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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mistakes Happen...Even to Me

Want to set a goal for yourself? Here’s a good one. Turn in every story you write early.

In 13+ years of fulltime freelancing, I’ve turned in all but four stories (and ALL of my books) early, at least a day or two (often even a week) before deadline. I like getting work off of my desk, and I’ve become known as “that writer who always turns stuff in early.” There are worse things to be known for...and I recently discovered one more advantage to being so anal about deadlines.

Several weeks ago, a colleague told me about a possible reprint market. An editor she knew was looking for health stories to reprint for a condition-specific magazine, and she thought of me and gave me his name and contact info. Even better, she told him about me and that I’d be in touch.

Within an hour, we'd connected via email, and he soon asked to review several stories. He liked one in particular, and asked me to rework it a bit to better fit his audience. No problem. We agreed I’d cut it by about half and aim it at an older demographic of both men and women. (The piece originally ran in a woman's magazine.) He gave me a four-day deadline, and I turned it in two days later. I’m good.

Or maybe not. Later that day, I was at the park with my kiddos and received an email from him. “Hi Kelly, got the article but this isn’t quite what I was expecting…. This isn’t written for an older adult recently diagnosed with serious health conditions and it singles out women (whereas our mag also goes to men). Plus it’s well over the 700-750 word limit.”

OMG! You already know what I did, right? I attached the wrong file. Instead of the 700-word piece he’d requested, he got a 1,900-word piece aimed at 20-something women on a completely different topic. I was mortified. I hate making mistakes. I left him a voice mail, apologizing profusely, and promised him the correct file as soon as I got back to the office.

Happily, he emailed the next morning, accepting the story and sent me the contract. I don't know yet whether we'll work together again. I hope so. At least I did what I could to rectify my mistake ... once I learned of it. And hey, we have a relatively new baby at home … and I haven't been sleeping well as a when I sent I emailed apologizing for my oversight, I attached a picture of said baby (my blue-eyed, chubby-cheeked, gorgeous excuse).

Mistakes happen. Even to me. I admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve ever attached the wrong file and sent it to a client. But it is the first time I’ve done it with a new client. Which is not at all the first impression I want to make with someone.

On the other hand, because I turned in the story early, I was able to send the correct file and still beat my deadline without causing him any additional stress. That’s got to count for something.

What about you? What dumb mistakes have you made as a smart freelancer…and how did you rectify them?


  1. Hi Kelly:

    About four months ago, I was assigned an article about a local game room, BUT I was unable (and this is a rarity)to visit the location. I had to work via email and the website.

    Anyway, I turned in the piece the day prior to deadline, and the editor said it was missing a lot of what was needed. Foolishly, my issues at that time had interfered with proper thinking. I had left out vivid description, and basic info like hours, prices, and primarily what would draw people there.

    Before the day of the deadline ended, I rewrote the 500 word piece, and turned it in prior to deadline, emailing it in during my writer's group meeting. The article was accompanied by an apology from me, accepting responsibility BUT not making excuses.

    I still write for the publication.


  2. I put PhD after a psychologist's name instead of PsyD. The article ran and she caught the mistake. I apologized to her, fixed it on my copy, and sent the article to her when it sold again in another rpp.

    Learned my lesson.

  3. I'm just glad to hear that you've sent the wrong file to editors too! I did the same thing recently, my first time -- and it was for a first time client too. Like you, I apologized, readjusted and all seems to be well now.

  4. I spelled the name of an editor wrong on my first pitch to him. Amazingly, not only did he give me an assignment, he gave me a FEATURE rather than the FOB piece I'd been pitching.

  5. Thank you all for sharing these mistakes, and how you handled them. Jennifer, this post should ring a bell with you because *you're* the colleague...and I bet you can figure out who the editor is! :)

  6. Several times I've sent the transcribed notes instead of the actual article.

  7. Due to a typo I spelled the name of a photo editor wrong. I realized it just as I pressed the send button. I thought I was going to die! I sent him a second email within about 60 seconds telling him I had made the ONE mistake you are not supposed to make and that I really did know his name. Not sure if it was the right action to take... but I felt better that he at least knew I had caught my mistake.

  8. Thanks for the posts, Julie and Anonymous...and I would have done the same thing (sent the email as soon as I realized my mistake). I'd rather let someone know I realized I screwed up and apologize then have them wondering if I even noticed...