Business Musings: Getting in Touch
I opened my email tonight before I sat down to write this blog, and found an annoyed letter from an editor friend of mine.
Do you have the email address for [writer]? I went to [his/her] website and got an annoying popup that tells me to subscribe to a newsletter. As far as I can tell, there’s no other way to contact [him/her].
Let me tell you from long experience, we editors only email each other after exhausting whatever avenues we have at our disposal. We start with our own databases or have access to (like professional organizations we might belong to), then we go to Facebook or the social media we might share. If those methods fail, we go to the author’s website because, logically, it should have contact information.
Only after we’ve done those things do we contact other editors or friends. With authors who routinely change their email addresses or rarely check their business email accounts (!), it’s still difficult. Because authors never keep their editors informed of email changes. And if the author checks her e-mail once in a blue moon, then we editors don’t know if our email never arrived, if the author isn’t answering because—I don’t know; they randomly decided we’re not nice any more—or if the author doesn’t answer email more than once a month.
It’s not our job to know, frankly.
It’s not just new authors with this problem. It’s established authors as well. Last year, I emailed a friend of mine, whom I have known since 1990. We’re not close, but we’re not acquaintances either. He was well known when we met. He’s better known now.
I sent an email about a visit because I was going to be a few miles from his home town. For the first time in our relationship, he never answered. A few weeks later, I emailed him about a business matter, and got a form letter back.
Hello. I am [Writer’s] assistant. I will forward your business letter to him. He will answer if he deems it appropriate.
Pissed me off, I’ll tell you. We follow each other on Twitter. I sent him a direct message, and he got back to me within the hour. After we finished the business matter, he asked when we would see each other again. I mentioned that I’d contacted him about a visit and never received a reply.
Hmm, he wrote back. You’re not the first person to say that.
His handler/assistant was ignoring emails from friends, thinking they were from fans. Apparently handler/assistant thought the fans were inappropriately familiar and wanted some quality time with their favorite author.
I don’t know if hander/assistant is still working for my friend. I call him or DM him now, because his email doesn’t work at all. Unlike another very famous friend of mine, who has an email for his friends only, this friend hasn’t set up a private account. And probably wonders why most of his friends don’t contact him any more.
He’s not the only well known writer I’ve had weird contact experiences with. For one of the reprint anthologies I’m working on this year, I wanted a story from an acquaintance of mine, someone I’ve worked with since 1994. I published this writer’s stories repeatedly in my various editing projects before I retired in 1997, then shared a podium with this writer at nearly a dozen events over the years. We’ve exchanged many private emails about non-writing matters of concern to both of us.
In other words, I knew this writer’s email was the correct email, and I had it legitimately.
I emailed, asking for reprint rights. Silence. Crickets, chirping. More silence. I emailed again. Nothing. So I double-checked my databases. Yep, email address was the one I’d used before.
Then I went to the website to see if the contact email had changed.
There, in bold letters, were these words:
All business matters must go through Writer’s agent. Any contact regarding business matters made directly to Writer will be ignored.
Seriously? Even from friends? Really?
And even more annoying, no agent was listed. Just the name of a large agency, not the name of the agent to contact among the agency’s dozens of agents. So, I still had to go to my editor friends who had recently bought a story from Writer to make sure that Writer’s agent was indeed the agent listed for Writer on Publisher’s Marketplace.
These are the weird barriers that writers set up to prevent people from giving them money. I am astonished.
These are not unusual problems. Writers may not have a website. Or they might use Blogger, so you can contact them in the comments section, but not through a private comment button. Or writers will submit their manuscripts to a project with an e-mail address only. If the email bounces, then how the hell am I supposed to contact them? Smoke signals?
I shouldn’t have to tell you people this, but PUT YOUR NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER, AND EMAIL ADDRESS on a manuscript you submit for publication—even if you (especially if) you’re submitting electronically. PUT A CONTACT BUTTON on your website.
Check your damn email more than once a week. Have a Facebook account so that people can contact you—you don’t have to maintain your page. Just a tiny presence—and check it weekly. Because often, someone will message you through Facebook. Someone who can’t reach you via email.
Think worldwide, people. There are countries in the world whose people do not have a free internet. Your internet provider might be blocked from a Chinese service, for example, because of something someone else blogs about (not you), and that means your email address and the Chinese person’s email address cannot communicate. But the Chinese person can probably contact you via Facebook.
Think it through.
Be easy to contact.
Yes, yes, I know. Some of you who read this blog are really famous, and you have issues with both fans and trolls.
