When I was working solely on the writing side of the divide, I used to get pretty upset when my editors ignored my emails. They must hate me, I thought. They must’ve thought my piece/idea/pitch was a piece of crap and that my hair looks stupid too. Surely if they did not think these things, they would’ve responded.
And then I became an editor at SF Weekly and realized how many balls editors have to juggle every day. Many of us, in addition to managing staff and freelancers, are writing too, promoting your work on social media channels, doing database entry (no one can escape it!), attending meetings, checking analytics, managing interns, and trying desperately to release the stuck Doritos from the office vending machine.
When added up, this can make responding to every freelancer’s email a low priority. This doesn’t mean writers don’t deserve a response — they totally do most of the time — it just means you might have to try a little harder to get an editor’s attention. Here are some tips to help you with that.
As an editor, I was flooded with hundreds of emails a day, of which I was physically capable of responding to maybe 5 percent of them. Seriously, if I had read every one of those emails, that would have been at full-time job. And a really boring one at that. Granted, many of these emails were ridiculous PR pitches asking me to pen op-eds about lube, but some were genuine queries that deserved my attention and response. If yours is one of the emails that slips through the cracks, write again. Write as many times as necessary (every few days, I’d recommend). Is it annoying? Yes, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get through. I’ve never looked poorly on writers who kept on me to do my job. Honestly, I appreciated the reminders (most of the time).
That said, sometimes editors ignore your emails because we genuinely don’t have a status report for you. Perhaps we’re waiting on something — a source, a weird glitch in the content management system, direction or feedback from a higher-up, etc. If your editor tells you to wait for further instruction, then don’t keep pestering them. That is annoying AND won’t get you anywhere.
It’s Not You (Maybe)
If an editor ignores your emails, it most likely has nothing to do with you or your abilities as a writer. However, there is a slim chance that it is you, and here are the most likely circumstances why.
1. Your email is vague. It doesn’t list specific information that editors need to make decisions — like when you can turn it in by, what your particular conundrum is, it doesn’t ask a specific question, etc.
2. Your emails are status updates. It’s sweet that you try to give editors up-to-date info on a piece, especially if you’re over deadline, but it’s really not necessary to tell me that you’re “waiting on pictures” or that you’re “doing some last minute fact-checking,” and it adds to the chances that your later emails will be ignored. Talk to me when you’re finished, i.e. ready for me to look at it and edit it.
3. The piece you submitted is sloppy or unfinished. It was rare, but sometimes I would open a piece that was turned in and see typos galore, adverbs gone wild, improperly cited source material, or paragraphs riddled with cliches. Because said pieces take infinitely more time to edit, I would often cast these to the bottom of the pile and focus on pieces that demanded less overhauling.
Make Your Pieces as Finished as Possible
Don’t create more work for your editor. They are stressed and under deadline too. The best way to gain the respect of an editor is to be as professional as you can. Make sure you are editing your work first and foremost. Check for typos and misspellings. Adhere to word counts: If your editor tells you 300 words, don’t submit one that’s 700 because we will then have to cut half your piece or reject it entirely. Read it out loud to see if it sounds weird or off. And please please check the spellings for people you may have mentioned. You may think you know how to spell Arnold Schwarzenegger, but double check anyway.
Realize Your Editor Is Human
Remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you with a giant red pen (or however it goes). And by that I mean, be nice to editors. They are your gateway to published work, fame and fortune*. Bug them nicely but not in a way that’s overly self-deprecating. We know that your work is a precious snowflake, but to editors, it is one more item on a massively long to-do list.
*and by that I mean web traffic and/or beer money.