Face Time

Thanks to e-mail, you never need to make eye contact with editors you write for. But maybe you should. The payoff is more than you might imagine.
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Robert McGarvey needed a little arm-twisting before he'd get on a plane to New York to meet his editor at Warner Books. The Los Angeles-based writer didn't see the point of flying 3,000 miles to get chummy, when he'd already ghostwritten one book for the company and believed that more work was in the offing. But his agent persisted. "Look, he really likes your work, and he wants to do some more stuff with you. Why don't you come meet him?" he told McGarvey.

McGarvey's glad he gave in. After the trip, "Warner gave me a multibook contract that was worth $30,000," he says. "My mantra is 'build relationships.' Meeting people in person is one way to start." He's now convinced that face time can transform any writer's career.

No matter where you live or what you write, you'll reap financial and professional benefits from meeting your editors face to face. Here's why.

You'll connect as people

"Putting a face with a name and/or voice can go a long way toward establishing an even better working relationship," says Alabama-based Judy Woodward Bates, a speaker and author of The Gospel Truth About Money Management (New Hope), who makes a point of meeting with her editors as often as possible.

Even busy editors welcome the opportunity to meet their writers. According to Leah Ingram, author of The Complete Guide for the Anxious Bride (New Page Books) and other books, "When I was editor at Moms on Call [a former special-interest magazine from Woman's Day], three writers who didn't live in New York made it a point to visit me. It was absolutely not an intrusion. Editors are very isolated, spending their days with their computers. To have flesh-and-blood come to your office is a nice change that makes the editor feel good."

Some writers worry that such meetings could work against them. They're apprehensive about being judged on their weight, age, clothing or appearance.

"There are two camps of writers," says Ingram. "One sees writing as a hobby; one treats it as a business. The fact is, face-to-face meetings can help grow your business. As an editor, it didn't matter to me how old or how heavy a writer was, what color her skin was or where she lived. What mattered was whether she had good ideas and could meet deadlines."

You'll gain insights

"When you meet your editors in person, you can ask silly questions like, 'Do you prefer first-person or third-person stories?' and get a better feel for what they're looking for in a query," says Virginia-based Sharon Cavileer, a magazine and newspaper freelancer who specializes in travel stories.

Cavileer tries to visit at least half of her editors regularly, and she always leaves the meetings with additional work. "Visiting editors has doubled the number of assignments I get," she says. "During our discussions, they might say, 'Gee, you know, I've never done anything on ____' or, 'Do you know anything about ____?' " Cavileer sees such comments as her opportunity to jump in and sell herself—and nab another assignment.

You'll reap lasting rewards

When I visited a Colorado-based book publisher I'd done freelance editing for, I hoped simply to solidify my relationship with a company that had recently undergone major changes in ownership and staff. While discussing with the publishers and editors the types of projects I enjoyed, the conversation led to an editing assignment they hadn't thought I'd be interested in—an assignment that paid four times more than any previous work I'd done for them.

That's not all. After a couple of hours, we started talking about the kinds of books I'd like to write. The editors liked five books I pitched, and I left the meeting knowing which ideas excited them most and exactly what they were looking for in a proposal. Six months later, I had a contract in hand for my fourth book, Your Perfect Job. Clearly, it was worth the nearly $1,000 in airfare for me to make this quick, two-day visit.

While meeting editors is likely to yield immediate positive results, it can also pay off in the long term as editors move on to positions at other publications. No matter where they might end up, when editors need writers, they tend to hire ones they've established a rapport with in the past.

You'll break down barriers

When should you meet your editors? The sooner the better. "If you've had minimal dialogue with an editor—even if it's just a personalized rejection—arrange a meeting. It can't hurt," Ingram says.

Consider the approach taken by Los Angeles freelancer Kathy Sena. When she's planning a trip to New York, she sends notes to a few editors a week or two in advance. "If it's an editor I haven't worked with before, I usually include my credits, a few clips and a letter of recommendation from another editor. If I have worked with the editor, I may suggest lunch or a quick trip to Starbucks."

Although Sena will do cold calls, she makes it a priority to connect with editors she's queried but not yet worked for. "Chances are, if your clips are good, you'll get at least a 10-minute 'show-me-what-you've-got' meeting," she says.

If you meet an editor at a writing conference, recognize that a brief introduction in this setting can't substitute for meeting at her office or at a coffee shop. Editors are besieged at conferences, so you'll be competing for their attention against other writers making pitches, colleagues catching up and networking, as well as the general information overload that occurs at these events. Your best chance for real discussion and a lasting relationship is to arrange to meet away from the conference setting. However, if you're attending a conference in your editor's city, use that as an excuse to request a personal meeting.

Before you go

As you plan your meeting strategy, keep the following do's and don'ts in mind:

• Do find out beforehand how much time the editor has to spend with you. The time frame indicates whether you should be prepared to pitch story ideas or just say hello.

• Do dress professionally. You need to make a good impression. Don't show up in sweats or jeans, even if you're meeting with an editor who specializes in fitness or adventure travel.

• Don't come bearing gifts. Most editors aren't allowed to accept gifts. Moreover, you'll probably come off looking desperate or naive.

• Do make the first move to pick up the check if you're meeting the editor over coffee or lunch. But don't argue if the editor picks up the tab. (See previous point about gifts.)

Of course, you could think up a dozen good reasons not to scrounge up the airfare or waste your time schlepping around some strange city just to meet editors on their own turf. But don't let these excuses keep you from advancing your career. According to freelancer Sena, "We're in a business that thrives on making and maintaining good relationships. A writer can't afford to pass up these great opportunities." And nothing will benefit you more than putting yourself on an editor's short list of writers who care enough about their work to get personal.

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