"I deal with some editors who, although I have been working with them for several years, still call me 'Mr. LeBeaux.' In these cases, their correspondence almost always takes the tone of official business: short, sometimes curt, and always to the point. These are the editors I classify as 'busy.' I am aware, from having been an editor myself, that time is one of the most valuable commodities an editor has, and the fact that some of them do not take the time to say 'What's the weather like,' or 'How are the kids,' doesn't bother me at all.
"When dealing with such editors reply in kind; that is, do not clutter your correspondence with trivialities, or try to cover several problems in one letter. For a busy editor, long involved letters are far too time-consuming, and, even if they try, they often will not address all the questions, complaints or suggestions you may have presented.
"There is even one publication that I have never had one piece of personal correspondence from, though they did publish a feature of mine. Their query acceptance was a form letter, the article acceptance was the same, and the note accompanying the check was a fill-in-the-blanks type of letter. I even went so far as to ask in one of my subsequent query letters 'Is there anybody in there?' I got back a stock reject letter, with no humanity attached to it at all.
"Does this bother me? No. They paid promptly, published my article without questioning its validity, and sent me three complimentary copies of the magazine in which it appeared. Though it was, and still is, an unusual editorial relationship, it wastes no time whatsoever. I still query them now and then, when I feel I have something that suits their needs.
"On the other hand, I have one editor who communicates with me in such a relaxed and familiar style, you would think we had been friends for years. We chat about our children, the political scene and, yes, even the weather (he lives in New York, I live in Florida.) This is also a good arrangement, as there is never any question about what he wants from me, and the informality reminds me that editors are more than machines programmed to turn query letters into rejects."
How you deal with editors will depend on what kind of person you are, and the level of formality they use when writing or speaking to you. It is always the best policy to get your point across clearly and quickly in a letter. However, if you feel that the editor you are working with is trying to be friendly and informal, there is nothing wrong with your responding in the same tone.
The same rules of formality apply when discussing problems as apply to the tone of your queries and general correspondence, however, in some cases, too much formality can sound abrupt and angry (especially in an e-mail).
Let's say you have a particular editor who continually misplaces your query letters, failing to respond to one out of three. This can be not only irritating, but costly as well, because you lose the opportunity to re-circulate these queries while they are still fresh. However, if this particular editor regularly gives you article assignments, you should think long and hard before letting frustration or anger show in your correspondence.
On the other hand, if you are having little success with the magazine in question, it may be that the best (and most diplomatic) solution is to just write them off and stop querying them. This way you haven't alienated the editor, who may end up at another magazine someday in a less demanding role, and with whom you may find yourself dealing again.
When you are forced to complain about the mishandling of queries, or lack of response to article submissions and other correspondence, try to do it in such a way that you convey sympathy with the editor's unique problems.
For example, instead of writing "You have now lost three of my queries in less than six months, and I would appreciate it if you would try to keep better track of them in the future," try something like "I understand how many queries you have to process, and hate to take up extra time, but there have been three queries over the past few months for which I don't seem to have had a response from you. Could you take a minute to check on these for me, and see if they might have been misplaced or (more likely) lost in the mail?"
It is even better if you can set up a little form at the bottom of the letter, showing the query title or titles, the date it was sent, and three blocks they can check off: "Query Never Received;" "We Are Not Interested in a Story on The Subject;" "It Is Still Under Consideration." If you do this and include a SASE, you will save the editor and yourself time in resolving the situation.
IS IN THE MAIL
To some editors paying on acceptance means that they will decide promptly whether to buy an article and, if they intend to, request payment right away. To others it means they will request payment when an article is scheduled for publication (scheduling an article for a particular issue is some editors' gauge of whether or not it has been absolutely "accepted.") This could be anywhere from two weeks after you submitting it, to three months or (sometimes a lot) longer.
Some editors with whom you work regularly will not even look at your manuscript until they begin putting together the issue in which they intend to use it, trusting in your past performance to provide them with what they want. This usually means that they will also not put in a request for payment until that time. Needless to say, if you work for magazines that pay on publication, the problem gets even more complex.
We here at WordMerchant Publishing do not consider it a good idea to work for payment on publication. There are several reasons for this. First, magazines are businesses, and like any other, they occasionally go out of business. If your manuscript is sitting somewhere on a shelf when this occurs, you can write off any payment you might have expected.
Secondly, it takes long enough to get paid by those who pay on acceptance (an average of one to three months). We see no point in waiting for payment on publication when there are so many good markets that pay earlier. Still, many of those magazines are smaller and easier to break into, so you may see some value in working for them. After you are established, and have a reasonable cash flow, you should consider the possibility of working for payment on publication, but unless money is of no interest to you, before then, try to stick to payment on acceptance.
