From Kate's Writing Crate…
For well over a decade, I have been a magazine editor working with freelance writers. Some have writing experience, some don't. Some with writing experience have never interviewed people and written feature articles.
Before giving these writers assignments, I give them all tips, style formats, and answer their questions.
The tips include: have at least a dozen questions ready to go before the interview; make sure to ask for the correct spelling of every person's name, title, and organization; ask follow up questions for clarity; elicit detailed answers with specific questions; and also ask some open questions like: "What is your favorite part of your job or of the event?" and "Is there anything else you would like the public to know?" The last two questions can lead the interview into new territory—more personal when discussing what they like as well as more valuable information about something you didn't know to ask about.
In-depth interviews can take 45-60 minutes. People with public relations backgrounds and experienced interviewers can finish in 20-30 minutes. Every interview is different. The key is to be prepared with questions, extra pens, and batteries if you are taping the interview.
Style formats vary from publication to publication. Some examples: write out zero through nine, but 10 and up are numerical except in quotes; people's titles are capitalized before their names, but are lower case and encased in commas afterwards; songs are always in quotes, movies and TV shows in italics. There is usually a guide book or style sheet to refer to when writing the articles.
Writers' questions and concerns vary.
If a bit nervous about questioning strangers, I tell writers that genuine curiosity and interest will put the interviewees at ease. These people love what they do and enjoy sharing their knowledge and insights with others (as my publications only include positive articles). Generally, the more you are interested in the answers, the easier the interviews get.
Also, respect the other person's time--be on time and don't waste time during the interview.
Do word counts matter? Yes. There is a finite amount of space in printed publications. If the word count is too low, a filler (jump text, pull quote, extra photo, etc.) must be found for the empty space or the article may be moved to the back of the publication where space is tighter. If count is too high, the article may be cut down to fit the space.
Editors have their own sensibilities when cutting text. Articles may lose what the writer thought was the best section or quote. It's professional to meet word counts.
For ideas on self-editing to meet word counts, see my post dated October 1, 2012. (Please note: I occasionally go over my self-imposed 500 word count for posts if the topics warrant it.)
What about leads? Lead sentences set the tone and direction of articles. They can be funny, serious, or factual. They need to make readers want to keep reading. Many times leads are written last. Once articles are completed, leads become clearer.
How important are deadlines? Exceedingly. Editors have a limited amount of time to edit before the magazines have to be laid out by page along with the ads and then proofed. The printing schedule has to be met or the issues will not be out in time. If a writer cannot meet the deadline, tell the editor as soon as possible so he/she can make other arrangements to fill the space reserved for that article.
What do editors love?
Well-written and well organized articles sent in on time with few, if any, spelling or grammatical errors. A piece with a strong voice that is informative and entertaining and has great quotes is the goal.
Articles with headlines, captions for photos, and suggestions for pull quotes are always well received. Working together makes the article and, therefore, the magazine shine. Editors may make changes to your suggestions or use their own ideas, but the extra effort is appreciated.
Share ideas for future articles. Editors welcome them. Every month there are pages to fill and if the writers are interested in certain topics, it makes for better articles. Not every idea will be approved, but sharing your ideas keeps you in mind when those topics come up in the future.
Communication is the key. Stay in touch with the editor. Ask questions. Share ideas. Be professional and you will receive more assignments.