The success of many stories is determined at the time of assignment. Barbara Turvett, deputy editor at Working Mother, offers her tips for making sure everyone is on the same page before the words are put on the page.
How to Assign a Piece
Put it in writing. That’s the best way to be clear, to have a record and to help your writer know exactly what you’re looking for and then have a written guide to go back to as she works. E-mail is good;you both will have an easily accessible record.
Assignment Letter Points
ﾕ Working title. ﾕ Intention of the piece. ﾕ Who the audience is;it’s very important to remind the writer who she’s talking to! ﾕ What you want in the lede. It can suggest starting with an anecdote, a hot new bit of research, maybe talk to the readers, or something else. ﾕ What’s needed in the nut graph. Establish the point of the article, cite research to hang it on, bring in an expert to quote and set the topic. ﾕ What the body of the piece should include. Cover certain points, based on research; set up subheds based on gathered info; include expert points and opinion; include real-person anecdotes to support themes. ﾕ Other points you want: A certain tone (light, conversational, instructional), pepper research or studies throughout when applicable, include stats. ﾕ Establish agreed-upon word count, fee and due date. If you have certain fact-checking needs, let the writer know (annotated copy, turn in notes, copies of studies, contact info for all sources). ﾕ Add the phrase: "As you proceed, please feel free to contact me at any time with questions, comments or any concerns related to the direction of the piece." ﾕ End with a nice, personal comment.
Being organized can make the editor/writer relationship happier for both of you.
How to Handle a Revise
How much should the writer do and how much should you do? Try not to bother the writer with things she doesn’t need to do. If you can fix a problem with editing, do it, rather than ask the writer to rewrite your way. But if you have questions you need answered or need more research or another personal anecdote to support an idea, ask the writer to follow up. If the original is way off track, consider e-mailing the writer a tracked version of her piece showing what you need where, with some editing or reorganization already done to help her along.
Be sure to agree upon a revise deadline that works for both of you. You both want the same thing;a well-written piece that will be a great addition to the publication and the writer’s portfolio.
Enjoy your relationship!