Many writers no longer have to deal with magazines that pay on publication, but a lot of them did for a time earlier in their careers. Most, however dealt with them differently. They made sure that the articles they wrote for them would be scheduled in relatively short order, and made it clear that working for payment on publication was the exception, not the rule in their careers. In some cases, they may even have been paid in less time than it took many of their other editors-who paid on acceptance-to pay them.
The stickiest times come when a check does not arrive from a publication whose payment schedule is familiar to you. For example, say you have been working with a particular editor for over a year and the checks have always arrived around two months after you put your assignments in the mail. One day, when you are going over your records (we recommend that you do this at least once a month), you find that the last article you wrote for them was mailed four months ago, and there is no notation that payment has been made.
The first thing to do in this case is to look through your checkbook or submission record to see if a deposit was made for, or a notation made of, the check that paid for this particular article. Once you have double-checked to make sure you didn't simply forget to note the arrival of payment, you can do one of two things: call the editor, or write.
The reason we say this is a sticky situation is that there are a couple of things you do not want to convey by inquiring about the check. First, if you are a professional (and by now you should know how to present yourself as such) the fate of one check should not appear to be a life or death situation. You do not want to convey an air of desperateness when requesting information on the status of a particular payment. You have, however, decided to inquire, and you should not lead the editor to believe that receiving the check is of little importance to you.
Here again, a professional but courteous attitude is best. Explain that over the past year you have received payments no later than two months after submission, and that this has led you to believe something might be wrong (the check must be lost in the mail, etc.) In the vast majority of these cases, the problem will actually have been with the editor. It seems that one of the regular deficiencies of the often-confusing job of being an editor is that they sometimes forget to "put in for payment."
If this is the case, the editor in question will usually be apologetic, and put in for "emergency payment;" sometimes walking the check through the bureaucracy personally to make sure it gets out promptly. In some cases, however, the check may actually have been lost, and the editor will have to go through a tracking procedure to see that the check was not cashed, stop payment, and issue another.
Another problem may be that the article is still undergoing editorial evaluation. This seldom happens in the case of short articles, but with features, it is not uncommon. If the editor (or editorial board) is still considering whether or not to accept an article, the best thing to do is apologize for bothering him/her, gather your patience and wait.
In some cases, magazines that reject firm assignments (not assignments done on speculation) will pay what is called a "kill fee." This is a percentage of the normal fee (usually 20 to 30 percent) that is paid to writers when an article had to be rejected for unforeseen reasons, or if the editorial board disagrees with the individual editor on the value of the article. Listings in Writer's Market usually state if a magazine pays kill fees, and what percentage they pay.
When asking editors about payment delays, it is usually okay to call. For first-time assignments, or when dealing with editors to whom you have sold only one or two articles, it is best to write or fax, saying something like:
"I am writing to inquire as to the fate of my article 'Building Your Dream House From Popsicle Sticks,' which you requested on 3/5/85, and which I submitted on 3/20/85. Since several months have elapsed since I mailed the article, and I have yet to receive payment, I am wondering if the check may have been lost, or if there is some other reason for the delay.
"If the article is still under consideration, please excuse this inquiry. I have a policy of following up on submissions if I do not receive payment, or hear of their status within _______ months. As that time has now elapsed for this submission, my system automatically reminded me to check on it.
"I appreciate your taking the time to clear this up for me, and am enclosing a SASE for your reply. I look forward to hearing from you soon."
Other possible reasons for payment delays are: the article was lost, either in the mail or at the magazine, and never received by the editor; the article was rejected, and the reject, for whatever reason, never reached you; or the magazine has gone out of business.
Occasionally you may run into a situation where the reason for payment delay is because the magazine is in financial trouble. This may never happen to you, but it has happened many times to many professional writers. It is almost impossible to tell this kind of situation from a legitimate mistake or a lost check, as the editors will usually try to cover up, saying the same things they do under normal circumstances: "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot to put in for payment," or "I am sure I requested payment on that. I'll have to see if something else went wrong."
In the case of magazines that are valuable and regular markets for you, handling this kind of situation is difficult. If the editor makes these kinds of promises, and payment is still not forthcoming, it is usually a sign that something more basic is wrong, but by that time there is really little you can do. Occasionally, a magazine will gain new life through a change in editorial direction or an infusion of investment funds but, most often, they simply fold.
