Rolling with the changes

Things never stay the same at publishing houses. Offices move, editors come and go, and submissions guidelines change all the time. Within the past five years here at AWCo we’ve relocated, seen two retirements in Editorial, experienced new leadership, and have changed our submissions response policy. For a small house like us with a long history, it feels like a lot of change, but it’s often par for the course at bigger houses.

What’s the best way for writers to respond to all these changes? Don’t panic. I say this because, well, people panic sometimes. I’ve gotten the phone calls. “I submitted my manuscript to Editor X,” the caller will tell me. “But I heard she’s gone! What does that MEAN? What do I do NEXT?”

I can’t speak for other publishers, particularly the bigger houses. But a writer sending us unagented work does nothave to worry that we’ll make a big bonfire of unread submissions addressed to Editor X. Here at AWCo, submissions still come addressed to Editor X sometimes, or for Editor Y, who retired two years ago, or even Editor Q, who left sometime in the 90s. They still get read.

Having an editor’s name is helpful in that it helps your submission get to the right place in a publisher’s office. In the case of our office, an envelope with an editor’s name on it will bypass the big pile of envelopes in the editorial mail bin and go straight to . . . the big pile of envelopes in an editor’s cubicle. One pile gets read a little faster, but both still get read.

How-to-get-published guides will tell you that a cover letter sent to a real name is preferable to “Dear Sir or Madam,” and that’s still true. But an editor’s name is not a Wonka Factory Golden Ticket to the inner circle of a publishing house. To an editor, a personally addressed cover letter lets her know simply that the writer has taken time to research the company and find out her name, or else came across her name in a publication or at a conference, or found her business card on the sidewalk. None of that, of course, is nearly as important as the manuscript enclosed.

Here are some additional tips for when you learn your Editor X has retired or left the company:

  • Just call. And be calm! Just state that you would like the name of another editor to submit work to now that Editor X is no longer there. (This works better than asking for the name of “Editor X’s replacement,” because sometimes the size and structure of a department changes as staff members come and go.)
  • When in doubt, just resubmit.If you had an unsolicited manuscript on submission to a recently departed editor, you may not know for sure whether it was read. Rather than trying to get other staff members to solve the mystery, just send your story again.
  • Don’t make assumptions.One of our other editors was very surprised to get a cover letter saying, “congratulations on your promotion, now that Editor X has retired!” (Luckily she thought it was hilarious.)
  • Write the best stories you can and put your energy into understanding the market. We tend to forgive the finer points of etiquette when a story is good enough.

Good luck with your submissions!

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Rolling with the changes