Three Things You May Not Know About Being a Freelance Editor

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

As my day job, I work as a freelance magazine editor for a regional lifestyle magazine. When I chat with my non-writer friends about the responsibilities of the job, they are usually surprised to learn that I do more than write articles, compile calendar events, and edit the other articles writers turn in. For any writers out there who are considering applying or accepting jobs in this realm, I thought I’d share a few tidbits about the other aspects of this type of writing/editing job. 

Website and magazine editors do more than edit. For our monthly publication, I brainstorm most of the editorial content for the magazine. I’m in charge of creating monthly “themes,” and developing and assigning articles for almost all the departments each month. I accept pitches from other writers, but most of the original ideas start with me. (Note: This is a little different because our magazine strictly uses contract employees. I’ve worked at other magazines that have associate editors and staff writers who can help with the content creation and editing). I also work with freelance photographers and coordinate assignments to run alongside articles and covers each month. The editor also collects invoices from writers and make sure they are paid each month for their assignments. 

Problem solving skills are essential. What are some examples of problems I’ve had to solve? I’ve had photographers and writers accept assignments and then let me know less than a week before they were due that they could not complete an assignment. This leaves me with the task of filling a copy hole in the magazine and arranging for alternative photography or provided/stock images. I’ve had interview subjects or PR firms want to preview their articles before they go to print (we don’t allow that unless it’s a paid advertising piece). I’ve had photographers take an assignment and then turn in one photo, when we needed at least three. Just this past month a writer completed an interview for an upcoming event, and then it was cancelled because of rising COVID cases in our area. 

Finding a way to make content evergreen is a must. By this I mean every year, there will be back-to-school stories, national holidays, recurring special advertising themes, columnists who need to find ways to keep their ideas fresh. Once you work somewhere for more than a year, it will be important to encourage your creative team to think outside the box when coming up with these types of evergreen stories. 

I could write much more on the topic, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever worked as an editor and had a similar experience? Or, have you had an editor help nurture your freelance writing career? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and freelance magazine editor who also hosts and produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--PLUS you have a successful podcast. PLUS you're working on a novel. PLUS you're a mother. I don't know how you do it all.

This was a great post, Renee. It tells people you don't just sit at a desk, with your hand out, as you receive articles and photographs. The magazine is lucky to have you.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I was the editor for a parenting magazine for an entire issue. At that point, the publisher realized that this wasn't going to be an instant gold mine. Apparently Gerber and Pampers weren't throwing advertising money at him. And that was that.

It helped me realize how much editors do and over what they have no control.

Amber Polo said...

Thanks for another great post. I love that you're sharing that magazines don't magically create themselves.

CrisEC said...

I've been a freelance writer for a number of years for regional magazines (tied to a newspaper) under several different editors. Lately the editors have not been lasting long, I'm not sure why. I realize the print industry is struggling. I'm wondering how to find work AS a freelance editor. I think I would like it although I wonder if the pay is worth it for the huge amount of work I know you and they must do. How does one find these jobs? Thanks!

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Thank you. It's not easy to juggle it all, that's for sure.

Sue--Yes, I'm sure you quickly realized there are a whole lot of balls to juggle with monthly magazines! I think the lack of control an editor has and trying to adhere to the individual publisher's wishes is something those outside the publishing realm may not understand. If I plan to many articles that look like business profiles, I'm asked to step back from it because it can cancel out advertising prospects. And if we do business profiles it may be because they have been a trusted advertisers in the past. And then there's sponsored content opportunities to help bring in actual revenue . . .

Amber--Thank you for your kind words! There are certainly a lot of factors that go into a monthly magazine being produced each month. You have to be ready to tackle a lot of factors head on.

Cris--I think a lot of freelance editors are not lasting long because the burn-out rate is very high. Freelance editors who don't have staff work nights, weekends, etc. depending on production deadlines. I have to plan any vacations around times we don't have a production deadline, and that's something I'm not crazy about. There are also no benefits or PTO in my case. Any freelance editing gig I've ever gotten has been the result of networking or an existing relationship with a publisher and editor. Making yourself invaluable as a writer (and also mentioning you're interested in editing if they ever need it) with the magazines you have relationships with is a good start.

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