© Dianne Bates
Since mid-June 2006, I have compiled and edited a fortnightly online magazine, Buzz Words (The Latest Buzz on Children’s Books), www.buzzwordsmagazine.com. Its target readership is people in the Australian children’s book industry. The magazine’s contents include markets, competitions, opportunities, articles, interviews and book reviews. Some material is commissioned, and freelance writers are welcome to suggest articles or interviews they would like to cover. Payment is made on acceptance. Book reviewers are not paid, but get to keep the books they review.
As a children’s author, the best advice I ever received was ‘always do whatever you can to make an editor’s life easy.’ Knowing that editors are very busy and have many calls on their time from numerous writers and others, I have always tried to adhere to this advice. Since working on Buzz Words, I have observed a number of ways in which contributors can unwittingly create problems for editors. At times these might seem like small and inconsequential matters to a writer. That might be so on an individual basis, but often the editor has to deal with the same problems every day, from several people. The cumulative effect can be most taxing. Because of this I thought it would be a constructive and informative exercise to examine some of problem areas.
To begin, Buzz Words’ interviews all have the same format – a heading in bold caps, an introduction in italics, then questions in italics and in blue font, and answers in black, plain font. This sounds easy, but in seven out of ten cases, the contributor does not comply with house style. Invariably this involves me in time-consuming work. The typical length of interviews is 1,000 to 1,200 words, but more often than not interviews far exceed this length. Freelancers, sending me interviews as long as 4,000 words, have invited me to ‘cut to the required length’. Sorry guys. Editors just don’t have the time for that.
Then there is the contributor who sends in an interview, article or book review which I subsequently format and/or edit and place into the relevant issue. However, within a day – sometimes even half an hour later – the contributor gets back to me with a different version.
Probably all writers are guilty of this at times, when they’re new and don’t know any better. Editors hate it. Please, don’t submit a manuscript to any publisher until you are sure it is 100% ready. Get it right the first time.
On numerous occasions I have placed notices in Buzz Words offering paid writing assignments. The freelancer who responds first is the hungriest. I have far more inclination to hire that person than the writer who gets around to responding to me a fortnight later. I am also more inclined to take on the applicant whose email shows they know how to punctuate, spell, write clearly and have their contact details in the body of their email. It is so easy to create a signature on an email that includes postal and email address, phone number and website. To me, it is a sign of professionalism. However, the majority of writers do not do this.
I have found that often freelancers who are given a commission then send me a list of interview questions asking me to vet them. That is not the way it is done. If a freelancer and editor agree on a personality to profile in an interview, then it is the freelancer, not the editor, whose job it is to create the questions.
It shouldn’t have to be stated that freelancers need to conduct research about the guest to be profiled. They also need to consider the Buzz Words readership (mostly new children’s writers, authors, editors and librarians). Unfortunately, I find that occasionally freelancers don’t display a lot of determination when trying to locate their subject. As any journalist will tell you, you don’t give up easily; you need to persevere. If you don’t get a reply to an email or phone call, don’t throw in the towel. Maybe the hard-to-find subject has a publicist, or a friend whom you can contact. Try again.
Part of being professional as a writer is to be persistent. It is also about delivering, with as little fuss as possible, material that is the right length, sticks to the topic and is written clearly and precisely, and is presented in the right format. Finally, and most importantly, all copy should be scrupulously edited or proof-read.
Dianne (Di) Bates is an author with a background in regional newspaper and children’s and adult magazine editing. Her latest book, her 100th title, is a YA novel, Crossing the Line (Ford Street). Her website address is www.enterprisingwords.com