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I (don’t) wanna hold your hand: Thoughts on writers taking responsibility for their work

I hope you know that I value and am wholly committed to supporting other writers. I mentor several people, both formally and informally, and the role I play in the professional development of my mentees is something I take seriously.

But I’m sick and tired of writers who don’t take responsibility for themselves or their work and this is the salvo I’m issuing to them: I don’t wanna hold your hand.

Earlier this week, I received a pitch from a writer/photographer who included more than 40 links in his email and suggested he could write about a “variety of topics,” going on to list all of those topics. I have a decent attention span, but I was spent by the time I finished reading that message.

Not wanting to be rude, I replied that I’d be happy to consider a pitch if he could refine his approach by paring his query down to one or two specific ideas. I recommended he review our submission guidelines. I further requested that he do basic due diligence and check our archives to ensure that his query was a subject we hadn’t covered before or from the same angle he was proposing.

Hours later, he replies with two fistfuls of ideas (instead of one or two I’d requested) and the somewhat curt “Your archive function doesn’t work so I couldn’t check.” Major fail. One: You didn’t do what I asked. Two: The archive function DOES work. And I double checked it to be sure.

I’m sorry, but if you can’t follow basic instructions, I’m not interested in working with you.

The expectation that online publications will somehow be more flexible and more forgiving with respect to adhering to professional standards is just misguided. I’m not going to hold your hand. Approach with professionalism or don’t play the game.


21 responses »

  1. Wow that blows my mind! I really assumed that any writer approaching a new market would scrutinize the contributor’s guidelines so they don’t appear like a total idiot. I am guessing he could benefit from MatadorU 🙂

    • I know, Amiee. You’d think that. But it’s really amazing how many people don’t read or follow clearly stated submission guidelines at all.

      In a sense, though, that makes those of us who do read carefully and follow directions a huge advantage. Our submissions and e-mails stand out (in a good way).

    • Yes, you’re right, he’d definitely benefit from the U. Sadly, I think the level of self-importance is such that he wouldn’t consider it.

  2. Word, Julie.

    I mean, how presumptuous to think the editor your asking to publish your work should take the time to do your work for you. In which case, why wouldn’t you just do the article without his help.

    It’s good advice you give here to any writer. Do as much footwork as you can. Same goes for any corrections and comments the editor has.

    I had a recent submission in which I sent corrections to the author. She wrote back pretty much telling me she didn’t want to make the changes. Ok, now I have two choices. Either ditch the article or make them myself.

    So to the back of the submissions line that article goes because I have a long list of other contributors who are willing to work with me.

    I also hate to sound harsh, but time is short.

    • Leigh-

      Not only is time short, I want to invest it in people who are good writers but who could be exceptional writers with some curating and tending. One day, I’ll write about Eric Lewis’ original submission to Matador (I think I might have written about this already, but I’ve been thinking about it so long, I may just feel like I wrote it). He “came correct,” as David likes to say (meaning he did his homework), but the piece just felt kind of distant and flat- I couldn’t see Eric in it or get a sense of what the “stake” was in the piece. I wrote him back, declining the article. He replied, asking if I had any specific feedback. I decided to be completely honest and he thanked me, saying he felt that he’d been freed to write the piece he really wanted to write as the result of my feedback. Wow- total stoke. Now, when I’m completely honest with my feedback, I usually get the same response; it’s incredible.

      Anyhow, Eric went on to write this amazing piece and we had this wonderful writer-editor relationship develop and I just felt so great about it afterward.

      I’d rather work with the Erics of the world, know what I mean?

  3. What I fail to understand is where all this arrogance/curt attitude comes from-especially when dealing with an editor. I know editors can be extremely impatient at times but at the end of the day, editors are busy people and need to feel appreciated once in a while! Also, for a writer-editor dynamic,I think the “I-know-more-than-you” attitude is in bad taste. Whether a writer likes it or not, an editor’s decision is final. So instead of sending 40 odd links, she/he should spend her energy actually following instructions and studying the publication carefully.

    • Reeti-
      You’re right. Writers’ arrogance seems to convey the message “I’m such a stellar writer that I should be published anywhere!”

      Even the best writers’ work won’t be appropriate for every publication, and that’s where due diligence can go a long way!

  4. Oh, the title of this makes me laugh.

    I think, more than anything, it’s just being out of touch with the reality of thing. Not knowing what the heck you’re doing, or who you’re approaching.

    Which is why they need Cuaderno Inedito: A Managing Editor’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together.

  5. Julie, I think you are an amazing mentor (and I totally consider you one of mine, just fyi 🙂 ) who does just the right amount of “hand holding”!

  6. Oh, the things you must see…you’d think the lesson is simple. Make the editor’s job as easy as possible for them.

    • I don’t even really care about easy. What I want to see is that the writer really gives a damn about his or her own craft, not only the writing part, but the entire process.

      • Maybe that didn’t come across properly…I didn’t mean to say that editors don’t want to do any work, just that there is so much work, whatever a writer can do to minimize that is helpful and appreciated. And yes, most important is that the editor sees the writer actually cares and makes that effort, and not make the editor feel like they’re wasting their time.

  7. Julie – I have loads of ideas that I just know you need to consider. I’ll post a link on my blog for you to track down and click on, which will take you to my massive list of killer ideas. Just have a browse, and let me know which ones you want. As long as “Glossy Prestige Travel” doesn’t want them, they are yours. Please do this by Tuesday 6 am (my time), otherwise I’ll assume you don’t want to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. Thanks.

    • Oh, Nick, I’ve actually received pitches like that. Please let me know by 6 AM my time! Seriously.

    • Haha. The “my time” is key. Don’t want to confuse the editor and have them miss the deadline!

      • I know, if editors started missing deadlines, where would we writers be? (Sadly, Julie did miss the deadline. I can only assume she didn’t read the editors’ guidelines closely enough, and thought I meant 6 am her time.)

  8. Finally browsing some older articles in my RSS Feed and found this one – delightful and OMG so true!

    I get a fair share of off-base, arrogant, and inappropriate pitches (almost daily) but here’s the one that really gets me wanting to just slap the silly out of someone…..

    On my site I specifically ask for advisory articles from professional, experienced writers & bloggers – I emphasize and bold the “professional, experienced” part….

    But daily I get queries from some brand-spankin’ newbie who wants to guest blog for me ……so, wait – let me get this straight – you have NO education in writing or journalism or communication, NO experience at all as a writer, never been published anywhere, have only JUST started a free blog on and have all of one or two posts under your belt, and you want to give ADVICE to other writers and bloggers? Seriously??

    Un-effing-believable. My challenge then as an editor (and writer) is to craft a reasonably polite “no. thank. you.” Some days it’s very difficult.

    • papertrail23

      Oh dear, I feel a post coming on about writing rejection letters. I feel you. Reasonably polite “No thank you’s” are really tough.


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