As I think I’ve said before, Harold Underdown’s site The Purple Crayon is a great resource for new and experience writers alike. He’s got everything under one roof, so to speak–both in articles to teach you and in links to lead you where you’re trying to go.
I just discovered Wendy McClure’s Let the Mail Prevail!: A Guide to Etiquette, Status Calls, and More, and I want to recommend it especially to beginning writers might feel inclined to call or email before doing their research or instead of using mail.
I don’t mind if people want to ask me a quick question via email–I’m glad to answer. A quick question is the key point here.
For example, a couple people have emailed me several times a day with continued questions that would be answered if they’d read the submission guidelines I pointed them to in the first reply. And then, a sign to me of someone who isn’t as professional as they should be, one continued to ask questions about specifics that I w
anted, as if I were commissioning her work–how many pages or words would I want the book to be, how many illustrations would such a book have, etc. I finally wrote back, trying not to be terse, that if this person would just submit, we could consider their work and then we’d decide.
The main reason for my annoyance? This happened while I was in the middle of frantically trying to finish up a book. Like Wendy McClure says in the sidebar:
Are editors just hopeless Luddites? Not at all: they use e-mail and fax and overnight mail to stay in touch with authors and illustrators during the more frantic book production phase. Which is all the more reason for submitters to avoid these methods: why risk having your story or query pop up in front of an editor in the midst of his deadline emergency?
Email about slush pile questions when there are actual contracted books I’m stressing out over is a bad idea. (The only exceptions to this are authors who I already work with or who have already been published, who aren’t technically in the slush pile anyway–they’ve already established their credentials. I’m speaking here of people who have no track record with me or another publisher–and these tend to be the ones that act impolitely and unprofessionally anyway.) Such questions are important, don’t get me wrong, but not as important as the book in front of me, w
hich is why sometimes I don’t read submissions as quickly as I intend or would like. Much as I’d love to give the slush pile all the time in the world, I have books that have deadlines I have to meet.
Which segues to phone calls. One time I received a voice mail from a prospective author. He was no longer with his agent, so he was checking in to see if he could send me something directly. No, I don’t mind–our submission guidelines say we take unsolicited/unagented submissions, which he would have known if he’d read them. But his contact information left in the voicemail didn’t work. Well, I didn’t try the phone number because I didn’t want to have a conversation like Wendy McClure’s example (A Big Don’t: Selling Your Manuscript Over the Phone) which has happened to me once before. So I emailed him with the basics and his email was bounced back. If you’re going to give me your email address, be sure it’s correct!
I’m not a strict no-emails kind of editor, as some editors that I know are (probably because I don’t get as much email as them). But when a prospective author communicates with me, I expect professional behavior. These people do their homework ahead of time and are only asking me the stop-gap questions. Google me. Google my imprint. You’ll find interviews, the submissions guidelines,
this LJ. If you don’t know children’s literature, do some research before asking me detailed questions about what I want. Odds are that if you know what’s already out there, you’ll have a better idea of what to submit, especially when coupled with information about what we’re currently looking for.