It’s the moment every freelance writer dreads: You email an editor with a query, and it bounces.
Surprise: Your editor contact has been fired. Or they’ve quit.
This used to be a disaster, a decade or so back.
Especially when it was an editor you had an ongoing relationship with, who could be relied on to feed you a steady stream of article assignments.
Suddenly, hundreds or even thousands a month in previously reliable monthly revenue just vaporized. And you were scrambling to find a new gig to replace it.
Before the Internet, when this happened, your editor went “poof” and disappeared.
The email and phone number you had for her were no longer good.
She just vanished. You didn’t know where she’d gone. And you had no way to stay in touch.
Often, that was the end of your relationship with that publication.
It happened to me more than once. But then, the Internet was born.
Turning editor loss into opportunity
More recently, I’ve learned how to turn unexpected editor departures into opportunities to double my income, or even more.
In one case, I added tens of thousands of dollars of additional annual income, thanks to an editor change!
How? Here’s the first step: Don’t freak out.
Keep a positive attitude. Feel confident that this situation can work in your favor.
Remember, this is not about you. Sometimes, it’s not even about your editor, but about changes in leadership or direction higher up at the organization.
If you’re heartbroken this editor relationship has ended, mourn in private.
Then, you’re ready to take steps to double down your income. Here’s how I dealt with multiple editor departures over the past few years:
1. Pitch the new editor
Keep your ears peeled for the announcement of the new editor at the publication where you’ve been writing. The minute you know who it is, swing into action.
Send her a LinkedIn connection invite and introduce yourself: “Hi! I’m a longtime writer for your magazine — looking forward to working together.”
Yes, get the subliminal suggestions rolling: You’re going to hit it off.
Follow this up by immediately pitching a few well-researched story ideas that show your value to the publication. New editors are always scrambling to put together that first issue under their watch. Show you’re a problem-solver she can rely on.
2. Do not discuss the past
If your new editor rings you up, do not stoop to gossip. Answer any attempts to pump you for info on the previous regime with, “I was just a freelancer, so I didn’t hear the details” or similar vague reply.
Do not bring up that you were the past editor’s favorite. Or that you’ve been writing here for years.
You don’t have tenure anywhere as a freelance writer. This editor owes you nothing.
Don’t spend a moment discussing the previous editor or your previous work. You don’t want this editor to associate you with the past regime any more than she already will.
Many new editors come in with a plan — sometimes even a mandate from the publisher — to “clean house” and bring in new writers. Your job is to show her that if this editor is looking to take the quality up a notch, you’re the writer who can deliver that.
You’re here, you’re up to speed, you know their topic like the top of your kid’s head, and you’re ready to help refresh this publication.
3. Snag an assignment ASAP
Often, in the chaos that follows editor turnover, there’s an opportunity to make a good impression on the new editor.
Keep your head down, keep pitching, and if you can get an assignment, crush it and turn it in on time.
Remember, you need to prove yourself all over again. Your past track record at the publication means little to an editor looking to make changes, and may even work against you.
Show her you could be a valued part of the new team, even if it means taking a short, front-of-the-book type assignment. Anything to start the relationship going with your new editor.
4. Find your previous editor
If you weren’t already connected on LinkedIn, send an invite to her the minute you hear she got the ax.
Be sympathetic and supportive, without asking any questions about why she’s left:
“Sorry to hear you’re leaving X Magazine. I’d like to stay in touch on here — hope we have a chance to work together again soon!”
Yes, once again, start the subliminal suggestion machine going: You’re going to work together again in the future.
For that to happen, your editor needs to find a new publication to edit. And that gives you a chance to do something that will make your former editor love you forever — and call you the minute she gets a new job.
5. Send your editor job leads
If you’re scanning writer job ads, you’ll often find a few editor gigs in there, too.
Find any that seem remotely appropriate for your out-of-work editor? Send them over.
“I spotted this opening, and it made me think of you!” I’d say.
Back in 2009 and 2010, when every editor seemed to be losing their job, I did this a lot.
One former editor got a steady stream of job leads from me. Eventually, she got another job — and assigned me dozens and dozens of articles, over the next several years. Many of them were at $1 a word.
Here’s the magic: I don’t even think the gig she got was from one of my leads. In the end, she found it on her own.
But that didn’t matter.
When you help your editor job-hunt, your relationship changes forever.
She learned you don’t just care about her when you can get money from her. You care about her. You’re friends.
Build personal friendships with editors, and you’ll never go hungry.
Meanwhile, what about the publication my editor left years ago? The editor staff has turned over several times since then…and I’m still writing there.
What do you do when an editor leaves? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.