By Rusty Fischer

The editor of The Buzz On series reveals how to face, keep and stick to an editor’s demanding deadline

Working on your first, or even your hundred and first, freelance assignment is an exciting proposition. New editors to please, new skills to develop, new research to conduct, new e-mail addresses to memorize, why, the fun never ends. The trick, however, is to keep the freelance assignment!

To accomplish this, here are some “timely” tips that have to do with deadlines:


First of all, never count on your editor to remind you of an upcoming deadline. Chances are, if you have one deadline, she’s got eight. Furthermore, she expects you to be a professional and remember this stuff on your own. How?

Simple: If your 2,000 word assignment on the Galapagos turtle is due on August 12th, set your own deadline for August 10th. Just chop off those two days and get rid of them. If you’re collecting photos or other research, and a library or photo house asks when your deadline is, tell them the 10th. Building in those extra two days (or even longer) just plain makes sense.

If all else fails and you’re not done on time, you’ve got two days breathing room in which to finish. On the other hand, if you get your assignment in on time, you’ll have one happy editor on your hands. And there’s no editor like a happy editor . . .

No Excuses

If you do foresee missing your deadline, however, by all means, tell your editor. Yes, this is often unpleasant, especially if you’re a perfectionist like myself. And chances are, you are. Still, if you ever want to work for that editor again, or even want to get paid for the assignment at hand, the one you signed a contract for, a contract very specifically stating your deadline, that is, it needs to be done.

Just fess up. Say, “Sorry dear editor, but I won’t be able to have my piece in by Friday. How about Monday at the latest?” At least this way, the editor knows about it and can do a little damage control. After all, editors have their own deadlines as well. Just like printers, distributors, bookstores, and marketing departments.

Chances are, your editor wouldn’t be able to get to your piece that Friday anyway. By promising to deliver it on Monday, you’ll get it to her just in time for her to actually look at it. All around, a win/win situation.

Again, less is more. The above explanation was plenty. Don’t blame your missed deadline on your computer, on your dog, on your kids, on your wife, on your asthma. You knew all about those things when you accepted the job, why should they suddenly spring up and cause you to miss a deadline?


Never, ever fail to tell an editor you won’t meet your deadline. It may make you sweaty or queasy, but disappointing an editor is much better than pissing her off. Like you just saw, editors aren’t always sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to turn in your assignment. The example above goes to prove that informing your editor early, giving her an option, and delivering to satisfy your second deadline left hardly a wrinkle in her well-oiled plan.

Returning to the above example, what if the freelancer hadn’t informed her editor? Say the editor gets a little antsy around lunchtime, takes the time to send out a reminder/nag e-mail when she gets back, and never hears from the freelancer. Well, e-mails aren’t always reliable. Sometimes you e-mail an editor from work, then spend the rest of the evening e-mailing her from home. Happens all the time.

So, the editor assumes that the freelancer will deliver on time, busies herself all afternoon, and, suddenly, just before she leaves for the weekend, receives an e-mail from the freelancer saying that she won’t meet deadline. Not this Friday, not ever.

Wham! Now the editor not only doesn’t have the piece by deadline, she’s not going to get it all. Not from this freelancer, anyway. So she has to come in on Saturday, frantically write every poor name in her FUTURE FREELANCER file, and find someone else to do the project, most likely receiving it much later than Monday, and maybe not even by next Friday.

Not good . . .

Follow Through

Often, freelancers, in their rightful fear that “publish or perish” applies directly to them, bite off more than they can chew. There’s a kid to put through college, a new car payment to make, a trip that just has to be taken, and they’ve spent so long begging for work, they’ll be damned if they’ll ever turn down a job. Even if they’re sleeping on average of two hours a night to complete all this new work they’ve got on their desk!

This happens every day. However, unless you tell her, an editor doesn’t know if you’ve got too much on your plate, or not enough. Occasionally, believe it or not, freelance writers have too much work!

If this is the case, recognize it early on and tell your editor up front. It’s better to turn down half of an assignment early, than to try and finish it all and not deliver any of it well.

Say you have committed to writing an entire chapter of a future book on fishing. Well, the lures you wanted pictures for aren’t coming in, the fish you’ve been studying aren’t biting anymore, and the bank just repossessed your outboard motor. Well, if you’ve got four of the eight pieces of the chapter done, send them in and regretfully bow out of the last half.

At least your editor will get something, and you’ll get paid for half the work. More than anything, be realistic and honest. If you’re staring at a stack of work on your desk and an editor proposes writing twice what you can possibly manage, be straight with him at the get go and don’t lead him on.


Rusty Fischer is the author of FREEDOM TO FREELANCE: The Editor of The Buzz On Series Reveals How To FIND, GET and KEEP Your Next Freelance Job, available for sale as an eBook from


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