Monday, July 8, 2013

Professionalism, Waiting, and why it's sometimes good to ask

I worked very hard to learn about being a good part of the community of writers as I entered it. One of the things I've always valued was trying to understand the unwritten rules of a social community; this has helped me in my language learning and travel, and I didn't see why it couldn't help me as I joined a professional community that I wasn't (at first) familiar with.

One of the important things I learned was what not to ask for. Authors, and particularly experienced, well-known authors, have very busy lives. Because they are well-known, they are often barraged by people who want them to do things. As a new member of the community, therefore, you do not ask them to look at your work. Instead, you try to find others at roughly your same level who are interested to see what you are doing. If you do create a relationship with another author who is much further along the career path, you wait for them to ask you. I decided when I had my first story accepted for publication to give a copy of it to one of my more experienced writer friends, but I made sure to tell her that it was up to her whether she read it. I was just happy I'd had it published, and because her support had meant a lot to me, I was giving her a copy.

She read it. Bless her. That still didn't turn us into critique buddies, but she has read more of my work as I've progressed, and I deeply appreciate it. I don't take it for granted.

The other thing that I try to avoid (with mixed success, I'm sad to say) is asking people for status updates on what they are reading for me. Part of being a professional in the writing business means understanding that sometimes you just have to wait. And wait. It's hard, of course, especially when mixed with the drive to get published, and the drive to meet deadlines, etc. But waiting is a skill we need to develop. We need to be able to set aside the anxiety at least enough to continue working on other projects while people (critique partners, editors, etc.) read for us. I'm getting better at this.

Sometimes, however, it is good to ask.

When you are waiting for a reply, particularly from an editor, it's a good idea to read through their guidelines on when to inquire. That means, when to send them a little note saying, "I'd like to inquire as to the status of my submission (of whatever sort) sent on X date..."

I have sent status inquiries twice in the last month, and both times it was really worth it. In the first case, I received a lovely letter from the editor saying I was still under consideration, but that she had a busy life (I'm sure she does!). In the second case, the agent I was contacting had never received my query email.

Yes, I have said argh a few times about this. But imagine if I had not inquired! At this point I have re-sent the query email and am crossing fingers again. I am also thanking my lucky stars that I finally checked, because I could have spent a ridiculously long time waiting for something impossible, and that couldn't have been good for me!

Make sure to keep track of those recommendations in the agent or editor's guidelines. And if it goes over that time limit, ask. Politely. I tend to be very formal in my correspondence with editors and agents I don't know personally, and while that may not be the trend with internet discourse, I feel more comfortable that I won't be insulting anyone.

Anyway, watch the guidelines and ask. It might save you pointless months of agony.