Few writers know this, but Editorial Assistants (EAs) are the gatekeepers of publishing. In the world of towering slush piles and deep agented-submissions bins, EAs are often the first to look at submissions. They screen calls and fend off anxious authors and would-be authors. In book publishing (and, I would guess, magazine publishing as well), the proper care and feeding of Editorial Assistants is the key to gaining an Editor’s attention and developing a solid relationship with your publisher. Following these tips from the front may make all the difference between rejection and acceptance, avoidance and attention.
– Understand the psychology. EAs think like this: it is my job to protect my boss’ time. It’s really that simple. Editors are ridiculously busy with many aspects of the business in addition to acquiring and editing, so the role of the Gatekeeper is paramount.
– Make sure your submission is professional. Chocolates are like free address labels – they’re nice, but no one thinks, “I should reciprocate and give this extra attention.î I once reviewed a submission for a children’s book that consisted of a boring query letter written in crayon and a sheet of stickers. My boss and I worked in the Adult Trade division. I rejected the query with a form letter and enjoyed the stickers. Bottom line: if the EA isn’t impressed, she won’t want to waste her boss’ time (and make herself look bad) by passing on your work for review. So polish your writing and research your intended market. Carefully edit your material. Use sturdy, clean paper and a readable typeface. And make sure you spell the Editor’s name correctly on all correspondence.
– Make sure you are professional. Do not call twice a week, once a week, or even every other week to see if your submission has been read yet. You may call once to make sure your package was received, and you may also call to check in once a month thereafter. EAs sift through hundreds of submissions weekly to find those worthy of their bosses’ attention. EAs also write Reader Reports that summarize a submission’s content and give an informed opinion. If you harass the EA, her report will include how annoying and rude you are. There are thousands of hopeful writers and very few Dr. Phils and Stephen Kings. No editor wants to sign a difficult author unless the work is just too good to pass up – and very few are that good.
– Treat your EA like a partner. EAs organize their boss’ schedules, participate in the production process, and keep tabs on pending issues. If you have a question, the EA will usually be the one to provide the answer. Establish a friendly rapport with your EA early on. Always be polite. Ask thoughtful questions. Show that you are invested in your success as a published author. These behaviors will earn your EA’s respect, and she will be more likely to go that extra mile for you – especially when it involves getting something you need, or pulling your Editor away from a hectic day to talk to you. If you treat your EA like a secretary, she will simply take your message and promise that someone will get back to you… eventually.
– Be realistic. While you are concerned with only one book, your Editor and EA are managing several. So if you call or email, give them some time to get back to you. It may take them multiple calls to different departments to get the information you need or pass on the suggestions you’ve offered. There are also marketing meetings, staff meetings, business lunches, reading periods, editing sessions, phone calls, paperwork, research efforts, and many other components that make up a work day. Publishing is a big, complex business – you can’t take it personally that you aren’t first on everyone’s list. There is a difference between polite reminders and foot stomping: if you call once, the EA will keep reminding your Editor until he or she calls you back; if you call five times a day, the EA will probably only bother your Editor about it once.
So while your ultimate goal may be to reach an Editor, don’t forget about the Editorial Assistant who answers the phone. She just may get your submission read, your questions answered, your concerns heard, and your book published more successfully, with more of your input.
Allyson E. Peltier is a writer, editor and consultant with her Editorial Assistant days far behind her. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Circle magazine, Absolute Write newsletter, and J3tlag.com. You can learn more about her publishing experience and professional services at http://www.ambitiousenterprises.com and http://www.mediabistro.com/AllysonEPeltier.