You submitted your post last week. Should you email a reminder yet?
OK, now it’s been almost a month and you’ve heard nothing. Should you be worried?
Your follow-up email didn’t get answered. Neither did the follow-up to the follow-up.
As time creeps on, you start to feel like you must have done something wrong. Maybe the editor doesn’t like your post. Maybe they’ll never speak to you again. Maybe you won’t get paid, either.
The tension’s killing you. All you want to know is what happened?
And right now, only your editor knows the answer. But they’re not talking –at least, not to you– so it’s up to you to find out. Here’s how to cope with an editor gone AWOL:
Don’t Feel Bad About It
You’re not alone.
This is Leslie Lee Sanders. [Say hi, Leslie!]
She had exactly this problem last month. And the month before that. In fact, her editor hadn’t answered an email in 3 months.
On April 1st when my post Don’t Be a Fool: How to Avoid Getting Played by Your Clients went live, Leslie left me a comment that sparked my
curiosity nosiness investigative instinct:
My client stopped answering my emails and practically disappeared, or rather I disappeared from their radar, after I delivered ahead of deadline exactly what I promised. I received no acknowledgement of the contract which was signed (by me at least) and may not even get the contracted kill fee…
I have no idea what to do because this person is very well-known and very respected. I’m completely baffled by the unprofessional treatment and feel like a fool at the same time.
I knew Leslie wasn’t a fool about vetting clients or following up with editors; she’d sent me gentle reminders about her guest post for Be a Freelance Blogger. So I asked for more details, and this is what she told me via email:
I was assigned an article from the senior editor… He told me the deadline and I agreed and asked for the contract. A month later he sends me the contract with payment and kill fee terms (25%). It was a couple weeks from the deadline and I had completed the article so I sent the article and the signed contract back to him in the same email as attachments. I haven’t heard from him after several emails and 3 months.
Don’t worry; this story has a happy ending. It just takes a while to get there. Here’s the advice I gave Leslie, and that I’d give any freelancer in her position:
Check for Signs of Life
Look your editor up on their blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, or wherever they have a public profile online.
Leslie told me her editor was still very active online. If your editor’s posting fresh updates, then they’re still out there somewhere within reach of an internet connection.
OK, there’s an outside chance that you’re looking at prescheduled updates from beyond the grave, but more likely your editor’s simply ignoring your emails.
Of course it’s always possible that your emails aren’t getting through. Like I told Leslie,
- Your ed may have changed email addresses – do you get any autoresponse emails like “we’ve received your message & will get back to you”, or do you just get dead silence?
- Not to be condescending, but have you double-checked the spelling of the email address?
- If your emails have been caught by a spam filter, he may not have seen them at all.
In this situation, feel free to email your editor again if you like. Or, since we already know that isn’t working, you might want to try something else.
Connect in a Different Medium
I’m praying to all the gods that you get full contact information for all your clients as soon as you start discussing a project. If you already did, great! Pick up the phone and give them a call.
But if you didn’t, Google is your friend. Try to get a phone number for your editor, or for someone –anyone!– in the same company who might be able to tell you the best number to use.
If you can’t find any phone numbers, or you’re simply too chicken to use them, search out any other way you can contact your editor:
- LinkedIn is good. Connect with your editor if you haven’t already, and send them a message.
- A second email address might help, but it might be one that’s rarely checked, so don’t rely on it to save the day.
- Facebook and Twitter aren’t so useful because you have to either send a public message (which isn’t professional unless you word it *very* tactfully) or send it privately and risk it never being seen (a lot of people, including me, don’t check their private messages on social networks very often).
- Snail mail isn’t dead yet. Some people pay more attention to a piece of paper in an envelope than they do to email, so it’s worth trying if you’ve got a postal address for your editor.
Found something you can use to get in touch with your editor? Excellent. Time to psych yourself up for this conversation…
Forget Emotions and Follow Facts
Nobody likes to be ignored. It makes you sad, angry and frustrated all at the same time, until you just want to scream at your editor and force them to answer you.
You know how silly you feel after you’ve taken your frustrations out on an innocent bystander or an inanimate object?
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. 😉 You don’t want to embarrass yourself like that when you finally manage to get through to your editor.
Fear of seeming pushy or negative held Leslie back from reaching out again to her editor:
I’ve been reluctant to contact him on social networking sites because I don’t want to come off as unprofessional or overly aggressive. Is this my problem?
I do have his mailing address and phone number. Still, I haven’t used those for the same reasons as above. I once tried a friendly communication on Twitter and was ignored, or rather, received no response (however you want to look at it).
If I have to call him, do you think all ties are severed at that point? Do you think that’s a foolish question since I should value my work enough to not want to work with a problem editor?
