7 Things You’ll Need to Know Before Becoming a Managing Editor

meditating editor

Illustration by Ramiro Roman

After just over five years of being the Managing Editor of Sophie Lizard’s Be a Freelance Blogger, I finally said “so long” to the job.

Why? Well, long story short, it’s because I’m now a full-time content editor for Syed Balkhi’s Awesome Motive, and I simply didn’t have time for BAFB anymore.

However, five years as a Managing Editor is a long time. Especially in the fast-paced online world. Five years can feel like a decade, especially where learning and experience comes into play.

There‘re so many things I wish I’d known before starting my career as a professional Editor. I learned, of course; but fumbling around using “trial and error” tactics was brutal at times. I desperately wanted someone “in the know” to tell me “THIS is what you should expect, and what you should do…”

But, hey! Now I’M that “in the know” person. And I have the power to tell YOU what you should expect, and what you can do.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of seven things you’ll need to keep in mind if you plan on becoming a Managing Editor:

1. Your Inbox Will Be a Nightmare

Note: This section pertains to Managing Editors who accept pitches and guest posts from outside writers. If the publication you intend to work for has their own stable of writers and you don’t have to deal with “the public,” then feel free to skip this section.

It won’t matter how often you check your inbox, or how organized you are when maintaining it: it’s gonna be a nightmare.

The larger the publication you work for, the more of a nightmare it’s going to be. Fair warning.

Your inbox is basically a giant cat litter box and multiple cats will crap in it every day. As the Managing Editor, it’s your job to take your lil pooper scooper and chuck the crap in the trash. But, if you’re lucky, sometimes one of those cats (writers) will leave a turd made of pure GOLD ala that one weird scene in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.

You with me so far?

What I’m saying is: most so-called “writers” who send you pitches are actually sending you pure unusable @#$%. But, if you’re SUPER LUCKY, sometimes you’ll get a gold nugget you’ll want to publish.

Most of the time, it’s because the writers have no idea what the publication’s niche is. They didn’t actually bother to READ the publication ahead of time before pitching.

For example, in my time at Be a Freelance Blogger, where the niche was “how freelance bloggers can earn more money,” I received pitches for articles about:

  • Guitars
  • Traveling to Thailand
  • Frog Mating Calls
  • Why College Students Need to Have More Sex(!)
  • The Best Diaper Genies for New Moms
  • How to Run Your Own Cult
  • Proof YouTube is Run by an Army of Alien Clones
  • And more…

And while some of those made for an amusing read (if I was in the right mood), for the most part, they were just major wastes of my time.

The Solution:

Have several canned responses ready in your inbox. Use them well and often. Here are the five I used when I was the Managing Editor of BAFB. Use them as templates to create your own:

READ THE GUIDLINES

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks for your message. The guidelines for [publication] guest contributors are at [link]  — please read through them carefully before submitting your query, and check out the blog so you know the type of thing we’re looking for in a guest post.

Best,

[Your Name]

SEND A MORE DETAILED OUTLINE

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks for sending us your guest blogging idea.

It sounds pretty cool, but it’s hard to be sure because you haven’t given us enough information about what you plan to say: the points you’ll make, the examples or evidence you’ll use, the advice you’ll share…

Please send a more detailed outline to help us make a decision about your guest post suggestion! If you need to refer back to the [publication] guest contributor guidelines, they’re at [link].

Best,

[Your Name]

SEND A FIRST DRAFT

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks for sending us your guest blogging query.

It sounds good –please go ahead and write up your first draft. Once you’ve emailed your draft to me, I’ll send it on to [Head Editor’s Name] for feedback and a final decision.

Before you start drafting, here are a few tips that might help you hit the mark first time:

[List a few basic style guide tips that would be helpful for every writer].

If you’d like to refer back to the guest guidelines while you write, they’re here: [link]

Best,

[Your Name]

NO THANKS/REJECTION EMAIL

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks for sending us your guest blogging idea.

We’ve decided not to take this one any further, because [it isn’t relevant to the publication’s niche / it doesn’t provide a fresh angle on the topic / it sounds too self-promoting / it simply isn’t what we’re looking for].

Feel free to pitch us fresh ideas in the future! The [publication] guest contributor guidelines are at [link].

Best,

[Your Name]

YES PLEASE/ACCEPTANCE EMAIL

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks for sending your guest post draft. I’m forwarding it to [Head Editor] now for review.

It’ll be at least a few days before [Head Editor] gets to it, but [s/he’ll] try to get back to you with detailed comments within the next week or so. If you haven’t heard from [him/her] after a couple of weeks, go ahead and email a reminder!

Best,

[Your Name]

2. You’ll Need to Learn Basic HTML

Most online publications these days run on WordPress. So, uh, if you’re not familiar with WordPress, I guess that should be the first thing you do. WPBeginner is a great website for learning what’s what when it comes to WordPress.

Anyway, once you’ve got that sorted out, you’ll quickly come to love WordPress’ intuitive post editor. It’s just like using Microsoft Word! Easy-peasy.

But that’s right around when some publications throw you a major curveball.

Many publications these days will remove the Visual editor from WordPress and expect you to do everything via the Text (HTML) editor. ACK!!!

