When To Pick Up The Phone

In an age where many people feel more confident sending e-mails and text messages as their primary form of communication,  the telephone seems to have lost its luster. It’s a shame because sometimes picking up the phone is the best way to solve a problem. I have always been a fan of the telephone and recognize how useful a tool it can be as a communication tool, so I use it frequently.

As an editor, much of my correspondence with my authors is written. I send edit letters, line-edit manuscripts, and send e-mails following up on questions from my authors. However, there always comes a point where we pick up the phone and talk it out. I find that those moments are some of the most productive moments in the life of a book.

After having several productive phone calls with authors over the past few weeks, I remembered what a wonderful tool the telephone is and figured I would give some suggestions on when to just pick up the phone and have a conversation.

Pick up the phone and fix your plot!

That sounds a lot easier than it actually is, but if you reach a point where you have exchanged multiple e-mails with your editor/agent about one of their editorial comments, it might be time to pick up the phone. E-mail can only take you so far. I had a call with an author recently about a plot point that we had exchanged numerous e-mails discussing. We were so close to finding a solution, but the back and forth of e-mail was stifling our creativity. I set up a call with the author to discuss the issue and after 10 minutes of brainstorming on the phone, we had come up with a completely new solution.

Many authors are members of critique groups and use their group meetings to discuss what is working and what isn’t working in a manuscript. Think of a phone call with your editor as a one-on-one critique group. You can pass ideas back and forth without having to wait several hours for a response to an e-mail. Many times an author and I are on the right track to solving an issue, but by the time I receive a response to my thoughts, my brain has moved on to the next item on my to-do list. By having a set amount of time to have a real conversation, my focus will only be on the manuscript at hand.

Set a phone date

This post is advocating picking up the phone and talking things out, but sometimes just picking up the phone can be difficult. If you reach a point where you want to have a phone call, send your editor/agent an e-mail letting them know what you need to talk about and when you’d like to have the call. As I mentioned above, I love having phone calls with my authors, but I also want to be as prepared as possible for the call. I want to give my authors my complete attention when on the phone with them. Setting up a time ensures that I won’t have interruptions and gives me time to adequately prepare for the conversation. I’m not saying that you should never call your editor out of the blue, but if you are looking for a longer editorial discussion, take the time to set up a scheduled call. On that note, if you call your editor and they don’t answer, leave a message or send an e-mail about why you called. Many of us have caller ID and know when you’ve called. Don’t be afraid to leave a message. We’ll respond.

One final thought, I previously wrote a post about sending authors their edit letter. At the end, I remind authors to take their time with the edits before picking up the phone. That advice is still true. The telephone is a great tool, but I recommend hiding your phone until after you’ve processed your edit letter. Send your editor a quick e-mail saying that you received the letter and will get back to them with your thoughts after you’ve read it.

There you have it! E-mail is quick and easy, but the phone can be the most useful tool in your editor/author relationship. Don’t be afraid! Pick it up!

8 Responses to When To Pick Up The Phone

  1. Jessica Knauss Sep 18 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Ease of communication is the most important thing in an editing relationship. If they need to talk, I really appreciate when clients not only schedule a call but also explain what they need to talk about. Otherwise, I’m left wondering whether it’s worthwhile, so thanks for mentioning that!

    • thejordache
      thejordache Sep 18 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks for reading! Communication is so important in an editorial relationship, so letting your editor know exactly what you need to discuss is key to having productive conversations.

  2. stephanie garber
    stephanie garber Sep 18 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Great post! I don’t have an editor yet, but when that happens I’m definitely going to keep this advice in mind. Thanks so much!

    • thejordache
      thejordache Sep 18 2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Happy to be of help!

  3. Cassandra Sep 18 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    As a freelance editor, I can totally relate to sometimes just needing real-time conversation. I usually get all worked up about phone chats as I’m *sure* I’ll turn into a bumbling idiot if I can’t type my answers, but I’m always pleasantly surprised about how much can be accomplished. Doing video chats and having the MS there on the screen does wonders to help too.

    My writing group and I meet weekly for video conference chats and those are so much more fun and productive than forum posts! We get stuff done relating to our books and we get to know one another much more than we would have with just avatars and emails.

    • thejordache
      thejordache Sep 18 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Face to face or voice to voice interaction is a key part of the editorial process. I’m a big fan of critique groups being a place to learn how to adapt to feedback and thoughts from other readers.

  4. Kirsty in London Sep 19 2013 at 1:55 am #

    So true that a 2-minute conversation can replace a dozen email exchanges! Thanks for the post, Jordan.

    One thing I’m curious about — do editors and agents ever use Skype to connect with their writers (or with each other?). In reading many “how I got THE CALL to discuss representation” stories by writers, never once have I seen Skype mentioned, even when the call was scheduled in advance. Would have thought it was a better way for agents/editors to “meet” writers in the first instance? Is it just not widely used in the industry?

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