Phone Calls and Interviews
Last night my office phone rang about 7:30 p.m. Yes, I was in my office—working. I looked at my Caller ID and it said “private.” No information about the caller. I could have let it go to my voice mail but I answered it.
It was a writer who had received a form rejection letter (maybe even that day). I continue to receive a large number of fiction submissions for my part-time acquisitions editor position at Howard Publishing. Without any secretarial assistance, I processed a number of these submissions in recent days.
This author wasn’t objecting to my decision. He wanted his submission returned. I said, “Returned?”
According to his explanation, he had submitted other paperwork and included postage and only received the rejection letter. I had no idea what he was talking about and almost no recollection of his submission. My office is a small room and any paperwork quickly goes into our recycle bin for the city to haul away.
“I’m a struggling writer and the postage was on my envelope and I need that submission returned,” he explained again.
Since I didn’t have it, I apologized and explained that it was already recycled. When our call ended, I could feel the perturbed attitude from this writer about his submission. Immediately after the call, I opened my submission log (yes I have one) and looked to find his name and when I returned his submission. He made a definite impression.
As an editor, I value writers and try to carefully handle their submissions. I’m not always perfect in this process but I attempt to handle these issues in a professional manner. For example, since September 11th, the mail has grown more complex. Manuscripts can be returned, but if they are beyond a certain weight (and most of these 90,000 word manuscripts are heavy), then they have to be hand delivered to the post office. If you don’t hand it to a postal employee, then it is returned to the editor with a green government sticker—and I have to make another attempt to return it. In a word, it’s an extra hassle. If you are sending your entire manuscript to the editor, I recommend you include a standard envelope for the response. If it’s a positive response, you will be receiving a phone call.
Also always make sure you include an email address if you don’t include an SASE. I’ve received several submissions recently with no SASE and no email. Publishers normally don’t respond in these cases—so the writer never knows what happened from the submission. Publishers don’t have budgets for postage to return these manuscripts. Just imagine returning 3,000 to 6,000 unsolicited manuscripts and what that would do to your budget.
As a writer, I understand what it was like to be new in this business. It’s one of the reasons, I’ve invested such energy into creating a place like Right-Writing.com. In these cases, I mark the rejection letter with encouragement to send an SASE in the future or an email address for a response—or they will not be hearing from me a second time. I hope this serves the writer and helps them understand a tiny bit more about this business.
Beyond the phone calls as an editor, I also write. For the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to get credentialed to interview a major league baseball pitcher. Persistence is one trait that I’ve learned the hard way in this area. I’ve called (almost daily) and faxed (several times) and my assigned magazine has also faxed to this public relations officer. Yesterday it appeared to pay off (I never know until it happens). This morning, I’m scheduled to interview the pitcher and gather the information for my short magazine assignment. I should learn a great deal through today’s experiences.
Hopefully as writers and editors, we are constantly learning—and improving. We’re not perfect. We do make mistakes. And the next time, you feel like calling an editor and verbally beating up on them for not returning something—think twice. You are making a lasting impression with your phone call.