Advice From A Real Life Editor Who Might Hire You

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Linda Yvette Chavez, VP of Editorial Content at Comediva.com.

How do you do, readers of the C2C? I’m excited to chat with creative folks like you and help your book jacket dreams come true–even if I have to drag you toward them kicking and screaming!  I’m persistent that way, just ask Ollin.

Who am I and why do I give a damn about you if I don’t know you from Adam?  I’m a writer, a creative spirit, a pursuer of elusive dreams and … oh yeah, I’m an editor that may hire you one day.

Now, you can get hired the hard way by reading this post or you can do it the easy way by having cupcakes delivered to my office.  No?  Didn’t bite?  Dang.  Did I mention I’m the editor of a female-driven comedy website called Comediva?  Me likey the jokes.

But back to making your dreams come true.

Most of you are writers writing novels.  Beautiful!  I’ve been there.  My writing experience runs the gamut from narrative prose to my most recent adventures in screenwriting and online web content.  I know what it’s like to ride the creative rainbow toward that distant pot o’ gold.  But more importantly, I know what it’s like to try to pay the bills on your way there.

Other C2C guests have suggested you freelancewriteyourwaytowardyourdreams. Agreed!  While some have given you tips on how to get work at print magazines, I’ll speak more to the task of bringing home the bacon writing for the internet.

My motto:  “Don’t give them any reason to reject you.  Give them every reason to hire you.”  So, here are some DOs and DON’Ts for applying and/or submitting work to a website’s editor.

The Research

Writers who do their research about the site they’d like to write for don’t waste an editor’s time.  And believe you me, time is of the essence for any editor working in a medium, like the internet, that runs at the speed of light.  Research = brownie points.

Things to consider while researching:

Audience

Who reads this website?!  Is it hairless dog lovers in New Hampshire?  Punk rock, breast-feeding mamas in San Antonio?  Who follows their Twitter and Facebook accounts?  Resources like Quantcast.com can give you even more details.

Current Content

Don’t even THINK about submitting to a website without first reading some of their content.  It’s always painfully obvious when a writer hasn’t taken the time to understand the website, its content or its goals.

Guidelines

A website’s writer’s guidelines are usually tucked away on the site somewhere.  Find them.  Read them.  Guidelines will usually spell out the website’s style, voice and format.  Learn them, inside and out.  Your editor will be at once impressed and relieved.

The Cover Letter

Similar to submitting a query letter to a magazine, some websites may ask for a cover letter when submitting content.  Cover letters are solicited for more than the purpose of hearing a writer say, “Yo, I’m interested.  Give me the gig!”  Instead, use a cover letter to make the editor fall head-over-heels in love with your awesomeness.

Cover Letters Are Writing Samples

“Wait, but I’m already submitting writing samples!  What do you mean?”  Your cover letter will be the very first thing an editor reads from you.  Make it count by crafting your cover letter in a voice and style that resembles their website’s.  Our site delivers comedy, so humorous cover letters that captured our voice received my full attention.

Pitch Your Passion, But Keep It Brief

Express why you’re passionate about the website you’d like to work for.  Find that nugget of zeal, even if it’s as small as, “I love punk rock music by breastfeeding mamas!  Woman power!”  Passionate writers make strong impressions.

Pitch Your Experience, But Keep It Brief

Have you written for other sites?  Do you have fabulous degrees from amazing universities?  Do you have a huge social network thanks to your popular blog?  Awesome; let the editor know.  Website editors are also looking to DRIVE TRAFFIC to the site.  Fantastic writers with established fans, even if a few, are great!  It means you’re a 2-for-1.  The editor gets both a great writer and new visitors to the site.

The Writing Sample

Here’s your golden ticket to freelance heaven.  But it all depends on how much of your writing gold you invest.

Samples Should Reflect The Site’s Style

If you don’t have samples that fit the website’s style, write one.  Here’s where all that research comes into play.  Show the editor you could jump into writing for her website that very instance and deliver.

Brevity Is Beautiful

Editors read loads of writing samples.  No,  really.  Think about how much you read daily, now multiply that by a trillion.  Feel me?  Though your four-page, single-spaced writing sample could be a bite-sized piece of pure genius to a layperson, to an editor it can be a reading nightmare.  Five-hundred words of brilliance will get you further than a three page short story.

How to Keep The Work Coming

Yes!  You did it.  You snagged a gig writing for a website, but now you’d like to keep the work coming.  How do you do it?  BE UNIQUE, BE CLEAR, BE BRIEF in everything you submit.  BE DILIGENT, BE CONSISTENT, BE QUICK AND PRODUCE in a timely manner.  DRIVE TRAFFIC to your content.  If an editor sees your work is popular, she’ll want more of it.

A writer that can do all of these things is a writer that delivers.  She’s also the type of writer I want working for me.