Deal with it simply: have an email address that’s public, and one that’s private. Let your friends know they cannot give out your private email to anyone. That means your friends have to email you and ask. I send these letters to famous friends all the time:
My Editor Friend wants your email address. May I send it to him? Here’s his email if you want to contact him directly.
Generally, my famous friends contact Editor Friend directly, often through a third email address that I’m not familiar with. And I don’t want to be familiar with it.
Yeah, you will probably have to change your private email address once or twice, but oh, well. The price of fame and all that. You will have a tiny list of friends that you send the new address to. You should tell them why you’re changing addresses, so that whoever screwed up doesn’t screw up again.
On panels, in email, and in comments, I hear that opportunities come to me because I’m Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Um…yeah, some of them do come to me because of my name. Most of them come to me because foreign editors, translators, and movie scouts can find me.
Me. Not someone I hired, who doesn’t understand my instructions or who simply does not have the base of knowledge that I do.
I learned that assistants cannot screen effectively when I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I had a great assistant, who knew my taste, who anticipated my needs, and who understood what the magazine needed. She also opened the mail and did the first reading for the magazine.
At a major convention, one of the magazine’s major writers came up to me and asked why I had rejected him—twice—with a form letter. I knew instantly what had happened. He had a very common name. In fact, right now, there’s another major writer who shares the same name, only in a different genre.
This F&SF writer used an old-fashioned manuscript format, and his openings were usually slow. He never put cover letters on his manuscripts, thanking me for a recent purchase or giving his credentials. The only way to differentiate him from all the other people who share his name was by his street address.
I didn’t think to tell my excellent assistant this. I later learned that my excellent assistant had form-rejected several major writers, some of whom were not fantasy or sf writers, but mystery writers or romance writers.
I immediately took over the sorting of the mail, and that problem went away. Years later, I hired a secretary, and she screened all of our phone calls, but she had to take names and numbers from everyone who called and showing that list to me on a break. Because she might not know who they were, but, generally speaking, I would.
If you’re hard to reach, people will eventually give up.
If you’re a new(ish) writer with a great book, a movie scout might want to know if the rights are available. That scout will spend an hour or so tracking you down. If it takes longer than that, he’ll give up.
If you’re an established writer who wrote a great short story, an editor will do her best to track you down for a best-of collection, but if she can’t reach you within her deadline, she will pick a lesser work to take the place of yours.
If you’re a truly famous writer—the kind whose name will make a book sell twenty times what it had sold before—an editor will try even harder to find you. But I can’t tell you how many times an agent or a middleman has stopped me from reaching Truly Famous Writer because the money or the project “is not worth his time, thank you.” Even if his time is just signing a contract, and getting a small pile of cash.
Every single time I have contacted Truly Famous Writer directly after being rebuffed by the agent or middleman, the Truly Famous Writer has worked on my project, sold me the story at the price everyone else got paid, or volunteered to do extra work. Every single time.
The opportunities come to you, but they are time-sensitive. Book deadlines need to get hit, a movie scout must meet his quota of possibles for the month, a foreign editor fills her book line with a different book.
You have to be there to say yes or no. Sometimes the opportunities are not worth whatever someone is paying you or wants to pay you. Sometimes they’ll take more time from your writing schedule than they’re worth. Sometimes they involve people who drive you utterly crazy, people you would never work with, and you say no.
(Note that an assistant, who might not know that Utterly Crazy Editor is someone you hate, might actually sign you up to work with that person.)
So follow the advice above. Have contact information on your website. Have a website, dammit. It’s almost 2016. All you need is one page, with your name, contact information, a list of your publications, and a short biography, with a photo of you.
That’s all. You can design it yourself in an afternoon, even if you have no website experience. There are lots of templates these days that make it all very, very easy.
And since I’m kvetching, here’s one other thing that drives me absolutely insane.
When I say have an author bio, have an author bio. I don’t want to read:
Kelly lives in a beautiful house in the Ozarks with her handsome husband, her two brilliant children, her Irish Wolfhound, and her six cats. The cats run the household, of course, but they do a competent enough job that Kelly finds time to hike, knit, and cook fantastic gourmet meals at a moment’s notice.
Kelly sounds perfect. Kelly sounds like a damn saint.
However, Kelly does not sound like a writer.
As a reader, I want to know about Writer Kelly, not Perfect Wife, Mother, and Pet-Owner Kelly. Here’s Kelly’s short author bio:
Kelly published her first novel, Title, in 2006. It won the Best Novel Award for Novels Titled Title in 2007, launching her career in ironically named books. She wrote two sequels, Sequel, and New Title. She writes New York Times bestselling young adult novels under her middle name, Louise. To find out more about Kelly’s publications, go to [link].
