Ask Valerie: Help! My case studies have fallen through and now I can’t deliver the story I promised to the editor

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Question:

Help! I pitched a story to an editor and they accepted my idea. But now all my case studies have fallen through. What should I do?

Answer:

Line all your ducks up in a row

The answer to this lies in what you do BEFORE the pitch. Avoid over-promising and under-delivering by lining up all your ducks in a row well in advance. Yes, that means ensuring your case studies agree to the fact they may:

  1. be featured in a national publication
  2. have their name and identity included in the article
  3. need to provide a photo of themselves (if the publication features photos)

Furthermore, if the topic is of a personal or sensitive nature, double-check they will be happy to talk about that topic in a public forum.

Too often, case studies think that they can be interviewed and remain anonymous. But, in the vast majority of cases, editors want the case studies to be identified.

In a small percentage of cases, editors will be ok for names to be changed. But do not assume that the editor will agree to this just because the person wants to remain anonymous, particularly if there is no valid reason for doing so.

So, in the first instance, be assured that your case studies are going to come through well before you pitch to an editor!

Personally, I always like to ensure that my case studies are “ready to go” before I pitch a story. That way, when an editor says ‘yes’, I can just focus on interviewing and writing – not searching the world for the right person to fulfil what I’ve promised to the editor.

“But that takes so much time… ” I hear you moan

Yes it can take up time. But it’s better to invest this time before you pitch rather then end up with your tail between your legs when you have to go back to an editor and tell them you can’t deliver what you promised.

The key here is to make a judgement on how likely you are to be able to find the kind of case studies you’re looking for.

For example, if you are looking for a someone who grooms their dog, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find someone. If you’re looking for someone who does CrossFit, no worries. If you’re looking for a case study who is a gluten-free vegan, these days, they’re everywhere. So if you’re worried about spending too much time finding these case studies before you’ve even secured a commissioned article, then chances are that you will find these people anyway. Thus the risk of pitching your story to an editor without confirming the participation of your case studies beforehand may be worth taking.

However, if you’re looking for a gluten-free, dog-grooming, Tony Abbott-loving, unicycling vegan, then this person is going to be harder to find. And if you promise this to an editor, you sure as hell better make sure you have them in the bag before you include them in your story pitch.

While the above example is obviously written with tongue firmly placed in cheek, the reality is that it can be hard to get someone to go on the record about topics that may be controversial, sensitive or private. So while you may know tonnes of people that fit the bill, you may not be able to get anyone to talk about their issues in an interview. So make sure you get their agreement first.

The best laid plans can go awry

If you’ve lined up all your ducks in a row and your case study pulls out at the last minute, my advice: scramble to find a replacement. Search high and low. But if you do everything humanly possible to achieve this and it still doesn’t work out, it’s time to fall on your sword and tell the editor.

Editors are not unreasonable people. They understand that these things happen to all of us from time to time. But consider your token “used”. If this happens again on your next pitch to that editor, you will start to be known as the freelance writer who has great ideas but who can’t seem to come through with the goods.

Minimise the chance of this happening by being really upfront with your case studies so they know what’s involved in telling their story to you.

Ask Valerie - Case Studies


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