Three Mistakes I’ll Never Make Again: Lessons from Previous Assignments

28 Jul

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like submitting a seemingly stellar piece to your editor on time, only to receive an email highlighting a failed expectation. That you didn’t know existed.

In my “soft start” efforts (more on this later), I landed a few assignments that gave me a good launching pad to transition into full-time writing. In completing those assignments, however, I learned some lessons and made adjustments to how I operated. Learn from me; here are three mistakes to avoid.

 #1: Regular feature? Get a back issue.

When dealing with a regular feature (whether it be a magazine’s annual “Best Christmas Gifts” type piece or a regular monthly column),  get your hands on a a back issue and review with your editor any details that will be different. This is helpful in determining format, style, and flow.

I’ve completed a few assignments now with a publication that runs regular, annual features. One of these features required making calls and fact checking some information with several people. After I called them all,  I finally reviewed the back issue and realized I left out a critical question. I ended up calling them all back.

#2: Confirm these specifics about each piece.

It was only after submitting a small 400-word piece with two sources, that my editor let me know that his publication likes three sources, and could I please interview one more and have it back to him within 24 hours or so? Lesson learned. Always confirm how many sources an editor likes. While I’m at it, I make sure I’m clear on: deadline, pay, word count, any particular angle or information that an editor would like included, and if I should try to procure art.

#3: Schedule and conduct interviews as soon as possible.

I’m still getting into a writing routine that works for me. One of my new (and thus far successful) habits is to immediately email potential sources and try to secure interview slots with them as soon as I receive a new assignment. I’ve heard this tip from other writers, and they know their stuff. Even if I can’t start writing a piece until later, it makes a huge difference to my peace of mind knowing that I at least have the interviews scheduled, or even done.

What were some of your big lessons?

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2 Responses to “Three Mistakes I’ll Never Make Again: Lessons from Previous Assignments”

  1. Jean July 28, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Aloha Tara! :) Nice to meet you! I found you at Freelance Switch. So nice to see a freelancer from Hawaii! I’m an aspiring freelance writer originally from O’ahu, but moved to Southern California almost 7 years ago. I still miss home. :(

    Your tips here are really handy. I do a lot of reading, but none of them lay it out this clearly. There’s always a ton of fluff to skim through before getting to the meat.

    I haven’t thought about applying to actual magazines (print or web) yet, but I’d LOVE to write for one on a regular basis. Ah, to dream.

    The interviewing sort of scares me as I’m an introvert at heart. No matter – I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again! Just need to shake off the jitters first, haha.

    Definitely going to follow you and read about your 90/90/90 experiment. Your 2k+ on Day One is really inspiring. I hope to make that much in a month and you made it in a day! I’m going to keep reading, writing and working hard.. I know I have the potential. It’s just getting my foot in the door that scares me.

    Thanks again for the blog and transparency about your freelancing experience. I’ll be subscribing!

  2. Startup Freelancer August 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Aloha Jean,

    Oh my, how lucky to be from here! I’m blessed to live here and will stay as long as possible. :)

    Love your website, btw. It’s really easy to navigate and concise.

    Thanks for subscribing! You were my first subscriber–thanks for putting your trust in my writing, I promise to add some sunshine to your inbox. :)

    Tara/Startup Freelancer

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