Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Necessity of Simple Follow-up

Good and clear communication is a critical element in the business of publishing. Otherwise authors and editors have wrong expectations.

Last week I was at Wheaton College for Write to Publish. During the question and answer portion of a workshop, a woman asked, “I sent my manuscript to an editor who asked for it at the last conference. I never heard and checked on it about six months later. When I called, the editor said she had not received it and could I send it again. I sent it a second time. Now it is six month's later and I've heard nothing. What do I do?”

See the challenge for the author? She has been waiting for a response to a requested submission and hearing nothing. This new writer is too timid to email or call and check with the editor about it. I understand the reluctance because sometimes when you check, it gets rejected—and no one wants to be rejected.

Here's what the writer isn't thinking about. As editors, we receive a lot of material. For example, at Morgan James, we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. Did you see those numbers? A massive amount of material is floating through our system at any single time period. I'm constantly putting submissions into our system and sorting through my acquisitions files

To be transparent, other editors are not as careful with their submissions. It is not uncommon for me to receive several hundred emails a day. If I'm traveling or at a conference, then I can't be as conscious of my email and the submissions. Manuscripts, proposals and submissions are misplaced and some times the editor doesn't receive them. Or maybe they have moved into a new computer or their computer has crashed or any number of other possibilities.

Here's what I suggested to the writer asking about her manuscript: follow-up with the editor. Don't wait weeks yet at the same time give it at least a week so you don't seem overly anxious. Then you can email or put in a quick phone call to the editor asking, “Did you receive my submission?” Notice the question. You are not asking if the editor has read it or reached a decision—which if you ask is pushing them to say, “no.” Instead you are simply asking if they received it.

You avoid waiting months for a response, hearing nothing and then asking only to learn the editor never received it. I never mind an author checking with me to see if I received their material and this simple follow-up is professional and appreciated.

Other authors are extreme in the other direction of follow-up. They follow-up too frequently and often. I have a children's author who submitted their material three weeks ago. I got their material into our submission system and they received an acknowledgement from me in the mail. In addition, I emailed the author to tell him I received his submission. Yet, in the last several weeks, I've been in Seattle, New York City and last week Chicago. With my travel, I have not been processing manuscripts. Yet this author has called multiple times—essentially making himself a nuisance. In my last email to him, I leveled with him and asked for patience—and no more calls or checking—or I would be rejecting his submission. I've not heard from him in the last few days so hopefully he is following my last instructions or I will follow through with the rejection letter (whether I've read his material or not). 

Why take such a direct response with this eager author? Because if he is eager with his submission then he is showing that he will be eager throughout the entire publication process. You can substitute my use of the word “eager” with the word “high maintenance.” No publisher wants high maintenance authors. Every publisher wants to work with professionals and not with eager authors who simply waste volumes of time and energy over nothing.

If you are submitting your work, that is excellent. Many writers never get published because of this simple fact: they never submit their material. As a professional writer, you also need to use this simple follow-up method to make sure that your material was received. It will help your work be considered and move forward through the publication process. This follow-up work is critical.

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