Mistake No. 53: Editors have the time, really

It’s a favourite writers’ moan: editors not responding to articles or queries.

I tend to trot out the usual defences: they’re under no obligation to reply, they get inundated with emails, they’re really really busy and don’t have the time…

“Of course they have the time,” I hear too often, sometimes from established writers, and once or twice from other tutors. “Good old-fashioned manners never hurt anybody. It’s really rude.”

These grievances also form the basis of some of the most popular forms of letter printed in writing magazines, and comments on writing forums.

I disagree. Not responding to an approach that was unsolicited is not rude. Editors receive hundreds of these a day (from publicists as well as writers), and good manners, in this case, can indeed hurt somebody. They can hurt the editor, who, should he politely respond to all, will probably have to work an hour or more extra into the evening to remain on schedule to put his publication to bed. That’s an hour less to devote to his family, his friends and his general wellbeing, all of which are also potentially hurt. An editor’s tiredness and stress could impact on the quality of the publication – and then the reader is hurt too.

An editor’s top priorities are putting his publication to bed, keeping his bosses happy, meeting the needs of his readers, devoting time to his personal life, and enjoying a social life.

Your response to his non-response to your approach to him is not one of his top priorities.

If there are bad manners or rudeness in all this, it could be argued that it is in writers moaning about editors in print and in questioning the professionalism and personalities of individuals they almost certainly have not met.

Some editors may have the time – and will respond – but other editors do not have the time. Thinking editors have the time reveals your ignorance of the publishing business: moaning about the issue tells everyone reading or listening who knows about the publishing business, editors included, that you don’t know how much work is involved in pulling together a publication. It demonstrates that you’re possibly a newbie or an amateur. It shows that you’re unfamiliar with at least some aspects of the industry into which you’re trying to break.

Note: there is nothing, nothing, whatsoever wrong with being a newbie or an amateur or being ignorant of publishing goings-on – no shame in it at all – but the point is that it’s not the best description to attach to yourself when you are trying to step up the ladder and become a professional writer. You want to emphasise what you do know and can do, not what you don’t and can’t.

Most of us like a moan. I love one (I’m having one here, after all). But moaning about editors is unproductive, possibly counter-productive and often unfair. If an editor has not replied after a respectable period of time, pick up the phone. They will not be rude, because most editors are not rude. If they decline your idea or article, why not send them a better idea or article? If they decline again, move on, try elsewhere, and come back another day.

This is how it works. This is just how it is. In the nicest possible and totally unrude way: off you go.

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