And if Kelly is indeed the lesser-selling author of the Kelly/Louise pen name battles, then Louise needs her own website and bio.
The sixteenth book in Louise’s series, The Young Adult Novels Everyone Must Read, hit print in March of 2015. The New York Times bestselling series starts with First Novel In The Series, which won the prestigious Whatever Award for recursive young adult fiction. Louise also writes highly acclaimed adult novels under the name Kelly. To find out more about Louise, go to [link]
Easy peasy. If you want to, you can even add one sentence about your personal life.
Kelly (Louise) lives in a beautiful custom-built home in the Ozarks with her husband, two children, and assorted pets.
See how easy that is? In fact, it’s so easy that editors and others don’t need to ask you for a short bio after they’ve purchased something of yours. They have it, on your website.
That kind of information is particularly valuable to writers conferences. Say I’m running a writers conference, and I heard Kelly speak at the local RWA meeting a few months back. I want Kelly to come to my writers conference, but the board has to approve guests before they’re invited.
I float Kelly as a name to speak at the conference. I say I’ve heard her talk, and she’s marvelous. Then I hand out a piece of paper, listing her publications and her bio, downloaded from her lovely one-page website.
The board can decide whether or not Kelly writes the kind of material they want at the conference before anyone tries to locate her e-mail address.
It sounds so stupid to have to tell you people this, but I get requests like the one I got tonight every week from editor friends. Just yesterday, I emailed a friend asking if I could share her email address with a German publisher. Last week, I received a request for contact information from another friend who has started a web-based TV series (with mucho cash) and wanted to dramatize another friend’s book.
Yeah, writers miss opportunities all the damn time, because writers are hard to reach. I don’t know why they think they need to be hard to reach, but they are.
And their assistants, agents, and handlers make them even harder to reach. At a conference last summer, I asked an editor friend why she never includes one of the best writers in our field in her anthologies.
Because, my editor friend said, every time I’ve contacted that writer, I get no answer. I’ve tried to reach that writer through that writer’s email, agent, Facebook account, and Twitter account. No one will give me that writer’s phone number, and that writer is never at the same conferences I’m at. I’ve given up contacting that writer for anything.
And that’s a well known writer. Think how easy it is to give up on a newer writer.
Use common sense, people. You’re running a business. Have a business address, email address, telephone number, and social media accounts. (And before you ask, because some of you will, you don’t need to use your home address. A PO Box is just fine, and is probably preferable to any street address.)
Just remember: Be easy to reach.
And then maybe all those people behind the opportunities you swear you never get might actually be able to get ahold of you.
Oh, my goodness. What a concept.
Opportunities knock—when they can find the door.
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“Business Musings: Getting in Touch,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo Inc. / abluecup
I laughed at this, but I shouldn’t. I used to work for a very famous rock band and their manager was the best assistant training I have ever received. First thing he did was tell me who was always allowed access to himself or the rock star. I typed up a handy list and hung it on the wall. Also, I made sure to familiarize myself with the agents, record label people, etc. You can’t screw up if you know who is who in the business. Plus this was just as the internet was becoming more popular in offices so I couldn’t even Google anyone! Ahhh yes, good times.
The only thing I would caution is to talk to your IT / web person about how to do it safely. I get slammed with a lot of hacking attempts and one of the big things my IT guy told me (in addition to using strong passwords, etc.) was to secure my contact and comment forms and not to provide an email address – meaning let your messages route to your email address via a contact form with captchas.
I get weirdos too, but that’s a different issue – if you don’t want your site to get hacked, just have a quick chat with your IT person and make sure you set it up right so it’s not putting your site at risk. You can get targeted for all kinds of weird reasons, you definitely don’t have to be a big name.
And yeah, I’m not so sure about FB for China. I don’t know the exact issues, but I have at least one fan who emails me periodically because she can’t really keep in contact with me on Facebook (the main one I’m thinking of is in Beijing).
Good advice. I don’t have the email addy on my site anywhere, but I have a working contact form. I also use a lot of website protect services because I’ve been hacked a number of times. In fact, I can bet on a hacking attempt every single time I blog about agents. So you do have to protect on those things.
As for the Facebook/China thing. I just pulled that example out of the air, but I have had a number of people contact me from countries that don’t allow them to communicate through my IP. So take that as you will.
Hahah, but Kris, the only reason I’m subscribed is to hear your upcoming talk about AGENTS! So I will continue reading all of your beautiful rants…! 😀
It’s as though some authors have no idea of this new world of reader-writer interaction. Accessibility is critical. I wrote about this in an article on Writers Workshop .. might be of interest http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/social-media-social-reading-an-authors-view/
Thanks for your interesting and thought provoking posts.