The Solution:

I’ll be honest: a lot of this IS going to be trial and error and memorization skills. There’re plenty of websites out there that can help you to learn basic HTML codes, but you’re the one whose actually gotta learn ‘em.

For me? The easiest method was writing a post on my own website (where the Visual editor is enabled) and then switching what I wrote to the Text editor after I was done. Being able to switch back and forth from Visual mode to HTML mode to gain quick insights into what was done was a massive help.

My main tip in this area is to just BE HONEST if you’re not familiar with working in HTML. If your publication has certain codes (like “nofollow” tags) that MUST be added to posts, ASK FOR TRAINING before you jump in willy-nilly.

It LOOKS a lot more complicated than it is. Don’t let all the Matrix-looking lines of code text scare you. It’s still just an article that needs to be edited. There’s just a bunch of junk tossed in there with it.

Once you learn what’s what, you’ll be able to navigate through your edits with ease. And hey! You might actually learn to PREFER doing things in Text/HTML mode because it leaves less room for errors. You’ll never again have to wonder “Why did that piece of text shift over when I saved?” or “Why did that image go to hell?” because you’ll be able to SEE why – and how to fix! – problems as they arise.

3. Editing Isn’t JUST About Grammar

Your job isn’t just about grammar, spelling, and correcting simple typos. Sorry.

It’s also about injecting personality into dry text, learning basic copywriting to sell affiliate products that’re linked within articles, and otherwise making articles sound “natural” to an online audience.

That last bit is especially important if you’re editing articles written by ESL writers.

The Solution:

In order to make online writing sound natural, you’ll have to take a tip from the late Mitch Hedberg and “Embrace the contraction.” Using contractions in words helps give an article a more casual, natural-sounding flow.

  • They are = They’re
  • We are = We’re
  • You are = You’re
  • That is = That’s
  • And so on…

I also like to keep thesaurus.com open at all times as I edit because many writers have a limited vocabulary.

I recently stumbled across this sentence in an article I was editing:

“This amazing theme features an amazing layout and will make your site look amazing.”

I changed it to:

“This amazing theme features a sophisticated layout and will make your site look fantastic.”

Be aware of repeating adjectives. Not only in sentences, but in paragraphs. If a writer uses the same word repeatedly, look for another word that means the same thing.

As for learning how to SELL things via your writing (the art of copywriting), I recommend the following courses by DMHQ:

However, if you can’t afford either of those right now (they’re expensive as all get out!!), then at least get a copy of Robert Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook. It’s a great read, and has helped me many times.

4. You’re Gonna Get Headaches

Eye strain is a part of the job. If you’re editing article after article of online content, your eyes are going to start to hurt. And, if you’re like I am, it may even trigger migraines.

The Solution:

Different editors have different solutions for this. Some simply dim their monitors. Some switch their computers to night mode. Some use online apps to make their screens different colors.

Personally, I like to pop on a pair of sunglasses when I have a lot of edits to do. You can even find sunglasses made specifically for staring at computer screens for long periods of time that eliminate the blue light that causes eye strain and headaches. Definitely worth the investment!

5. You’ll Need to Learn SEO

Online writing isn’t just about great content anymore; it’s about search engine optimization (SEO). The publications you work for will expect you to know how to get the articles you publish ranked higher on Google.

This involves knowing which keyword phrases should be spattered (naturally) throughout an article. It also means knowing how to utilize meta data descriptions, SEO titles, tags, categories, alt tags, and more.

The Solution:

I don’t have a quick and easy solution for this one. Just read up, as much as you can, on current SEO practices.

However, one tool you absolutely MUST HAVE for SEO, in my opinion, is the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. It’ll make your life a million times easier, and keep you focused.

If the publication you work for doesn’t have Yoast SEO installed, I urge you to convince them to add it to their backend. It’s FREE, so you shouldn’t have too hard of a time convincing them. It’ll benefit you both in the long run.

6. You’ll Need Basic Photo Editing Skills

Great online content isn’t just about writing. You’ll also need to find or craft excellent images to go along with the writers’ posts.

The Solution:

For stock images, I turn to Pixabay (free) or Shutterstock (paid).

For photo editing and crafting, I use an ancient version of PhotoShop and the latest version of Affinity Designer. Both have a steep learning curve if you’re not a graphics-orientated person, but you can find tons of tutorials on YouTube if you spend some time searching.

7. You’ll Need to Make a Schedule

Whether you’re an Editor who manages a stable of writers or accepts guest posts from outside sources, you’ll need to create a publication schedule and stick to it.

The Solution:

If you’re accepting articles from guest writers, a simple Trello board will keep you organized. You and your Head Editor can keep track of what’s going up when with ease.

If you have a much larger team, and need to assign articles to your stable of writers and communicate with different team members, Asana works best.

Anyway, those are the seven things I’d wish I’d known before I started my career as a professional Editor. I hope I was helpful!

If you’re still having trouble deciding if you’d like to be an Editor, or if you’d prefer to stick to writing, then I recommend checking out my post on Writers VS. Editors for more information. 🙂

Lauren Tharp is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. With a little help from Robert the Cat, she's written hundreds of posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers.

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