A Freelancer’s Guide to Editors (by a Freelancer Turned Editor)

My day gig is editing CBS Man Cave Daily (no, not the other, crappier Man Cave Daily. The good one). One of my writers asked me for advice going full-time freelance and my advice is: WOAH! Have a spouse, because that is not something you want to do and also pay for health insurance, which for some reason gets more expensive the smaller the company you belong to.

But if you do go freelance in New York City, which I did, and only managed to drain an incredible amount of savings, this is my advice to him on how to dig up work and hang onto it. It’s based on what worked for me then and also what I’m most looking for now.

Don’t ask me how to become a Cracked columnist, though. I still have no idea how I got that lucky. The only reason Dan O’Brien and Robert Brockway aren’t dead of alcohol poisoning is they live too far away for me to buy them drinks every day.  

I got into freelancing by asking a buddy of mine from publishing if he’d recommend me to his editor at AOL and he said sure. There’s so much editorial turnover that soon the boss who was sharing me with her co-editors had new co-editors, but the old ones were still hiring me at MTV and other companies.

Browse Mediabistro and stay away from Monster or Craigslist. Nobody on Craigslist wants to pay you what you’re worth. I can’t say anything about LinkedIn because I’ve never used it. Don’t write on a “based-on-page-views” amount unless it’s a backend bonus like we offer for a monthly top traffic bounty. Get paid for the actual work. Site’s a startup? !*(% you, pay me. Views are down this month? !*(% you, pay me. You offer valuable experience and exposure? !*(% YOU, PAY ME.

Getting work is really is as easy as just asking. Somebody, somewhere, is looking to hire you. You’re not going to waltz into Esquire and you hopefully won’t let Elite Daily reap your work without paying (as I understand is their model, correct me if I’m wrong). But yeah, I consider pretty much everybody who e-mails me and I’m less concerned about their history and more concerned about the quality of their writing and ideas.

You would be AMAZED how many “professional” full-time men’s interest writers are godawful in every possible regard: sentence structure, grammar, spelling, deadlines, communication. I would trade nine of the commonly known bylines in this world of dude-blogging for one young woman with an interest in writing and the topic she’s writing about, because even if she has no plans to make a full career of it, I guarantee you she’ll make my life easy and she’ll probably pull 5x the traffic as the guy who just wants to write “The Five Beers You Drink in College.” I’ve done it and it’s a trade-up six times out of six. And the weird thing is how many writers like that either want to but think they can’t or never thought about doing an internet article full of jokes even though they’re giving it away for free on Twitter.

The tenth guy (or gal), though, he’ll be fantastic. That’s why you see names like Dan Seitz or (before he took an editorial gig) Ian Fortey everywhere on the web. They’re fast, funny, and fresh. Editors talk. We trade recommendations for writers because we can’t always give everyone all the work we want, but we’re still avaricious of our top talent.

Ask not what editors can do for you but show what you can do for editors. Most editors are overworked and just want to be sure their content is correct, catchy, and queued up.

Deliver more than is expected. Once you’ve got the work, give them the baker’s dozen. Is it due Tuesday? Have it in Monday. Did they expect it to be mildly funny? Make it hilarious. If an editor knows they’re going to get what they want but better you will always have work. That doesn’t mean 1000 words is better when the assignment is 800 but if those 800 require zero editing, editors will love you. My favorite writers to read aren’t just the best in terms of content, they’re also the best as an editor because there are no typos, no mistakes they should know better than to make. All I have to do is read and enjoy it, throw in links and images, and call it a day.

Some key areas in which a writer can demonstrate his/her value to an editor:

DEADLINES: If an editor knows they can rely on you (and again, even have it in early) you’ll get work.

EASE: Do you require a lot of editing? Do I have to remind you deadlines are coming up? Are you going to leave me waiting around the office at 7 p.m. when you promised I’d have it by 4?

ACCESS: Depending on the subject. There’s a guy who’s a huge pain in the neck to edit, but he gets great subjects to interview so I can never really cut ties. He’s not even a good interviewer, but he’s the one who’s going to get me subjects I can’t on my own. Or bring me story ideas I haven’t heard anywhere else yet.

To use a negative example: I just had a PR person call me at my desk (which I hate because even if it’s useful to me it’s a guaranteed two-10 minutes when I could glean all the info from an email in under 30 seconds) and go on and on and on about this thing she was pitching. And it’s like, “Lady…I don’t care. You called me. You wanted me to care. So make me care.” Even if I was intrigued I’d still say “Great, send me the details in an email” because unless it’s a drop-everything opportunity, I guarantee I’m in the middle of something else when you call and I need to stay in that zone. And I’m not intrigued I’ll still say “Okay, send me the details in an e-mail” just to get them off the phone.

Most freelancers are either artisans or factories. Artisans tailor their work to the site and usually rise up pretty fast. Editors want to get them before they’re out of reach with someone else who has more budget. Factories work for everybody and they’re not really writers. They excel at the side of the job that’s making contacts with publicists, sending out a vast flood of pitches to multiple sites. Then they just hammer out the product. They’re not worried about how it looks, they’re not worried about site voice. Writing’s the fastest part of their job. They’re never very smart. They’re just very determined. They ALWAYS *@^(ing argue with me when I reject a pitch, telling me why it would be a good idea and I should reconsider.

They have their relative worth, but in the long term I hate working with them. They always take more editing, and only half of them get me deadlines. They’re often sketchy and try to see what they can get away with. I had one who listed herself as one of our writers on her site and all her social media for months and months despite never selling me on a pitch. When she finally did sell me on one, she double-sold the article to another site than acted like she had no idea it would be a problem, although she might not have been acting because I guarantee she never read any of the documentation I sent her saying she couldn’t do that.