Thanks for confirming what I’ve always believed, that it’s better to be reachable and risk a few trolls. My website includes both a public email address, which I check daily, a newsletter signup box and a P.O. Box address (this is handy for many reasons). I’ve had readers contact me for download issues that I was easily able to resolve, thus hopefully winning their loyalty; researchers and students request interviews, which I’m happy to grant, etc. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Even after selling 100 novels, I’m not overwhelmed by reader email. And if I were, I’d be grateful! (I’d love to find out, anyway).
I’ve come across this problem, Kris, and I too find it odd. Even if the e-mail address goes to an assistant, have one on the web page. My first reaction to not finding one is that the author is “putting on airs.” In case that’s a Brit phrase, it’s is what a person does if they want to appear more important than they are.
My problem is that I often don’t think to check my Facebook messages, because I don’t expect friends to contact me that way. I’ve missed a few meet-ups that way, so I try to do better.
I’m sure some authors are completely swamped by fan-mail, but I’ve never found that, and I’ve always found fans to be respectful of my time and privacy. So if you’re a new author, don’t be scared!
Giving a contact email is of course necessary for business enquiries but Kris, how do you handle emails from readers without getting swamped and spending too much time on it?
Austin Kleon, the writer/artist, has what seems like a graceful way of dealing with it:
and he used to do a thing called “office hours” where people could go on his site and put questions to him for a particular hour each week (I think) – now he’s got something to replace that:
Must admit I like the idea of not being at the mercy of a load of correspondents who would be disappointed if I didn’t reply.
I’m not overwhelmed with reader emails, but I don’t respond quickly to them, either. Business emails I try to handle quickly. I have had problems with too much email in the past, and moved fan emails to a different email account. I suspect if I were really swamped, the way that some exceedingly famous folk are, I would have an auto-responder for the fan email account, saying that everything gets read but little gets responded to.
Readers seem to be pretty respectful of a writer’s time, which I’m pleased with.
That’s good to know!
I’ve had instances of people contacting me requesting info or commenting on a post I’ve sent, only to be directed to a “email gatekeeper” page that tells me I have to request an OK to send my email AFTER it’s been approved for transmission. Guess what? I simply don’t bother to pursue contacting that person. If they want to put irritating roadblocks (and time/effort sucks) in the way of contacting them I’ve got better things to do with my time. Sayonara…
I agree with the general points of the article and have many times had similar problems with people I’ve tried to contact. Out of date websites etc. Something to remember though is that -nothing- on the internet is guaranteed though. This includes email.
When you add in auto spam-filtering – which many providers do without people knowing (to cut down support calls) – it can be very difficult to get through to someone at all. Although seemingly old-fashioned, the telephone is still probably the best way to get through to someone directly. assuming you have the person’s number.
I’d suggest that you check with your email provider,/isp and ensure that emails aren;t just getting deleted. I set mine to flag suspected spam (it adds the word “Spam:” to the title) but still deliver it. Also, if you are friends with someone, set them as “white-listed” or whatever the term used by your provider is. A second e-mail address for known contacts is a great idea.
Great stuff, and very true. Even if you’re a brand new writer, being contactable can help you. Even if you currently have only one (1) short story published under your name, a famous editor might read it and decide it’s perfect for their up-coming theme anthology, and contact you to offer you money for reprint rights. (Speaking of making money for the time it takes to sign a contract.) I’ve run into writers who think only famous or well-known or bestselling or award-winning writers get these kinds of offers, and I have to headdesk.
I only want to add that PUBLICISTS are the worst of the worst.
(Needed to get that off my chest, thanks Kris.)
I’m pretty easy to find 🙂 Next time you need a story, give me a shout…
In the Age of Connection, trying so hard to be disconnected sounds…weird.
I have an email address specifically for my website, which forwards to my regular email account. And I check the spam folders regularly to make sure that something didn’t end up in there by mistake. Plus I have a contact page with an email link and a contact form, and an email button on my home page, as well as a link to my Facebook page. None of this was difficult to set up. And I can see from this post that I still have work to do. So many authors seem so fixated with building their email list but don’t seem to see the benefit of being able to receive email as well as send it.
A related problem I’ve seen is authors with websites that don’t link directly to sales pages for their books. There will be a thumbnail of their cover but no way to buy it. There’s no buy button or sales page with links to their retailers and the image isn’t linked to anything. If I’m interested I have to leave their page and search their name separately to find where I can buy the book. And once a potential buyer is out on the open internet, they can be easily distracted and the author has lost a sale. Much like the contact info, it’s not hard to install sales links on your site.
