You Ask, I Answer: What Do I Do When an Editor Goes AWOL After I Turn in an Assignment?
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Ann asks: I was given a deadline of the 15th February for an article for Big Magazine. I told the editor that I’d send it over early, and she replied right away, saying she was excited to read my work. I sent it as agreed, nearly 2 weeks in advance. No reply. A week later, a few days before the deadline, I emailed to make sure she’d received it. No reply. On Monday, I rang to ask if all was OK — I got her voice mail and so left a message. Nothing. I’ve heard about this happening, but had just crossed my fingers and toes hoping it wouldn’t happen to me, and here it’s happening with my first article ever.
I know editors don’t want to feel stalked, so I’m doing my best to back off and give her space to reply, but it’s also making me really nervous!
Well, if it makes you feel any better: Welcome to the club. This has happened to all of us, and it’s especially nerve-racking for new writers: You’re all excited about an article you turned in, and anxious to hear what the editor thinks — and she never gets back to you, even to let you know she received the article.
It’s Not You
Take heart in knowing that the editor is most likely not blowing you off because your article sucks so bad that she can’t even bear to send you an e-mail about it. I know this is your fear, but take it from me: If your article was beyond repair, the editor would let you know straightaway, and either ask for major revisions or offer you the kill fee. Editors are not known to be shrinking violets.
What may happen is that you simply receive a check in the mail and see your article in the magazine a few months later. This is the best-case scenario. No revisions! They loved your work!
But then there’s that middle ground, where you never hear from the editor and you don’t get a check. The contract says you’ll be paid on acceptance, but the editor takes forever to actually “accept” your work.
This happened to me with a magazine that shall remain unnamed but that rhymes with “dead book” — the editor of which took five months to look at my article and then asked me to find and interview — over the Thanksgiving holiday — three parents whose kids had transient tics or Tourette’s. (And by the way, I didn’t get paid until the following April.)
The Dating Game
Unfortunately, situations like this aren’t rare, especially in the national magazine market, because they work so far ahead of time and also because editors tend to build a lot of cushioning into their schedules just in case someone (like the writer) flakes.
So the editor may ask for your article on June 1 and not really need it until June 21 or even later. And your article languishes on her hard drive while you go crazy trying to find out if the editor liked it and when you’ll get paid.
In a case like this, if you haven’t already sent the invoice, I would do that. It’s kind of a reminder that, “Hey, I turned this in three weeks ago and I think it’s time you accepted my story so I can get paid.” You can also follow up occasionally via e-mail or leave a voicemail message, which you already did.
Unfortunately, this is just the way some editors and magazines and work. The good news is that in the majority of situations, the editor is not trying to screw you out of your pay. She just has other things on her plate and your article is not a priority right now.
Get busy with more pitches so you’re not sitting by the phone for weeks waiting for this editor to get back to you. That will make the wait much less stressful.
How about you? Have you ever turned in an article only to hear deafening silence from the editor? What did you do? How did it turn out? [lf]