The Importance of Boundaries


By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Sunday morning through LinkedIN, I got an email from a writer I met several years ago. She wasnt ready when we met to submit her work but now she is ready. She was asking if I was still interested in seeing it. I could have waited until tomorrow to answer. Instead I wrote a short response encouraging her to go ahead. A little later, I researched my email and learned I met this author in 2019 at a conference. She wasnt ready to send her submission back then but is now. Its a good thing Ive been doing this acquisitions work for over ten years with the same company. Sometimes my longevity in publishing pays off. As of this writing, she reached out but hasn’t sent anything (which is another key part of the process).

I work in my home office and you can easily have no boundaries or parameters around when you work and when you dont. Some of my publishing colleagues are difficult to reach and slow to answer email or return phone calls. Ive gone a different direction in this area and a number of people have told me that Im one of the most accessible people in publishing. My personal email address is in my Twitter profile because I want people to reach me. 

I love my work in publishing–not all of it but most of it. The authors and people who work with me know that I will often answer emails late at night or early in the morning or on the weekends–outside of the normal work hours.

I have other friends and colleagues who create stricter boundaries in this area. They dont respond to work emails after hours or on the weekends. When others look in at my work, it doesn’t seem like I have any boundaries–but I do. It is rare that I do much work after 5:30 pm. If I have an intense writing deadline, I may write more pages late at night but in general, after 5:30 pm, I stop working for the night. Its my family time and a solid boundary related to my work. 

Some of my quick actions come from my love of the work. Also some emails are easier to go ahead and answer, rather than have them hanging around for an answer. Other times I will draft something, then hold the email in my draft folder until later in the day or the next day–just to make sure I’ve written the right details.

My emails are intentionally short and to the point. Also part of my reasoning for answering quickly is that I understand as a writer and editor that I am in the communication business. Yet many people in this communication business do not communicate. As a writer, I would approach editors or agents and never get a response or get a response weeks or months after I sent it. It’s true we get a lot of email and submissions, but from my years of reviewing these pitches, it does not take weeks or even months to make a decision. Often in a matter of minutes, I can make a decision about a submission. The key is taking the time to respond. At Morgan James Publishing, we acknowledge every submission with a printed letter in the mail–even though each year we receive over 5,000 submissions and only publish about 200 books a year. Why make such an effort? Because making such an effort is good communication with the writing comnmunity.

As someone who has consistently processed submissions for years, one of the keys is to be organized and keep working at processing the submissions. It is an organization skill which every editor needs to develop. It’s the same skill used to write and finish a book. It happens because you have a word count for the day or the week that you are going to consistently do. These blog articles don’t happen without consistent effort. The lack of response shows me the editor isnt organized. The longer it takes to get back to the author, Ive found it less likely the author will be interested in working with you to publish their book. The reverse is also true, the earlier you can process it, the more likely they will come with you. 

As a writer, if you arent getting responses to your pitches (book or magazine), then maybe you aren’t pitching the right person. A great deal of publishing is tied to something outside of your control–timing. I encourage each of you to keep expanding your connections in the market and keep pitching to finally connect with the right person to publish your work. It’s not an easy process but takes consistent work for it to happen.

What boundaries have you set in your writing life? Let me know in the comments below. 

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