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What Makes a Good Writer?

Updated on September 20, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

Learn How to Meet Your Editor's Expectations

It can be challenging to please a picky editor!
It can be challenging to please a picky editor!

How to Make Your Editor Love You!

If you're a writer, you've probably been angry, frustrated, confused or intimidated by editors from time to time. And that's just on the good days. Fear not; editors are people, too, and here are some tips to help you win their trust. And win a few new assignments, while you're at it.

To work well with an editor, you have to be a good writer, be willing to learn from your mistakes, have thick skin when it comes to editing and understand the needs of the publication (and those of the editor).

Here's how to get on the good side of your editors:

Get Familiar With the Publisher's Content and Style

What Are the Editorial Guidelines for the Website or Publisher?

Pay attention to the website or publisher (magazine, book, newspaper) and the focus of its content. How long is the average article? Do they use different writers every month, or does it appear they may have room for new blood? A little research will help you lay the groundwork for a successful pitch.

1. Read Back Issues: Check the web, local library or other places where the publication might be found. Some smaller publications may not be in libraries or be distributed; if you can't find old issues, ask the editorial office (if it's in your city) if you can pick up a few back issues. If the publication is distributed for free at various places, see if someone will hold old copies for you to pick up when you're there. The best way to target a publication is to get to know what they print.

2. Check Their Website for Writers' Guidelines: Most websites or publishers will post writers' guidelines, to help avoid confusion and to save time. These are not just taking up space on their server; these are the expectations editors have for content, style and length. Many guides will also give style tips, such as whether they want double spaces between sentences, or whether you should write email vs e-mail. Your goal is to turn in copy they will want to print. Typically, what they want to print in the future will resemble what they've printed in the past. If no guidelines are published on the website, ask the editorial office for them. This shows you're a professional, and that you want to please them.

3. Read Similar Websites or Publications: This will help you see what's different in the one you're targeting and it will give you ideas for stories printed in the genre.

4. Ask What Themes are Planned for the Future: The themes (also called the 'editorial budget,' in some cases) will give you ideas on what to pitch for future dates or issues. Some publications happily share themes for the next 6-12 months; some do not. It won't hurt to ask, though.

Pitch Your Story!

Generate Story Ideas: Editors need an ongoing source of ideas in order to fill their pages. In newspapers, there's often a daily meeting to wrap up the content plans for the next issue. Magazines generally have themes for upcoming months, but editors often scramble to get content that supports the theme. At the same time, editors want 'evergreen' stories, so they'll have something in the bank for future issues if space is tight one month.

How to Pitch a Story: Find out how the publication wants you to contact them. Most will want a written pitch, probably in email form. Summarize the story briefly, with perhaps a clever title suggested to give it appeal. Here's an example:

  • Holiday Fun on a Budget (story and sidebar): Tips for holiday gift-giving, entertainment and family fun on a tight budget. The sidebar will give examples for budgets of various dollar amounts. Photos available if desired.

The above pitch could get you an assignment for a story, plus payment for a small sidebar and photos. By adding extra value to your pitch, you can also get extra income.

Have a Well-Developed Idea of the Story Before You Pitch: As the above example shows, the writer states the types of things that will be covered in the story but doesn't go into great details. The word "I" does not appear. Don't give editors and 'all about me' dialogue in your pitch. Just talk about the story, not yourself. If you need to establish credibility for the topic (let's say it's organic gardening), you can add a short (very short) statement about why you're qualified to write about it, such as, "I've been an organic gardener for five years and I'm thoroughly versed on local methods that work."

What to Avoid: Whatever you do, don't just call up an editor and say you'd like to write for their publication with no story to pitch. Everyone wants to write these days (about a quarter million people on this site alone). Editors get contacted by eager writers all the time; a writer with good writing skills who has a solid pitch that fits the publication has a real chance of getting an assignment, and even an ongoing gig.

Write Well and Meet Deadlines!

Clean Up Your Copy: Be sure you turn in copy that is free of errors! Follow the writers' guidelines and make certain to do a thorough spelling check electronically as well as visually. Many words get by the software because they're spelled correctly, but they're the wrong word for the sentence.

