Monday, January 24, 2005

The Power of Keeping Track

For almost twenty years of my writing life, I’ve been automatically keeping track of different little bits of information. I tuck an address into my address book or I update a phone number or a new email address. It doesn’t take a great deal of time but it’s a consistent and conscious act on my part.

I know some of the data in my rolodex is a bit dated. Yet I keep it there because I understand some times even an out-of-date address has value. Several years ago, I needed to reach an author for the publisher. Because of my role in acquisitions, the managing editor turned a project over to me. This author who has a busy counseling ministry owed the publisher a manuscript.  There had been some back and forth correspondence via email to talk about the editorial details with this manuscript. When I took the background information including the book contract from my colleague, I asked, “What’s a current phone number for _____?”

This busy managing editor said, “I’ve never talked with him on the phone. We’ve only communicated through email.” Heading back to my desk, I knew I needed to reach this author on the phone and talk through these editorial issues.  Email has it’s purpose—but it’s also a less personal means of reaching someone. It’s pretty easy to turn someone down via email or reshape their request or idea. I knew on the phone and in person, the conversation would be much more ground leveling with this bestselling author. But where do I find the phone number since it wasn’t in the file?

About fifteen years earlier, I had worked with this author as an editor and ghostwriter on one of his books. During that brief experience, we communicated a great deal but I hadn’t talked with this author in over fifteen years—yet his old information remained in my rolodex. It was a starting point. I called the old phone numbers and they didn’t work. My only choice was the front door approach. I called this author’s office and reached his assistant. When I explained the need, this assistant said, “You could be anyone on the phone, Terry, posing as a publisher. I can’t give you that information.”

I tried a different tact, “Does _____ still live in (name of the city), California?”


“Does he live at (specific street address)?”


“Is his home phone number (specific area code and number)?”

After giving this information, the assistant made a long pause on the phone. Then with a sigh, she said, “Yes, that’s the phone number but the area code has change to ____.” I thanked her for her “assistance.” In a matter of minutes I was talking with this author’s wife (another bit of information in my rolodex) and beginning to connect with him about my editorial issue.  I understand the power of keeping track.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Devil In the Details. It’s true you have to keep track of the details in the writing life. I love what Ellen J. List has written about the value of networking at a writer’s conference—which is a valuable first step to connecting with the editor.  It’s important to exchange business cards every possible chance.

One key from my perspective is what do you do after you get the business card? Tuck it into your desk or put it in your computer where you can easily access it? For many years, I keyed the information from my business cards into my computer rolodex. Now I use a Targus Mini Business Card Scanner. The device isn’t perfect in the scans. I may still have to type a few bits of information. But overall it’s a huge timesaver and helps my process of keeping track of information. I understand the power of such information—even if it’s old.

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