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What I Learned About Writing by Becoming an Editor

Why isn’t your super-polished pitch getting any replies? Why does it take that editor three weeks to give you even basic feedback?

And for crying out loud, what do they have against the Oxford comma? As freelance writers, we’ve all been there. But we have to remember that editors are people, too. (Someone put that on a T-shirt!) and they have to keep their client’s best interest front and center. 

In this week’s post, Nikita Ross, a writer turned editor, shares a few lessons about what writers should know about editors … and vice versa.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during my career as a writer, it’s that cultivating a relationship with an editor can be challenging. There’s the initial fear of pitching to someone who will judge your work, interacting with different personalities, and managing expectations. At one point, I thought working with different editors was going to be the biggest challenge of my career.

Then I became one.

Rather than being a solo ghostwriter working with a few different editors, I became an editor judging other people’s work, working with even more different personalities, and managing more expectations.

The plus side? Being the editor for two publications has given me a glimpse behind the curtain and improved my writing. It also gave me an interesting perspective on how many talented writers don’t have the business savvy they need to get ahead in the freelance industry.

Without further ado, here’s what I learned about writing from becoming an editor:

1. The Importance of Deadlines

We all know that deadlines matter; they don’t have such a daunting name for nothing.

Sometimes situations arise that result in a missed deadline or the need for an extension. Before becoming an editor, I didn’t truly grasp what a missed deadline could entail from the other end of the process.

Content is often planned weeks or even months in advance. Depending on the nature of the content, promotional space may have been booked and paid for. The editor may be facing deadlines of their own. Scheduling needs to be rearranged, costing time and money.

Life happens. And I totally get that.

All I ask is that you communicate your delay in advance of the deadline. A simple email a few days before gives an editor enough notice to make some changes. In most cases, if you have good reason for the delay, your editor will appreciate the communication and accommodate your needs. Just try not to make it a habit.

2. The Importance of the Right Attitude

You know how it feels when you meet an editor on a power trip?

It’s the same when you meet a writer who thinks the world revolves around them. I’ve had a few notable experiences as an editor.

One writer asked me to send assignments at least three weeks in advance for scheduling purposes, which was not a problem. They then asked me to send a reminder three days before each deadline, so they didn’t forget about the assignment. When I politely indicated that I would not be sending reminders as I was busy managing a team of eight writers and working on my own projects, the response was less than friendly.

Needless to say, no further assignments were forwarded to that writer.

On the average job posting, I receive a few hundred applications. I can edit a few errors and coach writers to help them grow their skills. What I can’t edit is an attitude problem.

You have to be willing to make an effort.

Make your pitch to the point and professional with proper spelling and grammar. Take time to reflect on the edits. Consider what they mean and carry these forward to your future articles. Pay attention; there is no reason an editor should repeatedly fix the same errors.

Your attitude will ultimately dictate your success.

3. The Power of Following Up

As I said, I receive a ton of applications for job postings.

In Gina’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course, the importance of following up was practically underlined, highlighted, and circled. I soon learned why, as more than half of my jobs have been based on my follow up emails.

When you follow up on a pitch or job application, it brings your name back to the top of the inbox. It also conveys your enthusiasm for the job. While you may not be the most qualified out of hundreds of applicants, your enthusiasm and (let’s face it) convenience in a sea of emails could land you the gig.

On that note, I’d like to share an open apology from editors everywhere about out response time to emails. Even using canned email responses, it can take forever to acknowledge, review, and respond to applications. So thank you for your patience.

What Editors Should Know

When you become an editor, it can be easy to forget (or block) the memories of being in the weeds as a freelance writer.

Every morning when I get ready to talk to my team, I try to put myself in their shoes. Being a great editor goes beyond spelling, grammar, structure, and flow. It’s about cultivating relationships with your team and being a leader.

This includes:

1. Advocating for your writers’ worth

This can be a challenge, depending on the publication you work for. A lot of businesses go online and base their rates on those offered by content mills. If your publication offers pennies to their writers, advocate for their value.

Explain the difference of quality over quantity. Be the voice for your writers when they raise concerns. Your higher-ups might say no, but at least you know you’ve tried and can understand when your team member leaves for greener pastures.

2. Having an open door policy

Your writers should feel comfortable approaching you with questions about their assignment or any concerns they have over deadlines. Working in a virtual world adds a layer of ambiguity. Sometimes things aren’t clearly conveyed through email.

If a writer didn’t understand something, it’s not an insult to your communication skills; it is an opportunity to facilitate a discussion and ensure everyone is on the same page.

3. Being constructive and positive

There’s nothing to be gained by tearing your writer apart, even if their work is terrible. It’s your job to help a writer learn the voice of your publication and guide them as they hone their craft. As an editor, your focus is often on fixing mistakes.

Take a moment to comment on parts of a piece that you found inspiring or interesting. Send a writer an email and tell them if you heard great feedback about an article. If you find you have nothing nice to say, politely tell the writer that they aren’t a good fit for the publication and sever ties with tact.

Making the Switch from Writer to Editor

To make the transition from freelance writer to editor, focus on producing work that captures your niche expertise and ability to create high-quality content. Showcase your organizational talents when applying for job postings.

If you want to gain experience in the editing business before applying for jobs, network and ask to shadow different editors within your niche. Volunteer to create content calendars for local businesses. Work hard, hustle often, and rise to the top.

Do you have any questions about becoming an editor or want to share your experience?

Nikita Ross is a Precision Nutrition certified wellness coach and professional fitness writer and editor with experience in marketing, social media management, and ghostwriting. A mother, IPA World Champion Powerlifter, and self-proclaimed bibliophile, Nikita believes that lifting both barbells and books is the key to self-improvement. Visit Nikita at Strong in Body, Strong in Mind.

Gina Horkey

Gina Horkey


Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook and loves helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.

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