Threats of legal action, whining, or constantly bugging an editor in this situation will not help, and may actually hurt if the magazine gets back on its feet with the same editor retaining his/her job. And your chances of being paid by the courts after bankruptcy has been filed are about the same as the proverbial snowball surviving in hell.
In view of the situations that can and do arise, a good rule of thumb is to never consider an article sold, or count on the money, until you actually receive the check. Counting on certain checks coming in at certain times because a magazine has always paid promptly in the past is a good way to miss the car payment or the rent.
The magazine's blurb in Writer's Market will usually state if they pay expenses or not but, even if they do not, there may be times when that policy can be altered. (For example, if you must interview someone in another country.) In these cases, your expenses can be considered "extraordinary," and requesting reimbursement for long distance charges is acceptable, even if the magazine does not ordinarily pay expenses.
(By the way, do not shy away from stories based on foreign sources. A large body of story material emanates from other countries and, from what we can gather, many freelancers simply ignore such material.)
The proper way to handle getting paid for phone expenses is to clear them with the editor, wait till the phone bill arrives, make copies of the sheets upon which the calls appear (be sure to mark the calls to which you are referring), and send these along with an invoice. The invoice can be a preprinted form (available at any office supply store,) a form created in a word-processing or publishing program, a plain sheet of paper with the information typed on it, or your own design using your letterhead. Whatever you use, there are certain things that must be included. First, make sure you clearly state what article the expenses are for and in which section it is scheduled to appear or if it is a feature. Second, always include your Social Security number, your name, address and phone number, and the date. It is also a good idea to mention that the expenses were for phone calls and to sign the bottom of the invoice.
In order to further document that the editor has agreed to pay expenses on a certain assignment, mention this in your cover letter, saying something like: "Per our agreement, as soon as the phone bill arrives, I will be sending an invoice for my expenses on this project."
Though it will probably not happen to you until you are well established, there are times when a magazine will assign to a freelance writer an article that involves travel. Examples are when there is a large conference or public event occurring in your area, and the magazine does not have a staff person attending, or when the editor requests an in-person interview with someone who is not in your area.
In these cases, expenses will usually be negotiated according to the situation. If you are querying for an assignment that will entail travel expenses, you should mention this in your query letter. If the assignment originates with the editor, he or she will tell you how the expenses will be handled and how to get reimbursement.
In the case of unexpected delays that make it impossible for you to meet a deadline, the best thing to do is be straightforward. Even if there is no deadline, but the editor is accustomed to receiving assignments from you within a certain time, let him or her know you have run into problems that will extend your normal completion time.
In these situations it is best to call. If there is time, you can write, but you run the risk of having the letter lost or misplaced, and the editor will simply think you are unjustifiably late. If you do decide to write, certify the letter and request a return receipt. This way you will know if and when the letter arrived at the magazine, and can prove to the editor that you were acting responsibly.
Acknowledging the receipt of assignments is not absolutely necessary, but is a courtesy that many editors appreciate. Some editors will follow up a written assignment with a phone call, just to make sure it was received. Others only make assignments by phone. A short note (a postcard is fine) telling the editor that you received a written assignment on such-and-such a date, and that you intend to have it complete within a certain time, is a good idea. This will not only ease the editor's mind, but helps to document the fact that the assignment was made.
If you are not able to contact those you have interviewed by phone for quote and fact verification, and have mailed them copies of your manuscript, you may have to inform an editor of requested changes. If the change is minor and simple to describe, a quick call to the editor is the best way to accomplish this. If, however, there are many changes, or you have misstated some vital point, it is best to revise the manuscript and send another copy.
In these cases, it is a good idea to call editors and inform them that you are sending a revised version. This way, if they do not receive it in short order they can contact you and ask for another copy. Another way to handle this is to send the revised copy by certified mail, and request a return receipt.
If you are working on a column or feature, some editors will send you what are called "galley proofs," for your perusal. These are proofs that have already gone through editorial changes for content, but which have not yet been designed into the page upon which they will appear. We advise you to try to live with the galley version of an article, unless you see typos or some substantive error in the facts.
Many writers will argue that their original version is better than the editor's and discuss point-by-point exactly why this is so. How you handle these situations is up to you, but our advice is to accept the editorial revisions quietly, commenting only if something has been reworded in such a way that the facts are misstated.
Corresponding with editors calls for tact, accuracy, brevity, and a match of the formality they offer you. As far as you can, eliminate anger, impatience, debate and chattiness from your letters and phone calls. After all, you are conducting a business, and the same rules of courtesy and efficiency apply to a writing career as to any successful business venture.