So grateful for this reminder. I just built my author website, and I realized I forgot to add my email to it somewhere. I do have a newsletter sign-up, but no, that’s not enough. In my case, it was an honest mistake. I didn’t intend to put up a contact barrier, and I did have a link to my coaching site, which does have a contact form, but why make anyone go through that extra hoop.
My email is now on my author site. Thank you!
I always enjoy reading your advice. This is a problem I would love to have one day. Until then, I will keep your words and utilize them as I go forward. I will promptly utilize this advice.
I’ve run into a similar situation from a different perspective. I was working in cube hell, and the woman two cubes down was rarely at her desk. Her phone would ring, and ring and ring and ring, generally shutting off after 15 rings or so (she turned her voicemail off). One day I’d had enough of this and answered.
Female: Is Ms. Midlevel there?
Me: No, Ms. Midlevel is not here.
Female: Well, I’m trying to reach Ms. Upperlevel. She has a private office just down the hall. Would you have her call me?
Me: Have you tried calling Ms. Upperlevel directly?
Female: Yes, but she doesn’t answer.
Me: Did you leave voice mail?
Female: Well, yes.
Me: Have you sent her email?
Me: Did you try sending her an IOC?
Me: Then I think it’s safe to say that if she wanted to talk to you, she’d have called you by now.
Female: Well – giggle giggle giggle – I know that, but –
Me: But nothing. If you want to talk to her and she doesn’t answer, she doesn’t want to talk to you. I suppose you could come down here in person and talk to her, but I’m sick and tired of hearing Ms. Midlevel’s phone ring incessantly. Quit calling.
The person in question doesn’t want to talk to you. Maybe it’s personal, maybe not. If your email, tweets and other electronic garbage is going unnoticed, consider pen and paper. For around one dead president you can send an handwritten note via the U.S. Mail, which very likely will be opened and read by the person you’re trying to reach. In addition, it’s an elegant solution.
Think: No matter how important you are, or think you are, you’re one shrill voice among thousands a day, each and every one of whom believe that their message is much more important than yours. If you want to be noticed, be different. Electronically that’s impossible unless you’re Slick Willy Gates or one of his henchmen. Instead of banging your head against the wall, fall back and try a different line of attack.
I’m guilty of this myself. The plug-in on my website died, and CBC Radio was calling one of my emergency departments, looking for me on a day I wasn’t working. I thought I fixed it, but it turned out the plug-in looked pretty until you inputted information, when it would give out an error message. A medical conference e-mailed one of my ER department heads, looking for me. Vanier College finally sent me a desperate secondary e-mail. Who knows how many opportunities I missed, and I am but an egg!
Now I have the plug-in and a spelled-out e-mail address on the Contact Me page. Less elegant, but always functional. I know it works because I regularly get spam from people offering to fix my website. 😉
Very good kick in the butt info that we as writers should be doing. I have to work on some of these myself. Thanks for the reminder.
I was following up on a story about indie POD titles in Walmart. The first author to get into the program didn’t get back to me until two months after I contacted her, and yes she sent a form email.
Another author in the program responded within a couple days.
Contact is important, yes.
I know one of the other challenges for anyone with a public email address (besides the spam) is the nuts. I used to do a website for an actor. He was in some Bond films, and he was in a cult classic you’d recognize, along with a SF TV series. So he has quite a big fan base. Me and another person screened all the emails–we used a form on the site because it made a little more work for the fans than dashing off an email (it cut back on really dumb questions). The fans actually really hated the form because they saw it as a barrier to having personal contact with their favorite actor. Never mind that, at the time, I owned the site, and all the emails went to me. We really did not want someone asking him what size of underwear he wore or if it was boxers or briefs!
We also had very persistent fans. If it was a new question that looked pretty good, we’d pass it along. He’d answer it, and we’d post it for everyone. If it was a more standard question that he got a lot, we’d post the original question and response. Sometimes the fans didn’t like the answers, so they’d ask the same question a little differently, hoping for a different response. We’d sometimes 3-4 reworded questions from one person.
But we also knew him pretty well, and we were only getting questions. No one ever contacted us about roles. I think though if there’s a person screening out the nuts, they should at least have some rules in place so that if someone doesn’t sound like a fan–and you can tell–they pass it along to the writer. If someone had emailed about a role, he would’ve gotten the information so he could make the decision. Just not the underwear questions …
“But the Chinese person can probably contact you via Facebook.”
Probably not via Facebook. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_of_Facebook