What you do once an editor says “yes” to your article idea can be as important as how you pitch your ideas (the query letter). Upon having your proposal accepted by an editor, you have to discuss a number of details with your editor before you write. After all, once the editor says, “Yes, I’d love to buy that article from you…” you move from the domain of salesperson to that of a supplier of words.
Short synopsis of your original idea to make sure you and the editor are on the same track or to see if the editor wants to alter the slant of your idea in any way.
Article title for submission; the editor will usually write the headline but you can create a working title. (Sometimes an editor will assign a slug—an article name or number that identifies what the article is about and, perhaps, when the article is due. If the editor assigns a slug, use it as the working title and file name.)
The particular approach to the article you are taking or that the editor wants you to take; the aspect of the idea the article will focus on. This may be a reiteration of the query, but it gives you and the editor a chance to discuss any other pertinent details.
Contact information should include the publication’s name and address (especially if you have to invoice by mail), editor’s name, phone number, email address and perhaps fax number (seldom required; ask if you’ll need it).
Date your article is due to the editor. Meet the deadline if you want to work for the editor again. If you have problems meeting your deadline, let your editor know in advance and re-negotiate. Do not get into the habit of re-negotiating deadlines.
Minimum, maximum, or exact number of words due. Hit your word count. Do not underwrite or overwrite by more than 5%. If you have more of a story (or less of a story) than discussed, do not write long (or short) without contacting the editor. Explain why you want to go long or short and re-negotiate the word count. But be prepared to stick with the existing count!
Many publications have their own style guides or follow The Canadian Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. If the publication has a style guide or follows a particular one, get a copy of it and use it. Also, before writing your article, review the publication you are writing for and model your writing on the publication’s overall tone—formal, chatty, and so on.
People you will interview; the editor may have a few suggestions.
Reports, white papers, books, and so on you might want to read before writing; websites you may want to visit for background information.
How you will submit the article to the editor? Almost every publication wants you to file by email. But make sure. Before filing electronically, discuss whether your manuscript should be embedded in the email message or sent as an attached file—generally as a Word or text file.
Editors will sometimes ask you to take a photo. Unless you are a decent photographer, however, they are more likely to request you ask your contact to supply a photo or artwork. Or the editor might want your interviewee’s contact information so the publication designer can get an illustration or take a photograph.
Payment and expenses
The amount of money you get for the work done. Most publications pay a set amount per word; some pay a set amount for the assignment (and give you a word count range). Some pay a set amount ‘per column inch’. (Work out the number of words per column inch with your editor as the number varies from publication to publication, depending on the type size and the width of the column.) Some publications pay per edited word (the number of words remaining after an editor edits your article for style and fit). More on payment, below.
Ask if the publication covers expenses and discuss what they will and will not cover. Publications used to cover long-distance calls and film expenses but, with long-distance rates plummeting and digital photos not costing anything to process, most publications expect you to pay for long-distance calls and don’t expect to reimburse you for film. However, some publications will pay for calls; many will pay you a fee if you supply photos. Discuss it up front. Unless you have to travel, there are few other expenses. But don’t travel and presume the publication will cover your costs. Discuss it up front.
Most publications want you to send them an invoice. I always invoice within a week of sending in my work. A few publications I write for have payment systems in place and I do not have to invoice them. But I use my accounting software to track when payments (Accounts Receivable) are due. Find out if you should invoice, when you should invoice, how you should invoice, and to whom you should send your invoice.
What you get if the article is killed (is not published). If a publication can’t use your work because (thick skin required here!) the editor didn’t like it, their editorial schedule changed, they ran out of room (and it was a time-sensitive article), or for any other reason, they should pay you a kill fee plus any negotiated expenses.
How much is a kill fee? A kill fee can range from 0% to 100% of the fee. I’d suggest you negotiate a kill fee of 50% to 100% (100% in cases where the article did not run for reasons beyond your control). Also, if the editor says the article is not up to snuff, find out why and negotiate some time to rework it. You might just get it published.
Since the development of the Worldwide Web, copyright has become an issue. Simply put, you sell a publication “first X serial rights,” where ‘serial’ refers to print rights (not electronic; you sell first electronic rights to a website that is publishing your original work) and ‘X’ refers to the specific market the publication serves: local market, Canadian, American, North American, or world rights. Some publications have a standard contract; with others, you have to negotiate the ‘X’.
Many publications want to buy serial and electronic rights for one fee because they want to publish the article and put the article on their website or sell it to a commercial database. In fact, they may have a standard contract you have to sign if you want to write for the publication. There was a time I fought for separate serial and electronic rights. I no longer do that because most publications want both rights for one fee. Never sell copyright or moral rights, however. (More on copyright and moral rights coming in the chapter on copyright and other business issues.)Contract
If the publication doesn’t use a contract (and some publications do not), tell the editor you’d like to email him or her the assignment details as you understand them, to make sure you have it right. Submit an article assignment sheet, based on this checklist, with pertinent details. Include a cover note asking the editor to review the details and get back to you by a specific date if anything is missing. You don’t want to be working diligently on the article only to discover, after you’ve put in days of work, that you misunderstood something or the editor forgot to tell you something important.