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Why I’m Not Afraid to be a Pest Anymore

I’m happy to report that the frequency with which I use variations on “to be a pest” is on the decline. 25 is the number of times I’ve used “Sorry to be a pest, but” since 2008. None, so far, in 2015!

I belong to several online writers’ groups in which members talk process, vent gripes, offer support, and share tips and contacts.

Certain subjects come up over and over again, and one of them is whether a writer should follow up on a quiet pitch and, if so, when: One week? Two weeks? Longer? How often should they follow up before they give up? These writers often preface their question about follow up with the same line they will inevitably use with the editor they’re hoping to hear from when they do send a follow up email:

“I don’t want to be a pest, but….”

Writers–especially women writers–worry about a lot of things, and being a pest is toward the top of that list. Most of us want to make our editors’ work easier. We don’t want to be pegged as the pain in the ass writer who gets blacklisted for being difficult. We don’t want to be the writer whose email hits the editor’s inbox and makes their eyes roll and their finger hover over “delete.”

So we decide we’re not going to follow up on a pitch we worked hours or longer to craft for an editor whose email we either trawled the bowels of the Internet to find or or leaned on our network to obtain. We shrug our shoulders and move on… because we don’t want to be a pest. Or we spend a couple days talking ourselves into and out of sending a follow up, and when we finally talk ourselves into composing that follow up after all, we open with the line, “I’m sorry to be a pest, but….”

Like a lot of things in life, you see your own shortcomings and fears only after noticing and disliking them in others. When that happens, you have to change your behavior. I got so very tired of reading “I don’t want to be a pest, but” messages that I decided I was never going to write those words together in a sentence again. I couldn’t think of any other profession where people are so servile and apologetic with their colleagues, and I didn’t want to have any part in perpetuating those dynamics.

There is no reason to feel that you are being a pest for following up to check on the status of a message you’ve sent to someone whose job it is to answer. Yes, editors are busy. Yes, they’re tasked with to-do items that shouldn’t really be part of their job description. Yes, they get hundreds of emails a day. Yes to all of that. I know that and I empathize with it because I have been an editor. But none of that means that their problem should be your problem. There’s nothing wrong–I repeat, nothing wrong–with sending a polite follow up to ask whether the editor has received your message and had a chance to consider your pitch.

“But what if they still think I’m pesky and I burn a bridge?” writers have asked when I’ve told them this. My answer, as it is to so many of the dilemmas writers create for themselves, is this: Do you really want to work with an editor who has so much trouble with the basics of communication?

Until we start valuing ourselves and our work more, and until we start expecting to be treated like the professionals we are, the dynamics of this industry will be unlikely to change. And when you start to check up on your pitches, you’ll often find editors are grateful that you’ve done so.

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2 responses »

  1. I can’t imagine bowing and scraping is a good way to establish any relationship, professional or otherwise. Whenever I read a “I don’t want to _____, but”, I automatically assume the first part of the sentence is a falsehood, e.g. “Not to offend you, but” or “I hate to be a bother, but”.

    Reply
  2. Well said. Where on earth do we learn these ‘don’t bother anyone’ things? I hope we are the last generation of women to be so ridiculously pusillanimous.

    Surely it’s helpful to remind an editor of a pitch that might have got buried under others and to make their life easier by letting them press ‘reply’, rather than searching out your email address. If it’s done lightly and efficiently, only a very odd editor would be offended. Most would be glad that you took the trouble. Surely.

    Best wishes
    Elaine

    Reply

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