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How Should Editors Respond?

controversyYesterday I wrote an article called How To Increase Your Freelance Writing Rates. Scott Rose wrote me a thoughtful email which follows:

Dear Anne,

That was a good article, but it seemed to be looking at the question rather exclusively from the point-of-view of less experienced writers.

I believe that for more experienced writers, a problem has arisen due to the ease with which editors of high-paying publications can obtain material by placing help-wanted announcements on the internet.

As an example of what I mean; MediaBistro ran a “How to Pitch” article for www.delish.com.

That article says this:

“All sections are open to freelancers, and pitches should be service-oriented, fun and entertaining. “If it’s a good pitch from a credible writer, I’m more than happy to take a good look at it,” says Shepard.”

and this:

“If you have inside scoop or access to up-and-coming or established celebrity chefs, you can pitch the “Food Celebs and Shows” section.”

For your reference, I’m copying the text of that entire article below my signature in this e-mail. (I took this out of this post – aw)

Based on the statements in that MediaBistro “How to Pitch” article, I composed the attached profile of Chef Jim Botsacos of the restaurant Molyvos.  I wrote this sample, adhering completely to the format, slant, style and tone of a particular section of delish.com’s Food Celebs and Shows area.

Now, I was simply querying, they did not owe me any commitment of any sort.  However, as you can see, the work I sent is of a completely professional level, yet I never heard from editor Elizabeth Shepherd or anybody else there.  After there was no e-mail response from them, I sent a snail mail envelope with a SASE asking to know the status of my material.

That went unanswered.  There are multiple problems with this sort of behavior.  The most serious is a certain appearance that the editors could be placing help-wanted announcements and “How to Pitch” articles as much to draw free attention to their publications as to offer anybody work.  I could understand if somebody crayoned something utterly useless on the back of a napkin and sent it in, that the editors would not feel they needed to respond at all, but the arrogance to receive professional queries and leave them totally unanswered is abusive.  It is not holding up the publisher/editor’s end of the bargain in making such public announcements.

Obviously, a large part of the freelance writing profession involves dealing with “No”s and moving on from them.  But that’s part of my complaint, actually.  If an editor does not respond at all to a professional query, the writer is left weeks and even months on end, unsure of whether trying to sell the idea elsewhere is indicated.  The work one has done towards an eventual payday for the material is stuck in limbo, to the advantage of the editors and the disadvantage of the writer.

A form e-mail saying “Thank you for your query but this is not right for us” would be adequate.

Why do the Elizabeth Shepherds of this world believe they can post help-wanted announcements all over the internet and then not answer professionals that respond to them?

I think that editors should be made to understand, even by people like you with freelance job board newsletters, that the freelance community will hold them to a certain minimum standard of decency as regards their treatment of freelancers.  They are gaining economic advantages from being able to place free ads for professional services, but then not acting with consistent professionalism towards the freelancers that contact them.  This impacts our ability to score high-paying freelance jobs, in a way that those same editors would understand as outrageously arrogant were it done to them.

Many kind thanks for your consideration,

Scott Rose

Scott brings up some interesting points. [respond]

Write to Scott Rose at newyorkcitywriter@earthlink.net The first two chapters of his satirical mystery Death in Hawaii may be read at: http://www.freebookexcerpts.com/2008/02/03/death-in-hawaii-by-scott-rose/

[sig]

Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Anne, that’s great advice. I’ll try that the next time I get a celebrity interview. The trick is getting past the gatekeepers; finding the right editors can be done with pipl and similar search sites.

    Lisa Cunningham’s last blog post..Should Daniel be forced to do chemotherapy?

  • I totally agree with Scott. Once I had a wonderful interview with Terry Bradshaw and his depression. I mailed out 10 pre-paid postcards with the query letter, asking editors to simply check a box or two. I only received one back … from Parade magazine! They were doing a round-up on depression and used Bradshaw on the cover, but only used a few paragraphs from him.

    Often, I wonder if I just gave a great story idea away for free. I don’t think Parade took my idea, but it’s unprofessional and rude not to at least send a form rejection letter or e-mail.