If you're used to writing as you would on Facebook or a blog, or you Tweet all day long, you might have to retrain yourself to write in the style traditionally used in newspapers and magazines. Several good hubs on this site have tips for improving your writing.

Meet the Deadline! Editors literally get ulcers waiting for copy to be turned in. A lot of work has to be done before your story will appear in print (or even online). The story must be edited, cut if it's too long, graphics or photos need to be found and the publication has to go through layout. Being late for your deadline will irritate the editor and reduce your chances of getting future assignments.

Learn From Your Mistakes: The advent of electronic editing has been great for speed but not so great in helping writers to improve their work. Watch the newsroom scenes in "All the President's Men," and you'll see the editors read paper versions of stories submitted by Woodward and Bernstein, and then make marks on the papers before returning them. While this was slower, it also built skills in both the writer and the editor. Writers had to go back and manually enter in corrections or rewrite awkward sentences. After a while, it was easy to spot repeated errors, learn from them, and improve your writing.

Pay attention to any editing changes made to the finished product after publication, and learn from those changes. As another exercise, find a friend who has a sharp eye for errors and a good feel for writing styles, and ask them to read through your stories and mark (with a red pen, not on the computer) any errors, clumsy sentences or other areas where you can improve.

Writing is like playing the piano or ice skating - you have to study it to learn the rules, and you have to practice it to do it well. If you're able to write well, and if you meet deadlines and turn in interesting stories, editors will keep using you and you'll build a great portfolio of published clips.

Time is valuable to your editor

How to Earn Money Writing Online Content | on HubPages

Unless you just love sitting in front of your computer all day, churning out words, you're probably reading this to learn how to make money as a writer. There are several sites where writers can publish content and share revenue; HubPages is one of them.

There are many ways to earn a living as a writer, and as you grow in that career, you'll learn how to convert one assignment into two or more stories, which increases your income from one piece.

You may want to be a consultant and write for small businesses (which, interestingly, often need the skills of writers), or you may want to jump into freelance writing on a full-time basis.

As this article emphasizes, it's important to pay attention to what your editors want. And if you're writing for an online site, you can also hone your skills by learning why content gets flagged or reported on the site where you write. There are many common mistakes writers make, and the more you practice, the better you'll do in the next piece, and the next, and the one after that . . .

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, FunScavengerHunts! I agree with you - that's probably one of the most important factors in growing as a good writer. Or, for that matter, in any career - no matter what you do in life, learning to put good feedback and put it to use will take you far! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • FunScavengerHunts profile image

    Brett 2 years ago from Asia

    Some great points. Not taking the feedback as an insult and learning from your mistakes are the most important. It is hard sometimes as a writer not to take constructive feedback personally, but it is also important to learn how to do this!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    You're welcome - and I truly believe in your talent - I hope everyone reading this checks out your hubs. I did post a capsule to a book I've found interesting - you can see the name & author. I'll be in touch on other stuff!

  • Randy Godwin profile image

    Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia

    That would be great, Marcy!! You've been such a help to me with your suggestions and I hope you know I really appreciate it.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    Randy I know some good books you might want to get (designed for real writers, not for people trying to do term papers) - they're inexpensive & well-written. I may add a capsule here to let people know about them. They're used in a course I am taking. :)

  • Randy Godwin profile image

    Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia

    Thanks so much for your praise, Marcy. I do envy you your editing knowledge as it's something I really lack. Spelling has always been one of my strong points with my punctuation tending to be the weaker of my abilities. I also have much to learn about the publishing business. It's all fun though! :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Randy! Thanks for your feedback here, Dear Friend! You're one of the stellar writers on this site, so praise from you is praise indeed. Don't forget to put me on the list for the first run of your premier novel one day. Happy Holidays to you, too!

  • Randy Godwin profile image

    Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia

    Great article, Marcy! There's more to writing than merely creating text, but it's much easier these days with all of the computer programs and online writing and publishing sites to get one's name out there.

