Yesterday morning I headed across Phoenix to a breakfast meeting. When I arrived, I discovered it was a pastor’s appreciation breakfast and a local bookstore invited ministers across the city to provide some inspiration and encouragement. I attended the meeting to interview one of the attendees and gather more story material for one of my writing projects. The scheduled speaker was someone I heard at a writer’s conference probably fifteen years ago: Bill Butterworth. An entertaining speaker, Bill gave a timely message to this audience from one of his recent books, Balancing Work & Life. It was a surprise to have the chance to see Bill briefly after many years—but that wasn’t my real surprise.
Frequently writers will tell me about their struggles to reach editors and communicate with them. From the editor’s perspective, I understand the challenges. Many editors are consumed in meetings from when they arrive in the office until they go home—and it leaves little time to answer email or phone or write authors or would-be authors. While we are in the communication business, communicating is a constant challenge—for everyone.
As a part of this pastor appreciation breakfast, each person (including me) was given a bag of books. After I got home, I sorted through these new books. One item was a “preview booklet” and a compilation from a well-known magazine who were joining forces with a Christian publisher. (I’m not going to include either in this entry so I can tell you the story.) I’m always interested to see who is contributing to such a volume. I knew most of the names on the cover of the book and I flipped over to the index. Like most writers, I checked to see if my own name appeared—and imagine my surprise when I found my name in the index.
I couldn’t think of what I had written for this compilation. It’s been a number of years since my magazine work has appeared in these publications (at least for the particular target audience of this book). I could have shrugged it—but I decided to take a proactive step and discover the details. I crafted a short email (intentionally short because I know these editors receive stacks of email with limited time to answer). In my short email, I asked about the specific project, asked about my contribution, if I would receive a copy of the completed book and if there was any additional payment.
As I expected, I received a short reply from the editor. I selected someone who I thought would respond to my question—but wouldn’t necessarily have the detailed answers. The original editor forwarded my email to another editor with the answers. This morning I heard from the editor who handled the details of the project. She even attached my letter about the project (apparently mailed in March of this year). My excerpt was for an article published in 1998 and the letter was sent to a company that I worked for in the late 90s which no longer exists (a dot com). My bio and some of the other details were updated without any of my input and it’s too late at this point since the book is either back from the printer or soon to be available. I’m not making any excuses for this company but I understand the challenges of pulling together such a massive compilation project. The details are mind boggling to anyone. The letter was typical of these types of projects with the implication that we’re writing about this project and if we don’t hear from you, then we assume you have granted permission and everything is ready to move ahead. If I had been the editor, I would have set up the response in the same way.
I’m delighted to have my writing appear in this new book. It’s a way to give new life to the how-to article which appeared in one magazine. I hope the recounting of this experience shows how surprises happen in the publishing business. Also I gave you some inside scoop on how to gently (yet proactively) stir the communication with the editor. My tone was cooperative and understanding. These steps are important because you never know when one of these relationships will spring back into my primary focus.