Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Secret to Being Awesome: Attention to Detail

Nearly 12 years ago, I started interning at F&W Publishing (now F+W Media) and made instant fans of my work that helped me get a part-time paid editing gig while I finished college before earning a Production Editor title (and full-time job) after graduation. My secret to success wasn't due to any kind of special talent or magical powers. Instead, it was my attention to detail.

For instance, the editor of Writer's Market at the time (Kirsten Holm) loved me because I actually returned neatly straightened stacks of paper in neatly straightened stacks--and in order. To me, this seemed like a no brainer approach to working, but...that's not how many others worked.

Please and Thank You
Aside from straightening stacks of paper, I also say, "Please" and "Thank You" without thinking. It's just part of how I'm wired, and I believe that's a good thing--even though I do get joked at some times for saying "Thank You" when the cashier completes my order at fast food drive-thrus.

I'm always surprised when people make comments about how I'm the only person who says "Please" and "Thank You." These small details in communicating with people really make them feel better. Take the time to include them, and you're suddenly super.

Asking Questions
One thing I made a priority when I started working for F&W way back when was to always ask questions when I didn't understand something--even if I felt like I was exposing myself as being stupid or a pest. My reasoning is that I'd rather learn how to do something the right way (and make sure I was doing it the right way) than to make guesses and totally screw up my tasks.

As a result, I always emphasize the importance of asking questions to people who work with and under me. I'm almost always disappointed with the work done by people who never ask questions, because they try to guess their way to perfection--and usually guess the wrong way.

Other Ways Freelancers Can Be Awesome
Asking questions, saying "Please" and "Thank You," and even returning neat stacks of paper are great ways for freelance writers to go from being "a dime a dozen" to being "awesome," but there are some more common sense ways to elevate your awesomeness:
  • Read and follow submission guidelines. Seems easy enough, but you'd be surprised how many writers do not know how to follow detailed instructions for submitting their work.
  • Follow up (politely). Some writers don't know how to follow up, others don't know how to do so politely. Freelancers who can be polite and follow up always earn a gold star in my notebook. Sometimes a quick follow up helps the editor as much as the writer--and a polite one benefits both parties.
  • Meet deadlines. I usually build in a buffer period for my editorial deadlines, because many freelance writers have this bad habit of asking for extensions. While I am usually able to accommodate (because of my buffer zone), it's the freelancers who hit--or beat--their deadlines who earn awesome points from me.
  • Do your research. Whether you're researching the best markets for submitting your work or learning obscure details for an assigned article, writers who can roll up their sleeves and do some top notch research (and then effectively use what they've learned) are often zen masters of supreme awesomeness.
  • Be organized. Know where your past contracts are. Keep records of where and when you've made submissions. Keep receipts for expenses and invoices for collecting payment from editors. The organized freelance writer is the awesome freelance writer.

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Hannah said...

Thank you, Robert! I appreciate these tips to awesomeness!! Have a great Christmas week!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Great, easy to follow advice, Robert. Just tweeted it, too. Gotta share the wisdom.

Brandi said...

A great reminder of surprisingly common things all writers (including me) overlook. Thanks Jessica for sending out the tweet that I helped me to find this post.