It’s easy to fall into this trap of viewing your non-responsive editor as a problem you have to fight against. But fighting isn’t what you want, is it?
Try to keep your fears and hurt feelings out of the conversation, and focus on the information you need instead.
Here’s what I emailed back to Leslie:
- If you’ve got a phone number, use it! It’s not unprofessional to follow up by phone if email isn’t answered.
- Keep in mind that your client may not intend to be a problem, so you don’t need to think of this as a confrontation.
- Simply contact your editor and remind them that you submitted your piece. All you want at this point is to find out whether they received it or not.
- If they didn’t get it, offer to resend it. If they did receive it, politely ask whether they still intend to run it.
- You just have to gather your courage and dial. I know you’re worried about your editor’s reaction, but they’re unlikely to start screaming down the phone at you. The worst that can happen is you find out your article won’t be published. Then you can pitch it to another publication, so it’s not really bad news!
The key thing to remember is that your editor is human. Even the most reputable, most professional and most charming editor isn’t perfect all the time. If they go incommunicado, it’s probably for their own reasons and nothing to do with your work, so be kind and chase them up without any drama.
Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve already done all that. If your editor still doesn’t respond to your efforts, you need to know what next steps are available…
Be Persistent (But Don’t Waste Time)
Leslie tried calling her editor, only to find that his extension number was invalid. She emailed me again to say,
I sent him a follow up Tuesday to a Gmail account he has listed on LinkedIn. No response yet. But I fear that I will not ever get a response from him. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear what you think my next step should be.
Do I contact him via LinkedIn, Twitter or one of his blogs? Do I assume he’s not interested in the piece? Should I assume I’m not getting the kill fee because he hasn’t acknowledged receiving the contract?
At this point, even I wasn’t entirely optimistic about Leslie’s chances of hearing from her editor again. But, as an editor who often gets snowed under with pitches and submissions myself, I knew it was possible her editor simply hadn’t worked far enough down his to-do list yet and would email her back eventually.
To be practical about the situation, though, I suggested, “If you can’t get a response from him within a couple of weeks of concerted effort, assume that your article isn’t going to be published and start pitching it to other buyers.”
If you take this step, email your original editor and let them know you may offer the piece to another market. Be polite and matter-of-fact; remember this is not a confrontation. And tell your editor immediately if your article’s accepted by another publisher!
Don’t be afraid that taking your piece to another market will ruin your relationship with your original editor. One blogger withdrew her submission to Be a Freelance Blogger last month because she’d already sold it elsewhere after I took longer than usual to respond; I congratulated her and invited her to pitch another idea. If an editor likes your work, they’ll want to buy more.
This is business. There comes a point when you have to evaluate the time you spend chasing up an editor against the money that project offers. If you’re adding hours in communication time, eventually it’ll stop being worth your while.
When All Else Fails… Get Someone in Your Corner
11 days later, Leslie and I had a mentoring session together. We talked about her blogging portfolio and fiction writing credentials, then got on to the topic of her non-responsive client. She still hadn’t heard a peep.
I was mystified, and I really wanted to find out how the story would end. So I decided to give it a nudge.
I emailed Leslie’s editor using the subject line “Follow up: Leslie Lee Sanders” and said,
I’m a mentor to Leslie Lee Sanders, a writer who submitted an article to you late last year for [the publication]. Since sending you her article (along with the contract you supplied), Leslie hasn’t heard from you, though she’s followed up by email several times.
May I ask the status of Leslie’s submission? It would be a relief for her to know what happened, and to be able to move forward whether the piece is to be published or not.
Just a couple of hours later, I received a reply from Leslie’s editor. Even better, so did Leslie!
He’d been distracted by other projects. He still planned to publish her piece. He apologised for the delays.
Touchingly, he admitted he’d put off responding to her messages simply because he wanted to have some kind of progress to report when he contacted her. He felt embarrassed because he hadn’t done anything with her work yet.
The editor didn’t know what to say to the writer in this situation, so he’d procrastinated. A simple, no-pressure message from a third party [in this case, me] was all it took to prompt him to act.
And Leslie? She was just relieved to know what was going on. This was a dream gig for her, and she was so happy it was going ahead that she didn’t care about the delay.
6 Steps to Stay Sane When Your Editor Stops Answering Your Emails
This was a long story, so let’s run through the survival steps again. If your editor suddenly stops answering your emails after you submit a post,
- Don’t feel bad about it
- Check for signs of life
- Connect in a different medium
- Forget emotions and follow facts
- Be persistent (but don’t waste your time)
- When all else fails, get someone in your corner. I’m here if you need help.
Have you ever been through a communication blackout with one of your editors? How did you handle it?