Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Importance of Follow-Up

It’s one of the simple steps of publishing. Yet some people avoid it and never follow-up. Other people follow-up too soon or in an inappropriate manner where the answer is pre-determined and not what they want to hear—no.

Here’s the situation in almost every aspect of publishing: It is busy and intense with volumes of material and information heading your direction. Into that mix, you need to understand that a great deal of this process happens in meetings where an individual will champion a particular book idea or proposal and rally others around the concept. This consensus building process is important to generate enthusiasm from the marketing and sales area and the publishing leadership. Communication is one of the keys but an editor’s time to communicate is limited. It’s sort of like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose. Yet in that drink of water, you are supposed to make experienced and wise business decisions which will ultimately affect the bottom-line profits for your company.

Into this reality, the writer wants to receive an answer about their submission.  I’ve said frequently to writers that if you press too much, you will receive an answer which is the easiest answer to give—no.  A positive answer often requires consensus building and time. Yet it is important to follow-up.

In some writing books, I’ve read about writers who will include a postcard for the editor to reassure that they’ve received the submission. From my perspective, these postcards are a bad idea and a nuisance. Maybe they work at a large publishing house where an assistant opens the mail and fills out these postcards.  If I’m traveling, I may not open manuscripts for a week or two. If I’m consumed with another project, then I simply write a date on the envelope and throw the submission into a pile. Imagine my feeling when I open this submission weeks later and find a postcard from the author to acknowledge that I received the submission. It’s a complete wasted effort.

Several weeks ago I received an email from a writer who was following up on her fiction submission.  I checked my manuscript log and discovered I rejected this submission about five months earlier. Maybe that rejection came via email and she accidentally deleted it. It could be a number of things that went wrong but she didn’t know her manuscript had been considered and rejected.  Her followup was completely appropriate and necessary.

Last year, I was doing some follow-up phone calls and emails related to Book Proposals That Sell.  I had a simple purpose in my follow-up call.  I wanted to make sure my package arrived and ask the status of the consideration process and if they needed any additional information. These types of questions are perfectly professional and expected. When I called one editor, as we talked, I could hear her rummaging through stacks of material on her desk and possibly on a table near her desk.  During the call, she located my package and opened it.  My timing was perfect because she was looking for a book to fill a particular need and Book Proposals That Sell fit that need.

With one brief follow-up call, I boosted the visibility of my product.

Be aware that sometime follow-up calls don’t work. For example, I’m working with one literary agent on a project that started from this agent’s idea. I followed-up and completed the proposal.  After several months and hearing nothing, I started to follow-up with calls and emails. Four months later, I learned this project was ready to go out to the publishers about a month ago. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been calling to confirm the project was sent out and see if there is any feedback. My messages have simply been stacking on this agent’s desk or voice mail with nothing returned and no answers.  At least six times, I’ve called with this simple message over a month-long period. It’s not encouraging to me yet I will remember this situation with my next pitch or project. As a writer, you have a choice and I will likely decide to follow another path with future projects. Don’t feel like you have no power over this process because that isn’t true.

Communication is key in this business so learn the importance of following up—yet in the right timing and the right manner. In my experience, the higher a person’s position in publishing, it’s more likely they’ve learned to handle the area of prompt communication. Maybe I will write someone and hear from their assistant or I will receive a brief response.  At least I hear something from them and that’s always positive.

Finally, make sure you tout your publishing successes with the right person such as the company publicist.  If you publish a book review or an article which promotes or mentions a book, follow-up and call that mention to the attention of the publicist. These people also receive volumes of magazines and information. It’s hard for them to keep track and they will appreciate your brief note calling this matter to their attention. It helps you build credibility with them for additional opportunities.

Make sure as you follow-up that you are building relationships and helping people succeed in their positions. You aren’t finger pointing or calling to their attention something which hasn’t been completed or accomplished.  Your tone in the follow-up is important but don’t neglect to ask about something that has been sitting around for a long time. It’s another one of those signs of professionalism.