    I do multiple pitches and see who bites first. I’m not going to wait weeks and months for a response that probably won’t come.

    Lisa Cunningham’s last blog post..Should Daniel be forced to do chemotherapy?

    • Anne

      I suppose the real key would have been to have already had several editors who would take your phone call. I know, not easy to do. I suspect even without those contacts if I had an interview like that I would start with phone queries. And knowing I’d get receptionists and other gate keepers I’d probably say something like “Hi, I’ve got a great interview with Terry Bradshaw. Which editor there would be most interested?” Yeah, I wouldn’t even give my name until someone asked, but keep focusing on the famous name. Just a thought

  • Sue

    When I freelanced in the 1980s, queries and submissions, yes or no, always got a timely response by snail mail. When I returned to freelancing about three years ago, I thought email would make communication a snap. But I find that even though email takes only a fraction of the time to respond, this courtesy has almost completely disappeared, even from editors with whom I have recently worked. As far as phoning, I usually get a voice mail box that also remains unanswered. It’s really turned me off the whole business.

  • Sorry, but I’m going to multiple submit. I have a product and I can’t wait for months on end to receive an answer — if ever. I simply won’t stand around waiting while a query or submission circulates in a big, black hole where there is no certainty of an answer. If, by happenstance, I receive two offers, then I’ll choose the best one. Publications are in business, and so am I.

    As an editor of an e-zine myself, it’s MY responsibility to respond to queries and submissions; then again, I have no rules against multiple submissions. The world doesn’t revolve around me and my publication, after all.

    Writers have work to do and must get on with the program, and if I don’t answer them timely enough for their liking, they have every right to submit elsewhere. After all, I’m an editor, but I’m a writer first and foremost. Obviously I side with the latter more than the former. It’s unfair to leave writers hanging when they can find a receptive market elsewhere.

    • Anne

      I don’t think you have to apologize for multiple submissions as all. Go for it.

  • Scott Rose

    The editor of the specific publication under discussion in my guest post had participated in an interview for a “How to Pitch” article on the MediaBistro site.

    I pay money to have access to those articles.

    The editor enjoys an economic benefit from having MediaBistro’s AvantGuild members sending in article ideas in conformity with the contents of the “How to Pitch” interviews.

    I deserved some acknowledgment of receipt, even if only a form rejection letter or e-mail. An editor that doesn’t want to exercise that basic courtesy towards a professional writer querying her should not be given the platform of a paid subscription “How to Pitch” service. I suppose in a way my beef is as much with MediaBistro as with anyone. They should let the editors benefiting from their site know that there are minimum standards of courtesy they expect fulfilled towards their paid members.

    • Anne

      I’d forgotten you have to pay Media Bistro for access to those posts. I suspect what’s actually needed is larger staffs at publishers so some assistant can send replies. That’s not going to happen soon. You do deserve some acknowledgement – on that we agree. How to get it is another subject. I don’t think this is a battle you can win. Once you’re well known to the magazine you will get acknowledgement, until then not likely. I wish it were different. It’s not a battle I choose to worry to much about.

      • Lisa Cunningham

        Anne, a very good point. We’re living in a very impersonal time. Editors, to be fair, are swamped with wanna-bees. I remember at a local newspaper I edited, the people who came in wanting to work for me were insane. “I haven’t written since high school but…” I think you get the idea. If writing is your passion, you start young. At least, I did. I was just 12 when I wrote my first children’s book. It’s a sickness, an obsession. You must write and you’ll do anything to get published. If that’s not your goal, and you don’t even read to improve your work, find something else.

        That said, we are in such an automated e-mail response world. It should be simple to set up an automated response note. Just a “Thank you for your submission but it doesn’t meet at our needs at this time.” Professional publications like Vogue can do at least that. Assistant editors or interns can handle that. Be professional and you’ll attract the cream of the crop. Writers who read your magazine and are prepared to write in its style and be flexible in working with the editor. It’s a team and those writers who fight with editors can be prepared to be unemployed.