    Of course, it also depends on what genre you choose as to what medium is best to use. I was told this by a good friend. :) Hope your holidays are enjoyable.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    LOL! Whoa - that was not the intention of this hub! I think you must be doing many things 'right,' Peach Purple, based on your success in writing on other sites (I read your 'answers' response!). These are just tips I've learned from (mumble) years of publishing. Thanks for reading and for your fun comment!

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    great hub, i suddenly realized i am not a good writer

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, InspiredLife! I just read your terrific hub on writers as baby killers. It looks like editors practice the same literary genocide you mention there. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • TheInspiredLife profile image

    TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

    Great hub! Voted up...and I am sharing on my FB, I have writer friends that may enjoy this topic.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, savingkathy! I hope your writing takes you all the places you dream of! I appreciate your comments here!

  • savingkathy profile image

    Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    You've put together another useful and insightful hub for aspiring writers. I'm bookmarking this one for future reference!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    You are so sweet, Jill! You made my day! I'm so glad you've found ideas you can follow. Please, please - let us know what comes of it!

  • Jilltravel profile image

    Jilltravel 5 years ago from Indiana

    Marcy, I could spend all day reading your articles! Once again, thanks for sharing such helpful information! Reading writers' guidelines on different magazine websites is brilliant. I plan on implementing the strategies you've suggested! I voted up and interesting. :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Very good points, Kathleen! Thanks for reading and adding thoughts from your experience. I agree completely.

  • Kathleen Cochran profile image

    Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Learn from the editors corrections on your work - YES! I used to have reporters who made the same mistakes week after week. If they had been freelancers, I promise you they wouldn't have been given another assignment.

    Also, if you are writing press releases, remember, the goal of a press release is to get the publication to be so interested they do their own story and give you better coverage. But frequently a well-written PR with a good picture and cutline (identifying the people in the picture) will get dropped into a last minute hole with another story falls through. But please, please, never call the editor just to ask them if they got your PR. They get many every day. Call if you have something to contribute, scheduling an interview or updating an event's time or location. Great points!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Vinaya! You are right, knowing the audience is a huge factor in successfully reaching them.

  • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

    Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

    Understand the Publication is very important aspect of writing because we write for audience and we must identify the people who will read our work. Thanks for sharing your views.

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I'm new to freelancing, so it's good to get this advice from a more experienced writer. Voting this Up and Useful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks reikieeffect - I appreciate your comments!

  • reikieffect profile image

    reikieffect 5 years ago

    Although I only write for fun; learning new skills never hurts. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with others.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    That's a great point, WordsAreStrength; thanks for reading and contributing! I agree that many tips we find on this site can translate to multiple settings. This is a terrific community of professionals.

  • profile image

    WordsAreStrength 5 years ago

    While most of this information seems to be aimed at writing for magazines, there are some useful tips for other writers as well. For example, before submitting a manuscript for publication always a good idea to research the other kids of books that particular publishing company usually comes out with. That way the writer can censor themselves more easily. For instance, if you have an edgy book full of bad language then it's not a good idea to give you manuscipt whose books are usually so clean they squeak. Thanks for posting this!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Churchlady. I think people can start writing commercially at any point in life. You seem to have a talent and passion for it, and that's the biggest part of the challenge. I hope you go for it!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, ecofuture, and thank you for reading. It sounds like we both have an interest in the environment; I look forward to reading your hubs!

  • Grams Study profile image

    Grams Study 5 years ago

    I'm sure you are much more experienced than me. I just write for my family and friends have never tried to be more. Maybe if ever I become as experienced as you are I might try something different. Thanks for your question and I will try to read some of your articles and see if I can improve. churchlady

  • ecofuture profile image

    ecofuture 5 years ago

    Great article! Very useful.

  • Dee aka Nonna profile image

    Dee aka Nonna 5 years ago

    You are so right on. Your information is great and very timely. Thank you for sharing. Voted up and useful.

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

    Wow sounds like you have been around...which is a good thing here, lol. I will have to get some extra time and read some of yours I have missed...or all. Great info-thanks!

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