What Is Happening to Editors’ Manners?!

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Dear Angela,

I am curious to know your take on a situation I have encountered the last few months with publications–their editors, in particular–whose “writers wanted” ads I have responded to after seeing them listed in WritersWeekly’s jobs and opportunities.

The issue is this: professional courtesy and timeliness in responding to e-mail and returning phone calls.

The context: For more than 20 years, I have been a professional journalist (for the Washington Post and other newspapers/magazines) and author of four nonfiction books. So I am not “new” at dealing with editors, and have even worked as senior editor for a large (900+ staff, annual budget over $100 million) international health consulting organization.

Problem 1: After expressing interest in the articles I proposed to (a magazine), and telling me to follow up again in May, I had no further response from the editor despite three e-mails over the course of a month. Finally yesterday, I had a response when I e-mailed a fourth time, and said it didn’t seem he was interested in the articles as he hadn’t responded in more than a month after encouraging me to follow up. I said I would feel obliged to let other writers know of my experience. He finally wrote back, saying I had compromised my own professionalism by getting frustrated enough to complain, and of course saying he now doesn’t want the articles. I replied that my professionalism isn’t the issue, but his lack of communication and follow-through is the problem.

Problem 2: The editor of an HIV informational website whose ad WritersWeekly ran in March, expressed interest in contracting me to assist her in getting out from under the mountain of work she said she’s had since her assistant left. From the time she took nearly a month to respond to my initial e-mail–despite indicating she needed freelancers “immediately”–this editor has been extremely unreliable as far as answering e-mail or returning calls after weeks. We had a “come to Jesus” phone conversation a few weeks ago during which she said “not every writer needs as much hand-holding as you”–to which I replied that it’s not “hand-holding” we are talking about, but professional courtesy and communication. As with the (magazine) editor, I am appalled by communications professionals who don’t communicate in an effective way with the professional writers they have led to believe they want to work with and value because–in the case of (the website)–I have more than 20 years of reporting on HIV-AIDS and have authored an award-winning history of the epidemic, which is to say “specialized” experience not found everywhere.

I don’t believe I am being unreasonable in expecting editors with whom I have established a relationship, even if it is a new one, to respond to messages and phone calls following up on work we have discussed.

Or did I miss the memo saying that such rude, unprofessional behavior is suddenly to be tolerated–like so much else nowadays–as some sort of bizarre offshoot of “the recession”? My own experience on the “other side” as a former senior editor–with freelance writers, editors, translators, and printers calling on me–leads me to think my own sense of what is professional behavior is different, maybe on a different (higher?) level than what I have been dealing with lately.

What do you think? Is this something others complain about?

Thanks for your kind consideration.

Best wishes,

John


Yes, I have received complaints like this over the years.

First, spam filters are sometimes the culprits for missed communication.

Second, there are so many so-called writers willing to work for almost free now that editors are taking us all for granted. They not only can get away with ignoring our correspondence (there’s another 1,000 writers lined up to take our job if we don’t like it) but, sadly, many are lowering their pay rates because they know how cheap the craft is becoming. It seems many care more about money than quality now.

Third, as you know, people will write something in an email that they would never say to someone’s face. The longer this goes on, the worse their manners seem to get.

WRITER SENDS FOLLOW-UP:

Thanks for your response, Angela. I suspected my frustrating experience with discourtesy and non-communication from editors wasn’t unusual–but it’s always helpful to compare notes.

What you say about so-called writers willing to work for almost free is THE reason I decided, two years ago, to pursue some other way to earn my “bread and butter” rather than rely on my freelance writing and editorial consulting work. Honestly, I made more money for articles 20 years ago than I could make today. I don’t know how anyone could support her/himself on, say, 5 cents/word. It’s obscene. I value my time too much to settle for that. I decided to continue writing about things I care about, but not to rely on it for my living.

At any rate…thanks again and thank you for WritersWeekly!

Best wishes,

John