What’s the most candid question you wish you could ask an editor?  Ask me in the comments below and I’ll pop in to answer it!

Linda Yvette Chavez is Vice President of Editorial Content at Comediva.com, a one-stop shop for a girl to get her giggle on.  She’s an award-winning writer and filmmaker with more than 10 years experience in various creative forms and writing styles.  From fiction, poetry and playwriting to screenwriting, blogging and news reporting, Linda’s as eclectic as they come.  She’s worked closely with legendary teachers and mentors at two of the most prestigious universities in the country. She holds a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

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16 comments on “Advice From A Real Life Editor Who Might Hire You

  1. Ollin says:

    Thanks so much for doing this, Linda! This was so illuminating and incredibly useful. You often wonder what an editor is thinking when you apply to a freelance job, so this advice is invaluable. Thank you for being so candid with us.

    My two questions are these:

    1. When a editor asks for a specific word count, does this include the title of the piece, too? Or just the text?

    2. What is the number 1 thing you really wish a freelancer would fix before they sent in an article to you, or even an application to you? For instance, is there one grammar error, or typo you see so often it drives you crazy, and you just want to tell freelancers to watch out for it before they send it to you?

    Thanks for answering our questions!

    • Hi, Ollin! I’m so very happy to be here and excited to start answering some questions!

      My responses:

      1. It depends on the website, but in our department we only count the text as a part of the word count. The reason for that being that at times the editor may change the title of the piece (headline) to serve the website and the type of traffic she’d like to drive to the site.

      2. Honestly, in general, proofreading a piece so that there aren’t any omitted words and/or extremely confusing sections would be awesome-sauce. I can often tell when something hasn’t been carefully proofread when I read a few sentences and think, “What did I just read?” Be clear and concise. Don’t make me guess what word was supposed to go in that blank little spot where you forgot to put the word.

      Also, many writers tend to meander in their introductions. Slice it up, folks, and get right to the meat of your content. It will only benefit you!

      Again, thanks for this wonderful opportunity! Can’t wait to chat it up with your readers.

  2. Great guest post! It appears that I need to head over to comediva immediately — sounds like a fabulous site.

    Question: What’s the biggest mistake you see writers make in the query pile?

    And this is not an editor-specific question, but I’m curious: Given your wide range of writing experience, what is your favorite medium? Blogging, fiction, poetry, etc.?

    • Thanks for stopping by, Amanda! So glad you enjoyed it. I love supporting creative folks, so I’m glad to see you here with a question.

      The biggest mistake I see writers make in the query pile is submitting impersonal cover letters. Again, I should always remind everyone that our website is a comedy one and has slightly different expectations, but if you can make me laugh in that first email or cover letter then “you had me at ‘banana peel.'”

      Submitting to have your work read is serious business, but editors read so much content that they have seen it all. If you can be unique, quirky and personable in your cover letter you’ll put a jaded editor at ease.

      I love your second question! I do adore writing in every medium, but fiction has a special place in my heart. I love words. I love adjectives. I love telling story. My strength lies in writing complex characters and I feel like this particular medium allows me to give the characters I love the attention they deserve.

      Thanks, Amanda!

  3. Jacqui says:

    It sounds like common sense, like I should be able to do this. OK, here’s a question. Any hints on writing comedy for those of us who are humor-challenged? I read a few goods ideas in Maass’ Breakout Novelist. I’m hoping for more.

    Thanks, and this was a great read.

    • Thanks, Jacqui!

      I understand your comedy woes. Having written drama and comedy now, I’ve been in that place where I thought, “How the heck do you make this funny?” And I was right, writing comedy is tough. In fact, a renowned directing instructor I once studied under, may she rest in peace, would say, “Comedy is no laughing matter.”

      But, in time, I learned that it’s as simple as removing the pressure. Don’t TRY to be funny because we are all innately funny in one way or another. Do you make your friends laugh? Do you make your significant other chuckle? Then that comedy seed is there and it’s just a matter of giving yourself the freedom to trip and fall. That’s right, make a bad joke! Over and over and over again. Keep running lines until something hits. Don’t stubbornly hold onto jokes or lines because you think that’s all you’ve got. You’re a creator and you’ll have millions more ideas where that came from.

      Lastly, play a little. Have fun! In the very early days of Comediva, we’d go brainstorm at a very popular amusement park. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds like you played hookie from work.” It does sound that way! But, guess what? When you’re trying to write comedy allowing yourself to play will open up a whole new world of ideas. Our storm sessions actually brought about some of our best sketch, web series and editorial ideas. It also helped us brainstorm marketing and merchandise campaigns that were funny and interesting.

      In our society, playing is underrated. So, I suggest you go play and make a bad joke. It’ll break the ice and allow comedic brilliance to take hold.

      Hope that helps!