Don’t be a factory. Factories are people who write. Artisans are writers.

Editors can tell which one you’ll be almost out of the gate. When a new writer emails me I have different responses based on how much I actually want to take someone up on their inquiry of work, although I don’t reject anybody out of hand because I could be wrong. But you don’t want an editor thinking “Is this guy going to be more trouble than he’s worth?” You want them to feel like they’ve found a diamond mine nobody else knows about yet.

Read ClientsfromHell for a laugh and memorize the common problems you’ll encounter. Thankfully there’s less of it in the world of NYC’s corporate-backed blogging. But still.

Having Fun & Passing the Ravings on to You

I am well behind on updates of my Man Cave Daily stuff, but here’s one I’m kind of proud of: “Don’t Be That Dude: Telling a Woman How She Should Look,” a non-shamey guide to basic human interaction of the guys and girls variety, based on rad human being Christina Topacio’s interaction with a guy who’s into her…sorta. It’s all kinds of awkward and she strides through it like a champ.

I also did a piece on spots in NYC that have yielded some of my favorite dates (or just adventures). Love is actually shown to outer boroughs, because I care about you, New York. It includes the best tiki bar on the East Coast.

Otto's Shrunken Head is my favorite bar on earth.

Otto’s Shrunken Head is my favorite bar on earth.

Everything else is coming, but it’s mostly interviews, reviews, wishlists, comic previews, and weird search terms–i.e. regular features. Those two were my fun projects this spring. I have the best job in the world. Probably. I mean…golf club tester is probably a good one too.

Oh, and I have a couple of possible projects in the works that aren’t prose and aren’t for the web. Hopefully both will come to fruition and I can talk about them soon.

My Cracked midterm review

Oh man, I have not been good with the posty-posty about my Cracked work this year. I’ve never had my computer on so little as in 2015. I’m getting about one article a month up between my day job and a couple high-yield freelance opportunities I can’t talk about until they’re reality (but oh boy oh boy when I can–!) but that is steadily improving. I’m closing out old projects and being careful before opening new ones.

Here’s what I did for my beloved Cracked in the front half of the year:

5 Times Gold Made Something Less Valuable — I really enjoyed doing this one because I felt it was a different concept than the standard fare, I dug up some cool research, and I got some good lines in. I still chuckle at the stunned disbelief of “They added gold to money and managed to devalue both.”

gold ramen


6 Reasons Valentine’s Day is Going to Suck This Year — For some reason I crap on Valentine’s Day every year even though I enjoy it and I’m pretty good at it. This is that.

no fat chicks

5 Reasons Irish People Don’t Love American St. Patty’s Day — Oh, this was such a fun one day. Luke McKinney and I collaborated on it after kicking around the idea for a couple of years running and then finally prepping well enough in advance. I proposed we just compare our experiences, but I think he’s the one who wisely morphed it into how American St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t half resemble the Irish one.

It was like playing a game of catch. We threw down a bunch of thoughts, had a fun discussion, then trimmed it to a manageable amount, adding jokes in each pass. It was a different way to work, but it was cool to watch an article grow even if you felt you’d said all you could.

Luke’s from Donegal, and every Irish person I’ve ever met who’s used to humoring Americans has said, “McGinley, eh? A fine Donegal name.” Our branch of the McGinleys is actually from Derry, but it’s still nice to figure Luke and I probably have a great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in common or at the very least, were always meant to be drinking buddies.

st patricks day

5 Extremists It’s Impossible to Take Seriously — All of them, right? But this is a special brand of “Can’t even tell if you believe your own bullshit” entirely. There are human beings who believe leprechauns exist and they vote.


I Interviewed Comic Book Jesus!

I’ll catch up with everything I’ve gotten done at Man Cave soon (and boy are there loads of it), but this is too cool not to share: fifteen minutes in Heaven with Grant Morrison, talking about next week’s Ultra Comics, general description of The Multiversity, and what he’s got cooking with Wonder Woman.

Oh, and we compared Ultra Comics to The Monster at the End of This Book.

I couldn’t get him to confirm that Captain Atom saves President Harley though. I NEED that to be the case. Unfortunately, it would collapse the quantum state of that issue’s heartbreak. (Pax Americana might be the best single issue of a comic in the last twenty years.)

You'd think this would be the most frustrating job of my life, but no, I actually nailed three likenesses enough to be content in one sitting.

You’d think this would be the most frustrating job of my life, but no, I actually nailed three likenesses enough to be content in one sitting.

Did I ever show you this? I was hired in 2012 to draw a nice fellow this picture after describing the “Holy Trinity theory” to him that I talk about in the intro to that interview. In fact, I think I’ll go add it to the article.


Mugging for the camera   Recently updated !

Thank you to my Cracked secret santa for this incredibly cool mug of my alternate column banner. I am delighted by it. And it even uses the alternate banner to the column, which I drew after the one on Cracked.com, but editorial and I both felt simpler was better.

Too cool for hot drinks.

Too cool for hot drinks.

And now I have it on a mug! I can drink tea out of my Cracked mug and coffee out of my GB mug and let them fight it out in my belly! Productivity, here I come! Thank you, Secret Santa.

Here’s what I made for my recipient:

He's Sylvester P. Smythe, if you were wondering.

He’s Sylvester P. Smythe, if you were wondering.


I still owe another dude a drawing of himself as a mosquito from like…a year ago, but i have to finish some comic work first.


Just 27 Days Till You’re Enjoying a Gobbler!

Since Maxim‘s gone bloodless and removed their voluminous content from their site, it falls to me to remind you that there are just 27 days until you can gnash your teeth into the greatest thing America’s invented: the gobbler! Here’s my article for them, which I rescued, because I am wonderful and handsome.  (more…)