An Important Skill for Writers: The Gentle Follow-Up


By Terry Whalin 
@terrywhalin

The publishing world is full of things which drop through the cracks. Your ability to use the gentle follow-up is a critical skill to acquire and use. Repeatedly in my years in publishing, I have used the gentle follow-up to keep things from getting stalled and not happening. 

As an editor, several years ago I was headed to a large conference where I wanted to sell some books. I rushed my book through the process and even had a case of books dropped shipped from the printer to the conference. At the event, I sold some copies. Then I received an email from one of those people who bought my book. She asked, “Are you going to fix the typos in this book?” I could have ignored the email, but I asked for more specifics. To my horror, I learned there were many typos in my published book. I engaged a proofreader and paid to have the type on this book reset. Thankfully all of this happened before the book’s publication date. My gentle follow-up with this reader saved me a great deal of future heartache.

Let’s face reality. Mistakes happen in publishing and as an author you need to be actively engaged in getting everything into excellent shape. Recently I received a book with the word Foreword misspelled on the cover (Forward). This word was spelled correctly on the interior pages but not on the cover.  The authors or someone in the publishing process could have fixed this error but I will not be writing these authors because the book has been published.

I understand the esteem writers hold editors and agents (since I’ve been a part of this group for years). Unfortunately, this esteem creates some fear for the writers to follow-up with these professionals. In this article, I want to encourage you to use the gentle follow-up.

Notice the key adjective in my title: gentle. Why gentle? From my decades in publishing, I understand there are many moving pieces in the process. I have high personal goals to accomplish a great deal every day. Yet I would be the first to admit many things are not accomplished and left undone when I stop each day. You can’t know the pressure or personal situations for each editor or agent who you are approaching. Maybe they have been traveling. Maybe they have been ill or tied up in a personal crisis with a child or a last-minute book project. As you approach these gatekeepers, understand they have a lot of pitches and manuscripts. If you ask for a quick response, you will probably get the answer you don’t want: “no, thank you.” I’ve found that “yes” takes time.

If several weeks or a couple of months have passed with no response, it is appropriate to check in with a brief email to see if they received your submission. Was it lost and you need to resend it? Notice my questions and focus are gentle and not accusing anyone or pushing for a decision. Technology isn’t perfect and things do get lost sometimes and need to be resent. 

With this gentle follow-up I didn’t call or text my editor or agent. The phone or a text is more of an in-your-face action where the receiver can respond to their email whenever they can answer.

This gentle follow-up skill is not just for book submissions. I used it recently with a magazine editor I was trying to reach. As long as you are not pushing for a decision, your follow-up shows your professionalism (and persistence). Both of these qualities are a critical aspect of the publishing business. 

Every writer needs to acquire this important skill. Like any skill, you have to exercise it on a regular basis. Your tone and words are important so handle it with care and you will improve your communication and respect from your fellow professionals. Many people forget publishing is a communication business and the gentle follow-up is good communication. 

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According to this prolific editor and writer, one of the most important skills for every writer is the gentle follow-up. Learn the details here.

W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. Get Terry’s recent book, 10 Publishing Myths for only $10, free shipping and bonuses worth over $200. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com. Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

12 comments:

Karen Cioffi said...

Thanks for sharing this article about gently following up. Most authors don't realize that mistakes happen in books even with big publishers. Years ago I reviewed children's books for two publishing houses. One picture book (for young kids) on math had an addition error in it. I let my contact know about the error. Knowing how to gently communicate with others is a valuable skill.

Terry Whalin said...

Karen

Good communication can be challenging for all of us. We need to be wise in our emails.

Terry

Nina said...

Thank you, great article!

Terry Whalin said...

Nina,

Thank you for this feedback.

Terry

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Oh, dear. My comment must have gotten lost. I love the term "gentle reminder." In my early book publishing days I heard so often we shouldn't recontact anyone after the initial work was done. It was only later at a writers conference I presented at that fellow presenter Michael Larson told us that we must treat our writing as business and follow up. I think many of us still worry. "Gentle" does the trick!
Best,
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Terry Whalin said...

Carolyn,

Great comment. I've known Michael Larsen for many years and been to his home in San Francisco several times. What writers don't realize or understand is even the gatekeepers (editors and agents) can make mistakes such as never receiving the submission or getting it stuck in their inbox and not processing it. A gentle follow-up inquring about it is not offensive but keeps things moving forward. Gentle is key because if it is not gentle and focused right, it's going to be a "no" or rejection.

Terry

Linda Wilson said...

`Thank you for your helpful article on gentle follow-ups, Terry. Your advice is spot on and very helpful.

Terry Whalin said...

Linda,

Thank you for the feedback. Without the gentle follow-up, many things can fall through the cracks and not happen.

Terry

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@TerryWhalin, right! "No," "Rejection," or "Silence." This is a great reminder even for authors who have been around a while.
Hugs,
Carolyn

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Terry,

As I coach writers, I'm always reminding them to follow up. Most are hesitant to do this for one reason on another. Thanks for the reminder. I will tell my clients to read this post.

Suzanne

Terry Whalin said...

Suzanne,

Thank you for this comment. I understand the hesitation to speak to the powerful editor or agent--but if they do it gently with something like "checking to see if you got my submission?" then it will be helpful rather than harmful.

Terry

Debra Eckerling said...

Ahhh.. The follow up: one of the most important - though least adored - actions in any business. Thanks for gentle nudge for gentle followups.

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