Tuesday, 16 October 2018

T The Pro-Active Author

In Publishing, Good Follow-up Is Important

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Good communication is important in the publishing world. As an acquisitions editor, I spend a lot of time every day answering emails, returning phone calls, texts and other forms of communication. Yet some emails go unanswered and phone calls are not returned. There are many possible reasons. Maybe it is the sheer volume of email. Maybe you are using the wrong email address or possibly you are trying to text someone whose phone line doesn't receive a text message. I've written about this topic before on The Writing Life. You can use this link to see some of these articles and read them.

When you approach a literary agent or editor, I encourage you to understand these publishing professionals are facing a torrent of such communication.  If your questions and emails do not, get answered in several days, I encourage you to send another email and follow-up. 

Recently I could not reach an author for some additional information about his submission. If an author does not send their mailing address, I can't get their submission into our system at Morgan James.  We acknowledge every submission with a letter in the mail—and we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. These numbers show the massive volume and potential for missing some details. With this particular author, I tried several times on email and could not get a response. It turned out my emails were landing in his SPAM folder. 

A different author filled out a submission form on the Morgan James website located in the lower right corner when you go to the site. I contacted this author as soon as I received the information. She wanted a phone call back. I returned her call but did not get her on the phone and left a voice mail message. We did not speak but this exchange had some red flags in the communication process.  With each exchange she never gave her last name nor any specifics about what type of book she was writing (despite my specific requests for this information). 

Next this author didn't feel like she was getting in touch with me, so she filled out another submission form complaining to my colleague (another red flag). This colleague checked with me (see the internal communication which goes on?) and learned the details of our exchanges from my perspective. 

Finally this author called me again and we actually spoke to each other a few minutes on the phone instead of exchanging voice mail messages. She wanted to inform me how we had missed out on a great publishing opportunity (admittedly never explained) through my lack of follow-up. I listen and attempted to clarify but each time, she refused to give additional information (another red flag). 

Our publishing house has worked with thousands of authors over the last fifteen years. Besides my work at this publisher, I've worked at two other houses and reviewed thousands of submissions. Whenever we publish a book, our company invests thousands of dollars in the creation and promotion of this book. Good and clear communication from the author is important—and something we learn and evaluate with every exchange. Here's some basic principles for you:
1. Follow-up when you don't hear back or get the information you need—in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe the person you are trying to reach is on a deadline, ill, traveling or any number of other reasons.
2. Be clear and forthcoming in your communication with the editor or agent. There are no “secret” books or problems with giving the editor your complete information including your last name and details about your book. Without the author, the idea has no value—zero. 
3. As publishing professionals, we are looking for great ideas and clear communication. Because Morgan James is not a self-publisher but works as a team, I cannot look at your submission and offer you a contract. Yes I have influence on the decision and champion the author and the book to my colleagues. If we are able to offer a contract, that offer comes from the group. The best publishing in my view is a consensus-building process. Individuals have blind spots and miss critical elements in this process where the group can help each other and produce excellent work. Authors have to take their own responsibility to market and promote their own book—yet working with their publisher in this process.

I wrote this article to help every writer understand the importance of good follow-up in the publishing community.  

Is follow-up one of your skills? If not, how can you improve in this area? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.

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Columnist: Terry Whalin

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W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former  magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. To help writers, he has created 12-lesson online course called Write A Book Proposal. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com.

 

 

 

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