Last night I attended the seminar Cracking the 49th Parallel, featuring speakers Clive Thompson, Duff McDonald and Caitlin Kelly, and presented by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Although the event was about doing freelance writing work for US-based magazines, several comments and tips spoke to two related qualities that I feel that everyone should strive for: excellence and effort.
Be excellent. Do excellent work. This makes the people who employ you happy because it makes their jobs easier and makes them look good. I believe it was McDonald who suggested that the best way to get a story accepted is to solve an editor's problem. Editors have to fill pages with original content that's compelling, and it takes time to find that content – serve it to them on a silver platter. Likewise, if a magazine is looking to fill a position, solve the problem of finding the right candidate by explicitly showing them you're the right person and how you'll help make their publication a better magazine. Being excellent builds your reputation, and it helps you continue to get work.
To achieve excellence, you need to put in the effort. Put everything you have into getting work and doing your work. For writers, this could mean doing interviews and research for a pitch, even before getting an assignment. Thompson estimates that he spends 25% of his time researching story ideas, many of which never turn into anything. Editors will want to do research, too, when applying for a job: read at least the past year's worth of issues of the magazine to which you are applying to get a sense of the tone and an understanding of the type of topics they cover. Talk to people – find out what the work culture is like at the magazine, find out what they're looking for.
Excellence and effort will get you a long way in this industry, primarily
Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.