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Authors — A Note About Email Etiquette

by Floyd Largent

Lately, it’s become just a little bit harder to be a freelance editor.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this life. I love working with words—no, scratch that. I love ­cooperating ­with them, urging them to take on this meaning, heal that plot rift, punch up those lines of dialog. Back when I was a tech writer, I worked with words the way a smith works with iron: forging them, polishing them, and sometimes pounding them into shape to make them say what needed to be said. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wordsmithing; it’s required more than ever in a world where we need to be literate just to use our ever-advancing technology. I myself still wordsmith on a regular basis.

But editing is as much artistry as it is a skill. We freelance editors revel in what we do, or we’d do something else. We depend on authors to provide us not just with satisfying, worthwhile work, but with literary sustenance, a spiritual need almost as necessary as water or air. We crave the challenge and enjoyment of a good story, whether it requires light editing or heavy; we identify with the characters, live in the tale, analyze the plot, and shape it (ideally for the better) from within.

The miracle of modern technology makes it possible for a good freelance editor to earn a decent living nowadays. Barely 25 years ago, it was difficult to conduct freelance editing at any significant distance. Back then, we depended on landlines, fax machines, and snail mail to get things done. Now we can communicate and even send sample edits and full manuscripts at the cost of a little typing and a couple of clicks.

Which brings me to my main point (and I do have one). Given the ease of email communication, could you authors please write us back when we take the time to do a sample edit or otherwise make an offer to you? We don’t mind if you say no, though we might be disappointed. We’d just prefer you didn’t seem to vanish off the face of the Earth.

I don’t know how my fellow editors handle it, but when I do a sample edit, I start by sending a letter telling the author I’ll be submitting a sample edit by the next evening. When I conduct the edit itself, I typically work on a minimum of five pages. I do 3-4 editing passes, then hand it over to my proofreader. When she hands me her changes, if any, I add those to the manuscript sample, run a spell- and formatting check, and produce both a redlined and clean version for the author to review. All this takes a bare minimum of an hour’s work between the two of us, possibly significantly longer if it’s slow going. Then comes the bid letter that goes along with the returned edit samples, which I sometimes agonize over regarding how much to charge. There’s often a fine line between too much and acceptable, and it varies according to the author and the economy. Finally, I pack it all into an email and send it. Then I cross my fingers and move on to something else until I hear back.

If I hear back.

I’m well aware that I’m not going to get all the projects I bid for, and that’s fine. My editing style doesn’t click with some authors, or they find someone they like better or who better fits their budget. I have a comparatively high closure rate, but I only get about 50% of the jobs I bid on, if that.  I’m also patient, possibly too patient. I typically wait 3-5 days before I recontact the author to make sure they’ve received my bid, because I know most authors receive multiple offers—sometimes from multiple networks—and need time to evaluate them all before they decide who they’ll allow to operate on their literary child. I don’t get upset when someone says, “Thanks, but I chose another editor,” or, “I need a little more time.” What disappoints me is when an author never responds at all, even after multiple queries.

I hate to give up on anyone, but I only have so much time I can spend chasing an author, so eventually I stop trying.

For a while I wondered if this just happened to me, but I found out otherwise when I asked around. Apparently, vanishing authors have become increasingly common throughout the network. It reminds me of when I owned a house with a swimming pool: all that money and effort to keep the pool clean, literally thrown into a hole in the ground for little return. In this case, it’s more like throwing your efforts into a black hole. You have to wonder what’s happened to a person who never responds to your queries. Are they in the hospital, busy with an emergency, losing my email to spam filters, or just plain rude?

Since I do hear back from some prospective clients, I have to assume it’s rudeness most of the time. In fact, this seems to have become our era’s default for things we’re not interested in: you just ignore them until they go away.

It’s not as if our emails are spam, and we do try to be polite. So may I politely request that, if you decide not to avail yourself of an editor’s services, you send them a quick email telling them so? It needn’t be more than a few terse words. We can handle rejection, you see; it’s the not knowing that bugs us. Once we know we’re out of the game, we can move on to other potential projects, with best wishes to you and your manuscript.

Please respond to our follow-ups, at least. That’s all we’re asking.

Keep Writing!

Floyd Largent is an experienced editor who would be happy to correspond with you about your book in a friendly and professional manner.

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