If you’ve always dreamed of being a freelance journalist, and if you want to pitch that article you’re working on for Write Nonfiction in November to a magazine or newspaper, you might be wondering what editors and publisher look for in freelance writers. You might also be asking why publications even use freelancers when they have staff writers and editors that could easily do the job themselves. I asked an old college buddy of mine, and my “sometimes boss” (I currently serve as a freelance writer for two or his publications), Seth Mendelson to provide some clarity on these issues. Seth deals with lots of writers in his job at MacFadden Communication Group. He serves as vice president and group publisher/editorial director for Grocery Headquarters, Consumer Products Buyer Home Furnishings News and The Pet Aisle, and as editorial director for The Pet Elite, Pet Business and Grooming Business.
Why Publications Use Freelancers and
Attributes that Land Freelancers Second Assignments
By Seth Mendelson
Vice President-Group Publisher/Editorial Director
MacFadden Communication Group
As publisher and editor of seven different magazines, I am approached frequently by freelance writers about writing and photo assignments. Freelance writers and photographers are important to our operation, because they offer different voices and can accomplish things that my full-time editorial staff cannot. They also can fill a void in a crunch.
Most importantly, freelancers can offer our magazines perspectives from various parts of the country. Based in New York City, our full-time staffs tend to have a distinctive east coast bias, one that is not good for any national publication trying to reach out to a broad section of consumers or business officials.
That said, the freelance writer we are looking for must come with certain attributes. Of course, they must understand the markets we serve, who we are trying to reach and what our readers are demanding from our magazines. Offering a different angle on a story concept is much desired. Also, they need to come prepared with story ideas and concepts.
As could be expected, the most important aspect of using a freelance writer more than once is the simple fact that they were able to submit a well-done, completed assignment on or, hopefully, before deadline. It is also crucial that the freelancer make him or herself available for any follow-up questions and assistance.
I use about five to seven freelancers every month and, during certain periods of the year, can use as many as a dozen freelancers during a particular publication cycle. Like any editor, I have my favorites; they are the ones who offer expertise on the subject matter, hand in timely and complete stories on deadline and are willing to give 100 percent all the time.
It is not hard getting one freelance assignment from me. Reach me at the right time and in need, and I am willing to give just about anyone a shot. Getting the second assignment is when things get tough.
Vice President-Group Publisher/Editorial Director:
Consumer Products Buyer
Home Furnishings News (HFN)
The Pet Aisle
The Pet Elite
Fax (646) 674-0102
Macfadden Communications Group
Note from Nina: I asked Seth to tell me the five most common mistakes writers make that ensure they won’t be given a second assignment. Not surprisingly, they are similar to – but opposite of -the characteristics that make for a “keeper” when it comes to freelance writers. Here they are:
- Doing a bad or sloppy job
- Turning in an incomplete story
- Missing a deadline
- Not following assignment guidelines
- Being uncooperative
As for #5, in addition to not doing what you are asked, this can mean being too attached to your words. If you are writing on assignment for a publication, remember the magazine or newspaper is your “client.” You simply need to make them happy – even if that means cutting or changing what you have written.