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The Editor’s Guide to Cold-Calling Publishers

Silhouette of woman with headset on sitting in from of a computer

Cold-calling potential clients is not one of my favorite marketing activities. In fact, I rarely do it. Yet it can be a way to win a new client or two. So when I was asked how a freelance editor should approach cold-calling book publishers, I went to the former EAE Backroom and asked the hive mind.

What I got in return was a great beginner’s guide to cold-calling.

Identify the Right Publisher

To start, research the publishers you want to work for. Ensure that your knowledge and skill set works with the books your chosen publisher produces. “Mention specific titles when you make your pitch,” advises Adrienne Montgomerie in “The Art of the Cold Call.”

Also target the right person to pitch—the person who decides which freelancers to hire. In larger publishing houses, this is usually a managing editor. In smaller houses, you might find that the owner does the hiring. “When in doubt,” says Montgomerie, “ask HR or the secretary who you should talk to.”

Decide on Your Approach

Next, decide on how to approach the publisher. While cold-calling indicates a phone call, you could opt for an email or a letter. Keep in mind that we get so few letters these days, yours might stand out!

Whichever method you use, respect the contact’s time. For a phone call, prepare your thoughts ahead of time, writing out a script and practicing it, if that helps.

For emails and letters, keep these tips in mind:

  • Write a clear, enticing subject line, focusing on the contact’s problem (i.e., need to get books edited).
  • Keep it short. We’re all busy. Highlight items from your resumé, but don’t reproduce the whole document. Add items not on your resumé that make you a good fit.
  • Spell the contact’s name correctly! Details count, and no one likes to see their name misspelled.
  • If you know someone in common, mention that person.
  • In your email signature or letterhead template, include important contact points (phone, website), and list related credentials and professional organizations you belong to.

Meet the Publisher’s Needs

When making your pitch:

  • Position yourself as helping the publisher, not as the publisher giving you a job.
  • State your willingness to do one or more of the following, as appropriate:
    • Take a test. Tests can help the publisher feel more confident in hiring you.
    • Start with proofreading. It can be easier to break in that way and work up to copyediting.
    • Take rush jobs. Helping your contact out of a jam—and doing a good job of it—can lead to more work.

You may need to be persistent. Publishers resist hiring new freelance editors, even when they’ve been recommended and especially when they have no experience editing books, which is a specialty.

Think of it from their point of view: Imagine that you hired a new editor only to find they did a terrible job on the book. You’re going to spend time and money to have the manuscript re-edited. Meanwhile, the production schedule is thrown off, which threatens the planned publication date. That could mean missing important marketing opportunities and cost overruns. That’s not a good situation to be in.

Golden Rules of Customer Service

All of this comes down to two simple customer service rules you should apply to all your clients, current and potential:

  1. Offer your clients what they need or want. Be clear that your job is to fix their problems.
  2. Make your clients’ lives easier. Let them know how working with you will be easier than working with the next editor.

A version of this article was originally published on December 2, 2016, on Copyediting.

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