Penny Legg emailed me to describe two different situations that she'd encountered recently where an editor's lack of speed was resulting in lots of frustration. But her first example demonstrates why it is sensible to be cool headed about this:
"I have recently had two experiences which give examples of the behaviour to expect from some editors. I speak as an editor myself, as I edit The Woman Writer for the Society of Woman Writers and Journalists (SWWJ).
Seven months ago, yes, that is right, seven months, I submitted, to a well known UK magazine, a topical article about a ship's visit to the island I was then living on. It was one of several articles I wrote for magazines in the Caribbean and the UK and it had been commissioned. It was supposed to have appeared in the edition out in November but was not then published.
I had already queried the piece with the editor in November, when it did not appear. I was worried because it was becoming out of date. I queried again at the end of January. No reply.
Out of the blue, last Thursday, the editor contacted me and said he was going to run it in the April edition and could I send him the photographs and get the finished article vetted by the MOD by the 27th February! This was a tall order but I had kept in touch with the ship's personnel and it is being vetted as I type. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the OK arrives by the deadline. My query email obviously jogged the editor's mind about my piece."
So, evidence that politeness is the best policy, even when you want to punch an editor's brains out! Penny's other situation is different and at present, unresolved.
"In the meantime, I am really confused by the signals being sent out by another editor. She has already taken and published one article with photographs from me, but has ignored several article proposals since. To be honest, I found her quite difficult to deal with for the article she has published in her magazine, as she kept asking for more than was originally agreed, and I was in two minds whether to pitch a completed article I had written to her. I did so though and this time, not only did I receive a reply but she has taken the article. She has again been demanding and the original article I sent has been revised three times. Each time she emails she types as if we are having a conversation and are good friends. Whenever I have replied in kind, I have been ignored. This I have found disconcerting and, at times, frustrating. I do not feel I know where I stand with her. I am aware that she is a busy person and I am but a lowly contributor, but without lowly contributors there would be no magazine!
I emailed her last week and asked her politely what her magazine's policy on submissions was. Did she prefer to be approached via email, telephone or by post? Could I have a copy of the advertising guidelines for the magazine so that I could target my proposals to the interests of the magazine better? I pointed out that I did not want to waste a busy editor's time and that I was asking her as one professional woman to another. To date, and it has only been a few days, no reply."
The editor / writer relationship is a strange one. It's best if it is friendly, but you should always remember that it is a professional one too. Even though I'm a regular contributor to Country & Border Life magazine, there are times when my emails go unanswered for a couple of weeks. So don't think that editors are doing it because you're new to the game!
And remember, editors are humans too, believe it or not. They're entitled to a two week break in the sun. They get sick too and don't come into work for a couple of days. Their kids throw a wobbly on the way to school putting them in a bad mood.
Finally, Penny also sees the problem from the other side too.
"As I say, I too am an editor. I admit that the magazine I edit does not have the huge circulation of some of the big boys but it is true to say that it is as time consuming to produce as those further up the circulation ladder. As well as editing the magazine I am a freelance writer and photographer, working on articles and ideas everyday. I have been commissioned to write a book and am researching and putting this together. I have started giving talks to writer's groups too. I sit on the SWWJ's Council and have recently been asked to join another professional group. All of which I tell you because it demonstrates how busy an average editor can be. I do, however, make a point of looking at and replying to all emails that come in about The Woman Writer. It may take me some time, [see?] but everyone gets a reply. I can understand the frustration that your students have about the 'not knowing.' I have experienced it and do not like it any more than they do! This is why I try to reply to all queries I receive.
I think your advice to your students is spot on but I would add that it can be very tricky to understand where an editor is coming from when you correspond by email. Do not fall into the trap (as I have done on occasion) of being 'friendly' with editors. They are too busy. They are not your friends. They are emailing you purely because they think you have something they might like. Therefore, be polite but professional. When you come across an editor, such as the one above who confuses with crossed signals, think very carefully about how you reply."
So remember Penny's first experience where she kept in touch but did not lose her temper. It got her piece published in the end - and ultimately she'll be paid for it - the right result in the end.
Perhaps I should end by using a couple of cliched proverbs. Patience is a virtue and Good things come to those who wait.
Until next time. (which I hope won't be long!)