        • Lisa, you’re right – auto emails are easy and cheap. But I question the real value of those to a writer. It would let you know that your application arrived but so what? I’ve gotten those and they are even worse, imo, than the old standard pre printed rejection slips we used to get. I really don’t need more email that’s not helpful… but that’s just my opinion.

  • Thanks so much for this post and the discussion. I’m still somewhat new at freelancing, and it’s been frustrating to send pitches into the “big black hole,” only to rarely hear back on them. I’m right there with Scott, but I really appreciate Trace and Anne chiming in to offer another perspective, which means having some patience, a strategy, and a good tracking system so that your work keeps circulating and hopefully gets accepted. Not to say that that’s not still frustrating either, but it makes me want to dig in a little more and keep working at it until I do build those relationships with editors and pitches are noticed more quickly.

    Jill’s last blog post..A Little More From the Restaurant Show

  • Trace

    I can relate to Scott’s frustration, but as a writer and PR consultant who pitches the media constantly, I can’t expect to get a response (timely or otherwise) from everyone, nor should you.

    If editors are interested, they’ll follow up. If not, it’s usually a trip to the trash bin. Ask yourselves how often you reply to the junk mail in your inbox to say “thanks for sending, but I’m not interested at this time.” While I’m not comparing a professionally written pitch to junk, this is often an editor’s mentality. They are bombarded with email pitches and just don’t have the bandwidth to reply to everyone.

    I often submit essays on spec to publications and rarely pitch simultaneously. That means I’m waiting months to get a response with the major pubs prior to resending to another. It’s a terrible feeling, especially if the content is timely and the window of opportunity is closing with each passing day. On the plus side though, as you build relationships with editors, they’ll get back to you much quicker.

    Unfortunately, that’s the business. In a perfect world, I’d hear from an editor moments after I sent in my pitch/spec piece and if they were not interested, I’d move on. But that’s not the way it works, and for those writers that are sitting around and waiting for this to become the norm, you’re in for a long wait.

    But it’s not all gloom and doom. If a reasonable amount of time has passed and you’ve still not received a response. Pick up the phone and give them a call. It’s possible they are interested in the pitch but never saw the email (emails can mistakenly be filtered out as junk).

    • Anne

      Hi Trace, as a former magazine and newspaper editor I’m really more on your side than not. I think what writers have to do is not stand around waiting. I know almost every market listing says no multiple submissions, but I used to do it on the theory no one had optioned my work. Worst case two will accept. Then you get to make a choice. If the content it truly time dependent it’s even more important.

      Picking up the phone is a great idea. Even if you can’t get passed the receptionist if you chat her (yeah, usually) up a bit you may be able to glean helpful info.

      It would be great if editors responded to everything, but it isn’t going to happen.

  • Scott and I apparently exist in the same world – one that expects the rules of protocol to be followed. But in the last ten years, I’ve seen those rules erode to dust. What used to be the standard “You send this, I’ll acknowledge, and we’ll see” now is “You send this, but hey, I owe you nothing – not even an explanation.”

    Is it that the new editors have not been vetted, have not been taught the protocol? Or is it they’re too damned busy to respond or care? Having been part of a three-person staff handling the entire magazine’s copy and editing, I can side with the too-damned-busy side. Budgets have been all but slaughtered, and staff has been cut to the point of excruciating pain. While that’s no excuse for ignoring multiple inquiries, it may serve as some meager explanation.

    What I find unacceptable is that they ignored Scott’s SASE. That’s just rude.

    Lori’s last blog post..The Ultimate Hangover

  • Meghna

    I agree with Scott. I had a similiar experience recently.

    My pitch for an article in a to-be launched magazine was accepted, the editor seemed really enthusiastic about my previous work and kept in contact constantly until I sent in my article. Since then, I have never heard from him. Repeated emails have not elicited a reply.

    Since it was supposed to be the first issue of the magazine and in another country at that, I have no way of knowing if even that magazine exists. What hurts more than the fact that it has been a wasted effort is that my work might actually have been used with someone else’s name in the byline.

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