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.
Thanks for coming to the weekly business blog. If you learned something, like the blog, or want to support my weekly efforts, please leave a tip on the way out.
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Getting in Touch,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo Inc. / abluecup