By Melanie Bowden
I have a confession to make. No matter how many articles I sell I still have times where I feel nervous when I have to call an editor. I’m not shy and I love talking on the phone, so what’s the problem? I think that more than most jobs writing is putting your heart and soul out there and, let’s face it, that’s scary.
I’ve also had some pretty unpleasant phone calls with editors. You know the ones where you finally get the nerve to call about the article submission you made months ago, only to find out it’s been rejected. One magazine even told me ‘If you don’t hear from us, it’s a rejection.’ What are all of those SASEs for then? Or how about the one where I called to inquire about a two months late payment on an article to have an editor tell me ‘It’s been a bad few months for us.’ Funny those months were good enough to publish my article!
The other thing is that old adage that editors don’t like to be called. Well, then they should respond to postal mail or email more promptly. It’s so refreshing when an editor actually gets back to you within the response time stated on their writer’s guidelines. Unfortunately, most editors are too swamped to even keep track of stuff like that.
So I figure it’s my job to help them out and remind them that ‘I will not be ignored’ – i.e. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. I’ve learned that when I’m most hesitant to call, it’s probably way past time. I’ve also found some ways to insure these conversations are productive:
Write out questions
Write out the questions you have for the editor beforehand. If you get rattled, having the words on the paper in front of you will save you.
Have a statement ready
Have a statement ready to leave on their voicemail if the editor is not in. Again, write this one out. There’s nothing more embarrassing than leaving a floundering message.
Get the facts right
Be sure you have your facts correct. Example: ‘On June 1st I sent you a message via email regarding my article. Maybe you never received it. Here’s what I need to know…’
Be careful if you are discussing terms for a piece. You don’t have to agree to the first price they offer. I’m guilty of making this mistake more times than I can say, but I’m learning. Simply say, ‘That’s a little lower than I’d like, but I’m excited about the prospect of working for you.’ Then be quiet – that’s the hard part! The editor will have to say something and you can negotiate from there.
Keep the kids quiet
Prep your kids before you make the call. My daughters know that when I say I’m making a business call they can only interrupt me if the house catches fire or worse. Luckily most editors are very sympathetic to the kids’ interruptions, especially if you’re calling the editor at a parenting magazine.
Restate the results
Be sure to take a breath and go over the results of the conversation before you hang up. What I try to do is read back a summary of the important points of our conversation. This may seem like you’re wasting an editor’s time, but you don’t want to get off of the phone and then realize you misunderstood something and have to call back. Summarizing your conversation shows that you are a professional – calling back to clarify could label you a nuisance.
So don’t worry if calling editors makes you a little jumpy. Writers everywhere feel the same way. As a last resort you can always imagine the editor in their underwear – at least you’ll hang up smiling.
Melanie Bowden is a freelance writer based in San Mateo, California. Her work has appeared in Shape, Writer’s Digest, and numerous parenting publications. If you would like to reprint this article, please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.