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When editors owe writers a reply

I’m sure every member of NAF, and plenty of our readers, can share a “never heard back from the editor” story. If not, they have one about an agent.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about query letters. If I send a query to an agent or editor, I no more expect a reply than does the Ford dealer who sends me an “invitation” to trade in my Honda. As if.

No one is expected to reply to an unsolicited request to do business. But the more writers I talk to, the more stories I hear like this one:

I met an editor at a conference. When I pitched my book, she said, “That’s a great plot!” and asked me to send her the manuscript. I did, but I never heard back. I sent some follow-up e-mails, but she doesn’t reply.

Some on the agent and editor side of the desk counter these stories with remarks like “agents and editors are busy people. You can’t expect them to reply to every e-mail.”

We’re all busy. Even my “retired” friends are working their tails off doing church work, writing, tutoring, and everything else. Many of them are busier than I am.

I don’t expect a reply to every e-mail. But I expect a reply from a businessperson who looked me in the eye and requested my manuscript. Instead, it’s as if they asked for a test drive and then ignored me when I asked what they thought of the ride.

My friends, I’ve spent a lot of years in business, and that is not good business.

Please understand: I’ve been on the other side of the desk.

 

e-mail signature reply

E-mail signatures can be used to insert a quick reply easily. You could put a lengthy rejection there if you wanted to.

When I worked in the newsroom at Orlando Business Journal, I was the first point of contact for publicists submitting press releases. I got about a hundred of them a day. Yes, I counted. Of those hundred, ten would be used either in one of my columns or on the website. Every rare once in a while, one would be intriguing enough to hand off to a reporter for a real news story. But 90 percent of them wound up in the bitbucket with no response.

If the publicist sent a follow-up message asking why I hadn’t used the story, I would reply. And yes, most of the time the reposnse was some variation on “does not meet our needs at this time.” Which is why I programmed all the stock answers in my e-mail client. Each response took about five seconds. But here’s the thing — if the publicist was someone I had requested material from, I crafted a personal reply.

Many agents and editors do reply to requested submissions. I’ve met several who provided great feedback in their rejections. And some of those who did this are among the biggest — and therefore presumably busiest — in the business. Which just reinforces my belief that those who don’t answer at all aren’t “too busy.” They just don’t care.

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About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

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