide and Brides at the same time—even if it’s timely and I want to get an assignment as soon as possible.
            Here’s why: What happens if editors at both bridal publications want the story? Even if my contracts allow it (and one or both may prohibit me from covering the same topic for a certain time), I guarantee one of them (and possibly both!) is going to be upset when she discovers I’m also covering the topic for her competitor! There goes my relationship with the editor and the magazine … likely for good.
            If two magazines cover the same subjects and seek the same kinds of readers, I consider them competitors. I wouldn’t simultaneously submit to Men’s Health and Details, or O and More, at the same time. But I’d have no problem pitching a piece on middle-aged sex and how to make it better to Men’s Health and More simultaneously. 
            What if you’ve got an idea that’s highly time-sensitive and you don’t want to wait weeks (or longer) to hear back from an editor? I still don’t pitch more than one competing market at a time. Instead, I stress the time-sensitive nature of the pitch and either follow up on it right away (within a day or two) by phone or give the editor a tight deadline to respond by. If she doesn’t get back to me by that date (which I highlight in the query), I move on to my second-choice market. That keeps my query in play, while still showing respect for the editor at the first publication.
            I know some freelancers who take an “open market” approach, simultaneously submitting to competing magazines and selling the idea to the editor who jumps first. I’m not comfortable with that approach. Freelancing isn't about getting assignments. Well, it is, but only in part. At its heart, freelancing is about building relationships with editors.
So, if Bridal Guide doesn’t want the story, sure, I’ll query Bride's (and no, I won’t say, “Hey, so Bridal Guide isn’t interested…are you?” in my pitch!) If Self doesn’t want an idea, then I’ll take it to Shape. But I don't simultaneously submit to competing markets—ever. I’d rather lose some time on a pitch than run the risk of losing an editor—or a market—for good.
[This post is Secret 50: Choose relationships over assignments from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you're serious about freelancing, I hope you'll check it out. Thanks! Or if you're a total newbie to freelancing and want to know how to sell your first article, you won't find better, more practical advice than in my ebook,Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article.]