      (P.S. Though this article is about writing a web series, it expands a bit more on the comedy creative process. It’s a piece I wrote for the comedy ladies over at TheGLOC.net: http://www.thegloc.net/2011/04/comediva-com-the-making-of-a-comedy-web-series/)

      • Ollin says:

        Just to add my two cents: I agree. Many of my readers have noted that they think my posts are very funny. And the number 1 reason I became funny at all is that I did a whole lot of BAD jokes. In fact, i still do bad jokes. I go through 10, just to get that 1 that’s brilliant. So I agree: you need to be willing to be okay with having a joke bomb – oh and having a group of friends who consistently try to top each other in the joking arena has helped me sharpen my skill. I know that sounds weird, but make more friends with funny people. They set the standard higher and they make you work for it more. So it’s good practice.

      • Jacqui says:

        Great article. Thanks for the link–and the hints–from you and Ollin!

  4. Thanks for the insight into an editor’s brain. I hear a lot about writers who are rejected, but write back to the editor asking for feedback or suggestions. I tend to follow the rules in writing and in life, so is this real? Or does it depend on the editor? I’ve had rejections from editors who claim they love my writing, but I have never attempted to ask for a second chance. What is your take on this?

    • Hi, Marina! Thanks for stopping by. I hope I’ve understood your question. Are you asking whether or not it’s okay to ask for feedback on why you were rejected, or whether or not you should submit new work?

      I’ll try to answer both. I think it depends on the editor and their specific house rules. Take a look at their guidelines. If it specifically says that a rejection is a rejection, no questions asked, then it’s best to follow those rules. (Though I doubt any one publication would ever be that stringent.) I would, however, resubmit new content, but only if you’ve made adjustments to better fit the website’s style and voice.

      Personally, I think it’s okay to ask for some brief feedback. I think that means allowing yourself to be open to constructive criticism. If you let the editor know that you appreciate their honest opinion on your work, then she’d be more willing to give it to you. It’s never easy letting a writer know that her piece just isn’t cutting it, but if a writer were to come to me and say, “I’m trying to grow as a writer and can really take any constructive criticism you may have,” then I’d likely be more willing to give that feedback.

      In terms of the editor who claimed to love your writing but still rejected your content, it’s hard to say without knowing the full story. It could have been that your writing was gorgeous, but the content didn’t fit the publication’s slate. It could have been that it wasn’t speaking to the publication’s audience or that the editor knew that her publication’s audience wasn’t interested in the content you wrote. This really helps explain why I give the suggestion of really understanding a website or publication fully. Understand its audience and how they’re trying to make money. It kind of asks of a creative writer to delve into their business mind to ascertain what an editor would approve that would bring her publication the most reads, most advertising and most money.

      Lastly, always ask for second chances. You have absolutely nothing to lose. If this editor rejected your work, it means you’re not working for them now and probably never will since you’ve decided not to submit again. So what difference would it make if you did ask for a second chance? The only difference is that you may actually get that chance. I think that’s a risk worth taking!

      Hope that helps, Marina! I’m glad you’re here trying to make your dreams come true.

  5. Such great advice, Linda! Thank you for sharing your perspective with all these writers and helping them understand where you’re coming from. We’re not up on some rejecty tower wanting you to fail — know that we WANT to love your work, we WANT you to shine and we WANT to give you the opportunities — but it’s up to you to grab them!

    • Thanks, Erika! You’re totally right. I love seeing writers and creative folks give it their all. It makes me happy. Any editor who feels similarly will always give a writer the opportunity to rise to the challenge.

  6. bethany says:

    I loved reading this! My question is: when is it appropriate to give editors your blog to read? Is that a strong or poor technique?

    • Hi Bethany! Thanks for stopping by. That’s a really fabulous question. In this age of blogs, tweets and Facebook profiles, I’ve definitely come across a multitude of blogs submitted along with applications. I think the answer depends on how you use your blog.

      Is yours a personal blog or a professional blog? Are all of the posts top-notch, copyedited and reflect the quality of your writing skills? Or are some entries stream-of-consciousness ruminations on cupcakes, unicorns and Charlie Sheen? (Of course, in my line of work that could very well be pure genius, so it all depends!) Does your blog look professional? Is it easy to navigate? Is every entry on there something you wouldn’t mind an editor reading?

      These days, social media is like a cyber pre-interview. Your blog should showcase your writing strengths. That said, I would only give an editor what they’ve asked for (e.g. cover letter, resume, writing samples), but including your blog in the signature of an email doesn’t hurt. Editors who are curious enough just may click.

      If you do decide to use your blog as a writing sample, give the editor direct links to the work you want them to read. Just sending the link of the overall blog is like handing the editor a 1,000-page novel and saying, “Here’s a sample of my work!” Where would an editor even begin?! So, gently guide your future boss in the right direction.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Thank you! I am pretty quality; almost as top-notch quality as a delicious red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles. Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom. Yes, my name is Linda and I’m a cupcake addict.😉

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