10 Comment:

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller Left a note...

This is very encouraging. Thank you.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Lynette Eason Left a note...

Hi Terry,

I just started reading your blog and am trying to back track and read from the beginnig. Needless to say, it's taking a bit of time, but I'm finding it well worth the effort.

I have a question about today's post. I submitted a manuscript (requested by the agent I met at a conference) and she has yet to get back to me. What's the appropriate time frame to follow up with an email or phone call in this situation? I sent her the submission back at the beginning of November.

Thanks for any input,


At 9:21 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


With the holidays, things are going to be slower than normal. We've had Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years since the beginning of November. I'd wait another couple of weeks. You can always follow-up with an email question--not pushing for a decision but simply asking if she needs anything additional. She will know you are really asking for a decision. I'd encourage you to ask in a more indirect way that doesn't force her to respond quickly and say, "No."

At the same time, keep all of your options open. Until you sign an exclusive arrangement with a particular agent, you can be talking with other agents and exploring possibilities. Don't limit yourself--if you can help it.


At 6:25 AM, Blogger Lynette Eason Left a note...

Sounds good, I'll do it your way...smile. Thanks so much.


At 8:09 AM, Blogger Macromoments Left a note...

Your tone in the follow-up is important but don’t neglect to ask about something that has been sitting around for a long time. It’s another one of those signs of professionalism.

Terry, this is a valid point and a perfect close to a helpful article. Tone is everything. How we treat others can either come back to bite us or bless us. Thanks for the reminder.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Dr. Don Stevenson Left a note...

Hello, Terry.
Unfortunately I haven't reached this stage yet, having received two rejection letters. Yet they were very helpful and encouraging.
I appreciate your overall emphasis on "Christian courtesy" in this frenzied business. I believe everyone appreciates it when it's genuine and not self serving.

Dr. Don Stevenson

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Camy Tang Left a note...

You know, I always feel bad to contact an editor simply because I know how incredibly busy they are. Even if I have a legitimate reason to contact them, like the woman who hadn't received her rejection notice.

Or a publicist, or an agent, or whoever. How do I know I'm not just contributing yet another piece of paper to an overflowing desk? How do I know I'm not annoying the person by adding another straw to an overloaded, breaking back?

I guess if I were working with an editor, I'd hopefully have a better feel for how much time he/she is devoting to my project and when/how/why is a good reason to contact them.


At 11:32 AM, Blogger Full Contact, Savior-centric Livin Left a note...

I took your timely advice and followed up with a publisher recently. I allowed several weeks beyond their stated waiting period to allow for the holidays. Some publishers just don't make the follow-up chore easy. This company doesn't list editor's names in their guidelines nor a phone number. When I called the customer service number, they refused to give me either the editor's name or their number. I resorted to sending a snail mail letter. It will reach them in time, but this sure seems inefficient! This has been a learning experience in itself.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I can see you are frustrated contacting this publisher--but they have good reasons for protecting their editors. You would be shocked at how often as an editor I would take an off the wall call from a writer--who had no idea of the types of books that I needed. After a while, the editor says "forget it." The barriers or the protection is worth it's weight in gold so you can go ahead and accomplish the work in front of you rather than waste time with another "potential." It does make things a challenge for writers who have studied the market and have a real idea to pitch.

It's another advantages to attending a conference and meeting a specific editor, exchanging business cards and keeping up with how to reach this editor. Something else to consider, Carmen.

The Writing Life

At 10:25 AM, Blogger violet Left a note...

Great points here, Terry! I do this part of the job badly. Yet starting a new year has prompted me to follow up on a couple of mss. that have been sitting at places for years (yikes!). Both (a couple of poems in one case and a non-fiction piece in another) had been accepted, but they were never published. In both cases I knew that in the meantime the editor had changed.

So last week I bit the bullet and contacted both places by email. I have now heard back from both current editors. To be sure, a couple of the pieces were now declined, but one of the poems was accepted for publication later this year - the now-editor assures me. I'm positive that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't written.


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