2.28.2007

Dingaling

Dear Miss Snark,

Please do an entry on why NOT to cold-call an editor.

I'm sure this guy was a nice non-homicidal type in real life, but he turned into a fumbling, venom-spewing illiterate mess once I picked up the phone. Ugh ugh ugh.


You didn't buy his book cause he told you how good it was?? How very short sighted of you!

I get those too. Like the guy who called me at midnight thinking he'd get the answering machine. Surprise! Snark Central runs 24/7 more often than not and Killer Yapp loves to speak on the phone.

My recent favorite was the secretary of some nitwit who was given the assignment to feel out agents for their interest in his novel. After I stopped laughing long enough to tell her this just wasn't done, I realized she had to keep calling everyone on the list cause the nitwit she worked for told her to.

Stay off the phone.

19 comments:

Krista said...

Ouch. Poor secretary.

Kit Whitfield said...

The main reason, other than the fact that a) if you lack social skills, it becomes painfully obvious on the phone, and b) desperation tends to lower the social skill quotient in the best of us, is purely practical.

Editors don't buy writers, they buy books. Writers always think their books are good, and they're not all correct, so reading them is the only way to tell whether they're worth buying. And you can't read a book over the telephone. Therefore, any cold call conversation is going to be entirely useless. All it'll tell the editor is that they're speaking to someone who wants to get published - and they could have worked that out just as easily if the person sent in their manuscript.

Unless, of course, someone tries to read their manuscript down the phone, which is just bizarre.

Calling an editor to ask a ten-second question about their submissions policy does no harm if you're polite, but calling them to talk them into buying a book is ineffective from the writer's point of view, time-wasting and uncomfortable from the editor's.

John B. said...

It amazes me that with the amount of information out there for writers that people still make these mistakes. Whatever books these people are getting your numbers from must also have a chapter about the rules of ettiquette for this particular business, unless they are just looking up 'literary agents' in the phone book. You're not taking out ads in the yellow pages, are you?

Writer on Board said...

O, I hate when editors get like that. I often wait for my editor outside her office. I jump out from behind telephone booths and yell GOTCHA! She doesn't mind. I mean she doesn't laugh with me...not on the outside. But I can tell she's cracking up INSIDE. She's even invented cute pet names for our encounters like STRANGE and CREEPY. Question. What exactly is a restraining order? Sounds technical.

michaelgav said...

My guess is the guy was having his secretary make these calls before writing the novel. I mean, no sense wasting time writing without a deal on the other end.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kit, for your nice explanation. When I receive these sorts of cold calls, I usually just tell the caller, "I can't tell if you're a good writer by the sound of your voice."

I often ask the writers who 'phone in their submissions what they're reading. Many of them have told me that they don't read. And a good chunk of those tell me that they don't read because they want to make sure that their work is completely original. Ack.

Part of me wonders if people do these cold calls as a means of "building relationships", because "it's all about who you know". But it's about the product. Books aren't fungible, and that's what makes publishing different from producing paper towels.

I can't stress enough that aspiring authors should get involved in the community of which they want to be a part. Join critique groups, read the trade mags, review books for the trade mags, send pieces to lit magazines, read said magazines, attend events, read even more, write even more...people will get to know to know your name, and eventually, you.

Erin said...

I called an editor once, to get clarification on a submission requirement (specific to his house) and I was so terrified he would ask for my name or in some other way identify me and then black list any manuscript from me as a result that I could barely manage to spit out my question over the phone. If I had had access to one of those voice modification devices I would have used it.

ec said...

It amazes me that with the amount of information out there for writers that people still make these mistakes.

This presupposes that most people are willing to put in the time and effort needed to seek out this information. I don't find that to be the case.

And this guy seems a couple more steps removed from the research process than most, since he had his secretary doing cold calls. If she got the agent info through a Google search, which seems likely, she probably figured out fairly quickly that agents don't work this way. But secretaries are routinely handed tasks and told, "Make it happen." Is that task unreasonable, unprofessional, or even impossible? Irrelevant.

On Secretary Day, these gals (and guys) should get diamonds and compact cars, not greeting cards. At the very least, Hallmark should acknowledge reality with something that reads, "You're underpaid and you work for an [BLEEP], but at least the benefits are decent."

eric said...

Think of the good karma points you could have scored if you'd saved that poor assistant by telling her to put nitwit on the phone to set him straight.
I realize it's not something you'd really want to waste your time with, but that poor, poor assistant.
Won't somebody think of the assistants!?

Kerry Allen said...

A "restraining order" is a legally sanctioned demand that you maintain a distance of no more than 3 feet (the length of a dog leash) from your editor or agent or other beloved individual, thereby ensuring that you are "restrained" in their company so that such STRANGE and CREEPY encounters can occur with more satisfying frequency.

Ellen said...

I like to think this is ignorance of protocol. I guess most executives are used to passing on the orders, and the job getting done.

It must come as a shock when they learn they have to submit work. But come to think of it, they probably have their secretaries do that, too.

Ben from Bleak House Books said...

I got a phone call from a guy who sounded like he was maybe 130 years old. He was calling from Bleak House's hometown and he asked if I'd be interested in taking a look at his science fiction novel that he had recently completed.

I told him that (a) we don't do science fiction, and (b) we don't take phone calls like his. He reminded me that he was from our hometown, as though that were the magic elixir to make all things better and that, having been handed that fact, I should have gotten out my contract signing pen.

He became even more agitated when I told him that didn't hold much sway either.

I have so far managed to avoid his further wrath, though I sometimes have visions of him showing up with his Civil War issue musket in a final attempt to persuade me into publishing his book.

Kit Whitfield said...

Oh boy, the 'I don't read because I don't want other writers contaminating my originality' theory.

There's a grain of truth in it, of course. Other writers do contaminate your originality. Usually they contaminate it with such foreign concepts as competent prose.

Not reading and trying to write is like trying to raise a child by locking him in a sealed chamber. His opinions will undoubtedly be original, but they won't necessarily be sound.

ec said...

I have so far managed to avoid his further wrath, though I sometimes have visions of him showing up with his Civil War issue musket in a final attempt to persuade me into publishing his book.

Heh. Okay, NOW I see the significance of the home town reference--it was a subtle way of saying, "I not only known where you work, I can get there in 20 minutes..."

i love admin assistants said...

My guess is the guy was having his secretary make these calls before writing the novel. I mean, no sense wasting time writing without a deal on the other end.

I am certain you are right. Part of my day job is to support upper managers in a big company. On the one hand, it irks me no end that they rely on their assistants for literally everything. On the other hand, it means I get to deal with the assistants instead of the managers, and about 99% of them are the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.

And, I'm sure this nitwit was going to have his secretary write the novel as well... if agents were interested in it.

Anonymous said...

I pity the assistant. If Miranda Priestly tells you to call the pope and arrange for dinner during your weekend in Rome, you pretty much have to either (a) make the calls using a pseudonym or (b) spend all day pretending to make the calls and make up fake notes.

Gabriele C. said...

I'd have told the boss that after calling 30 agents, they all told me the best place to go was Publish America.

And look for a differnet job. :)

Dave said...

After a merger, my Division (about 12 people) relocated their offices to the same hallway. I used to listen to 6, 8 or ten phones ring one after another until mine rang. It was one of the bosses looking for a live body to do useless crap. After two frustrating weeks, he bought everyone pagers and cell phones so they couldn't hide.

I feel sorry for that assistant/secretary.

Bonnie Shimko said...

I don't even call my agent. If I have a question/problem, I e-mail her. That way she can get to me when she has a minute.