From On Spec to Assignment

Most freelancers dislike writing on spec because finding ideas for articles and pitching editors is time consuming (and sometimes fruitless if no one likes the idea). Also, as much as our conscientious Canadian faith-based editors try to avoid it, articles can get pushed back for months at a time, themes change and publications get reworked. Stuff happens.

When an editor asks you to cover an event, interview a particular individual or write on a specific issue or topic, it means they already have a place for that piece. Assignments mean you’ll get paid for your effort, and your writing will go to print (most of the time). And if an editor offers a kill fee, it’s win win.

Self Promote

Let the editor know that you’re interested in taking assignments, some freelancers aren’t. When I submit an article accepted on spec, I usually drop in a few lines at the bottom of the email letting the editor know that I’m available for assignments and am willing to write on a tight deadline—should something come across their desk, would they think of me. A tight deadline is better known as short notice. I’ve landed a number of assignments by being available.

Be Professional

I have been offered assignments after working with an editor just once because I treat my freelancing like I would any other job. I meet deadlines, write well, write clean, research and cite my sources, adhere to guidelines and word counts, am willing to be edited, and I’d like to think I’m easy to work with.

What Editors Want

We asked a few of the Canadian faith-based editors we’ve worked with what they look for from a freelancer. Here’s what they said about how to go from working on spec to landing assignments (all emphasis mine):

Bill Fledderus — Faith Today

[I look for] evidence that the writer is capable (e.g., past work for same editor, writing samples or well composed query)…Evidence that the writer knows the publication’s readership or is in sync with it (e.g., writer is him/herself part of target demographic). Evidence the writer is professional (can meet deadlines, contacts editor early if focus begins to shift during research or to renegotiate word length, is comfortable being edited). [emphasis mine]

Are you easy to work with and able to take constructive criticism? Are you reliable? Do you follow instructions? Are you capable? These are the questions freelancers need to answer for editors.

Fazal Karim, Jr. — The Christian Herald

Freelancers write in essentially saying they can write anything we need. That’s nice, but an editor likes some direction in knowing what the writer’s all about…You’re not locking yourself into a box if you say you like doing one-on-one interviews. If you’re affordable, competent and easy to work with, you’ll get asked about other features as they arise.

Anyone who’s had to write a book report on a novel they hated understands that the finished product is always better if you’ve enjoyed the assignment. As a professional writer, if you accept an assignment you had better be able to deliver what you’ve promised, but editors are looking to hand out assignments writers can be passionate about.

Peter McManus – City Light News (Calgary)

Be succinct. Don’t clutter up their email box with multiple emails. Do some homework regarding the “style” required. (e.g. written in third-person, as a column, or a newsbrief).

Editors are going to remember the freelancer who made their job easier and followed their preferences. If you continually annoy an editor by spamming their inbox, query with ideas they don’t publish, etc. I can assure you that kind of squeaky wheel never gets the grease.

Stephen Kennedy – testimony (PAOC)

I would need to read something they’ve written. I need to believe that they understand and will respect the nature of our publication. To get more than one assignment, they need to respect deadlines and word counts. Again, to get a second assignment, they must be humble enough to accept that their work needs editing.

Steve is an editor for a denominational publication. Most editors accept freelance material from writers who aren’t members of their denomination, but they’re looking for writers who understand their particular denominational preferences, traditions and theology. You’re not going to get far with these editors if you can’t write to their specific audience.

Johanne Robertson — Maranatha News

We are looking for writers that can meet a story deadline and stick to the assigned word count. Someone that is mindful of submission dates. Have included the who, what, when, where, how and answer the question, why should our readers care?

There are several Christian newspapers in Canada. These publications are some of my best sources for assignments due to the frequency with which they publish, and their need to have timely and relevant material. These editors are interested in the here and now stories – the rally next week in your community or a recent Supreme Court decision as it affects the Church .

Have a question? Send it to us and we’ll do our best to help you out. Who knows, your question just might be our next blog post.


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.


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