Monday, June 15, 2009

Polite Communication

Back in my younger days as an editorial assistant I quickly learned that one of the best ways to become the best I could be was to watch those around me. I paid attention not just to my bosses and how they did their work, but also to other editors. I learned not just from the good things they did, but from the bad as well, and one of the many things that has always stuck with me was the importance of communication. It always amazed me, even back then, what poor communicators so many people were and still are.

As an editor and now as a literally agent I make it a priority to be as accessible as possible to my clients as well as to editors and other professionals who call or contact me. That means that I return phone calls and emails as quickly as possible and always remind my clients that if I haven’t returned your phone call or email by the next day, or responded in some way, it’s because somewhere along the way the message was misplaced or I lost my mind. In the very first conversation I ever have with a new client this comes up and I always, always tell them to call again, that bugging me isn’t possible and that I’d rather hear from you than have you stewing at home thinking I’m ignoring your calls. The one exception to this rule are unsolicited phone pitches. While my assistant will sometimes return those calls for me I don’t and I won’t. I don’t have time to spend the 20 to 30 minutes on the phone that every unsolicited querier seems to think they are allowed to have with me when a simple letter or, hey, following our submission guidelines would do.

Unfortunately, poor communication is as alive and well today as it was 15 years ago when I started in publishing. It amazes me sometimes how often I’ll have to call or email a single editor to get an answer to one question or how often I wonder if an editor has died and maybe, just maybe no one told me. After all, ten emails and three phone calls should illicit an answer, especially when it’s pertaining to a top author.

What I wonder is how much worse this is going to get. We live in an age when text messaging is more popular than phoning, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed the damage it’s doing. People do not want to have face-to-face or phone-to-phone conversations anymore, they don’t want to actually face things head-on, feeling everything is easier via text or email. Phone skills and verbal communication are declining and, frankly, so is written communication. A text is not the same as a business letter.

I hope that someday schools catch on and start teaching more than just English grammar, but also teach proper verbal communication. Back when I was in junior high, and public schools had money for such things, we were actually required to take a speech class, which meant getting up in front of the class and giving three different speeches for grades. It was great and I think invaluable.