Brilliant editor hacks: how to get a flood of positive feedback

One of the perks of my job as a writer for alumni magazines is the chance to see top editors at work. The very best have come up with ingenious solutions that they implement quietly — and use to get incredible results.

In this occasional series, I’ll highlight the best ideas I’ve seen from the 100+ editors I’ve worked with during the course of my career.

This comes courtesy of Rebecca Lindell, who edits the alumni magazine for the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. Over the years, Rebecca has developed an approach to working with sources that allows her to collect — and share — a great deal of positive feedback for her magazine.

I like to imagine that people do this when they read my stories.

I wrote a feature for the Weinberg alumni magazine about civil discourse called “You Can’t Say Something Nice. Now What?” As part of the process, I sent the edited draft to each of the people quoted in the story for source vetting. They all were happy to see it and each of them made modest tweaks to perfect the final piece.

As soon as the magazine was published, Rebecca sent a few courtesy print copies to each source with a personal note expressing her thanks for their time and help. But that wasn’t her only point of contact. A few days later, she followed up again, with a link to the published piece, like this:

alumni magazines editor hacks erin peterson

Steal this script.

The actual intent of the note is clear: she’s eager to have the story reach as wide an audience as possible, and this helps make it easy to spread the story.

But here’s the side benefit that *I* think is noteworthy: They all wrote back within hours to thank her and express how pleased they were with how the piece had turned out.

Here, you can see for yourself:

alumni magazines editor hacks erin peterson

Not too bad.

It’s all excellent feedback — but more important than that, the extra couple minutes she took to send the emails was all but guaranteed to pay massive dividends.

She already knew the sources liked the story, since they’d signed off on it in the first place. And she got three mini-testimonials within a matter of hours. I’m sure the sources were happy to write them!

Here’s what she told me: “It can be a bit time-consuming to follow up with sources after a story is published, but I feel it’s the least I can do after they’ve spent time speaking with us and reviewing the story. And they won’t necessarily know that the URL is there unless I tell them. But the quick contact does pay dividends in terms of good will — which they are happy to express to me in a return email. And I don’t hesitate to pass those notes along to my higher-ups, so that they can see the return on their investment! It’s good PR for the magazine all around.”

I don’t know how many sources Weinberg’s magazine has in every issue — 50? 100?

Imagine spending an hour or two every issue sending out story links to your sources. If you already have a strong source-vetting system in place, you’re all but guaranteed to hear back from some delighted sources. How great would it be to get 100 little notes attesting to your brilliance every issue? Even if only half — or a quarter! — responded, that’s still more than a dozen notes.

How useful would it be if you could bring a huge stack of enthusiastic testimonials to your boss when you’re trying to increase your magazine’s budget? Or get a raise? Or do that amazing-but-slightly-risky story you’ve been dreaming about?

Even if you just toss those messages into an “I’m awesome” folder in your inbox, it’s a good resource to have at hand after an alum gives you an earful for [insert ridiculous issue here].

In summary: don’t just hope for great feedback from your readers and sources. Whenever you can, engineer it right into your process.

If you’ve got another hack that you use and think others should know about, add it to the comments below.