FAQ: Okay, so here’s what you’re going to do. Or, what not to tell an editor.*

Today’s final post is a morality tale. It is a tale of an annoyed editor and a newby writer who should have known better.

The setting: Editor is cleaning out her office. There comes a time when “organized disorder” becomes plain old disorder and you have to do something about it. It’s been over a year since the move to the new building, and she has decided that it’s about time to organize the files before they rise up and eat her alive.
Between juggling (literally) files and juggling (metaphorically) all the other duties of her day, including people stopping by her cube numerous times an hour to ask her questions, and colleague yelling over the wall to tell her to check her email to answer more questions, Editor is feeling kind of frazzled, but triumphant. She will conquer this organizational nightmare, and she has the label maker to make it happen.

The phone rings.

E.: Hello?

Newby Writer: <Announces name. No greeting.>

E.: . . . Yes? How can I help you?

N.W.: I sent you an email yesterday.

E.: You did?

N.W.: Yes, why didn’t you write me back? Or answer my voicemail?

S.E.: . . .

N.W.: Well, like I said in the email, I’ve got the next best thing in children’s literature right here, and true to my word, I’m going to call you every day until you give me an answer.

E.: Have you looked up our submissions guidelines? You’re welcome to submit, but you need to follow those guidelines.

N.W.: No. Here’s what you’re going to do. I’m sending you a postcard today with my idea, and you can check off whether you want to sign me up.

E.: <puzzled look, can’t get a word in edgewise>

N.W.: I went through all that before. I found a publisher, and they signed me up and sat on my book for a year. A year! And didn’t do anything with it. So my brother drew up a letter of disillusion and I fired them. I’m never going through that again.

E.: Well, pretty much the only way to get published through us is to read the guidelines and then follow them. If I get your submission I’ll give it careful consideration, just like every other submission. Thanks for calling, have a nice day! <click>

There are several things wrong with this scenario, number one being the fac
t that the author thought he could “fire” a publisher. It’s unclear whether he was actually under contract with a reputable trade publisher, but from the context it doesn’t really sound like he was.

Problem number two is that the author is showing right off that he’s not an easy-going, professional guy to work with. Even if you have the most amazing, stunning ideas, if the editor can’t stand you, there’s a big chance she might pass, because such an author isn’t going to take editorial direction very well. And don’t get me started on the phrase, “Here’s what you’re going to do.”

Problem number three is the obvious: he called. Even if you must call, perhaps it might be a good idea to be polite. But as you can probably imagine, if you catch an editor in a bad moment–such as when she’s got a million things going on, which would be pretty much every day–she’s going to be much less likely to be patient.

That said, the polite inquiries I get from time to time requesting information about an author’s submission are welcome. Certainly if you haven’t heard from me after a couple months you have every right to ping me–via email or snail mail–and check in on the status of your submission. I’m afraid I’ve been quite swamped since Christmastime and manuscripts I thought I’d get to several months ago have been languishing in the to-rea
d pile, sadly neglected and–to use a phrase just used the other day regarding silver and china–taunting me, giving me extreme guilt complexes. We’ve been slowly catching up on the backlog, don’t worry! And I’ll usually respond with a thanks for keeping in touch and for the polite reminder.

But (and I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but this is for posterity) calling is probably not your best option.

*Though this is a true story, this did not happen to me.