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From A Digital Editor: The Mistakes I See All The Time from Freelancers

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Though I am lucky enough to work with a wonderful in-house editorial staff in my post as brand editor at House Method, I do rely on freelance writers and editors for special projects, a specific point of view or expertise, or when my team is simply overloaded. And when I find a great freelance writer, I hang onto her for dear life! I love freelancers, and I read a lot of applications for and pitches from writers who want to work with House Method. I can’t work with all of them, but I do always make note of what makes a particular freelancer stand out from the rest, and not always in a good way.

Here are a few of the most cringeworthy errors I see.

1. Not researching the publication you’re applying to.
Spend an hour really digging into the publication you’re applying to. Few things irk me more than seeing that a freelancer has not taken the time to understand our audience and what we write about. Tailor your cover letter or letter of interest and your resume to the recipient—this is the first thing that makes an applicant stand out to me.

In fact, I love to see when an applicant has applied for a standard freelancing gig but has included a relevant and thoughtful article idea. Don’t count on the pitch being picked up, necessarily, but it shows that you’re actively engaged with and excited about our content.

2. Writing a long-winded interest email and/or cover letter.
We all know the adage of show, don’t tell, but I can’t emphasize how true this is when it comes to expressing interest in a publication. Don’t spend paragraphs and paragraphs in a cover letter or interest email telling me what a good writer you are, how you always meet your deadlines, how good you are at research, show me. Provide your best writing samples and references who can speak to your ability and professionalism. Don’t prattle on about it—busy editors (and we all are!) will simply skip over the standard, long-winded cover letter.

3. Not following application directions.
If the application instructions ask for all your materials in a PDF, do it. If they ask for a one-page letter of interest, don’t write two. If you can’t follow application instructions, then there isn’t much expectation that you’ll follow instructions for article assignments.

If application instructions are vague or open-ended, then make it as easy as possible for the editor to read your materials. Don’t use strange file formats or large downloads or password-protected portfolios. A link to a clean, simple resume and a separate link to your clips is a great start.

4. Being shady about rates.
If an editor asks you about your rates, be honest and ready. Be able to provide them when asked (even if that’s on the phone) in a variety of formats: by word, by hour, etc. Also know how much you’re willing to budge (before you’re asked to). If an assigning editor comes back with a lower figure, you should be able to tell her whether that’s doable for you. Negotiation is not off the table, but it’s going to slow down your editor and hurt your chances if you have to get back to her about rates.

5. Not being realistic about deadlines.
I can often be flexible about deadlines for freelance articles, but late work can really throw a wrench into my calendar. Especially for those who have a full-time gig and are freelancing on the side, I encourage them to work in a little cushion when committing to a deadline. Life happens, and your day job is typically the one that wins if deadlines compete.

6. Making vague pitches.
If an editor is open to article pitches, take the time to make good ones! A one-liner is seldom enough, but this is what I often see in the digital space. But I also don’t need to see the completed article in a pitch. Best practice is to ask your editor for pitching guidelines first, then follow them to a T.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is the brand editor at House Method, a site that explores the relationship between our lives and our homes. You can follow Emily and her love of wine and beautiful homes on Instagram.

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