Ask the Editor Series, Q15
Q: I asked my editor if we could chat on the phone instead of using email, and she said no! The nerve of her. Why doesn’t she want to talk to me?
A1: It’s not just you; she doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
A2: On the rare occasion that a phone call is necessary, it can be helpful, but overall, it only complicates things. Here’s why.
Today, we can communicate easier and faster than ever before. If email isn’t fast enough, there’s always text or private messages.
For some people, only a voice-to-voice communication will do. And that’s where the problems often arise.
What’s the matter with a simple phone call?
There are some who prefer a phone call—or “real contact” as they’d consider it—to anything computerized. We’ve all gotten lost in the “press 1 for this option” menus that never allow us to state our case to a live human. Sometimes only a human voice will do on the other end of the line, and robot menus are frustrating.
But I’m sure we all know at least one person who still prefers to call us, even to communicate a simple answer or meeting time, rather than shooting a quick text. “I’d just rather hear the voice of a real person,” they’re known to say. In other words, they want to call for no good reason.
Those people are often extroverts to some degree. Not all of them, perhaps, but many. For an introvert, or for someone who is used to working alone (many editors fit into both groups), a phone call can be something they dread, and need to mentally prep themselves for.
But I only have a few questions
I’m not a huge fan of the business phone call. No matter how simple it should be, it always ends up more complicated, or off-track from the original purpose. And it almost always takes a lot longer than you’d think it should.
The few times I’ve had to speak to a client on the phone, I’ve enjoyed the person while simultaneously regretting my decision to do a phone call. I do need to stress that in all three instances (yes, only three phone calls in seven years of being in business) I really did like the authors. They were wonderfully pleasant people, and under social circumstances, I might have passed a pleasant hour over a cup of coffee.
However, the business phone call needs to be focused and brief. To keep it that way, the client needs to have questions written out ahead of time, and if those questions involve any research or deep thought whatsoever, they should be sent to the editor prior to the call. Otherwise, one “simple” phone call will turn into two or more.
How much time should I plan for?
The phone call can vary from 15 minutes to a full hour, depending. A developmental editor may include a one-hour phone consultation as part of the job. A copyeditor may consider 15 minutes to be enough for the types of questions at that stage of editing.
The hardest part is cutting off the time when it’s up. There are editors who excel at this. They’re great at saying, “We only have five minutes remaining, so what do you consider the one question you must ask before we wrap up?”
Let me tell you, I’m not one of those people. I’m pretty terrible about cutting people off, even when it’s inconvenient for me to remain on the line. Blame it on a family who didn’t respect my time boundaries, blame it on me not wanting to appear rude, blame it on the phase of the moon. Whatever it is, I’m bad at it.
What are some of the most common problems?
If you really do end up needing a call, consider these issues:
- Speaking on the phone necessitates the editor keeping a written record of what’s been discussed so there is no confusion about the scope of the work, what was discussed, and what conclusions were agreed upon. This also takes extra time, as the editor is listening, answering, and writing it all down to send to you afterward. This may reduce the number of questions you can ask.
- Never ask something you can find out with an easy Google search. It wastes everyone’s time if you don’t do your end of the work.
- Never ask questions the editor has already answered on their website. You don’t have to memorize what’s there, but if you haven’t looked through pricing and services at the very least, you’re not presenting yourself as someone they’ll want to work with.
- Time zone differences. If you’re more than a few time zones away from each other, it’s just so much easier to skip the phone call and use email.
- Phone calls require a quiet space (not always readily available in a household) to eliminate diversions and interruptions, and to prevent others from hearing the conversation. Editors take your privacy seriously.
I’m sure I can think of even more reasons why I—I mean, editors in general—may not want to speak over the phone, but these are the most practical ones, rather than simple personal preferences.
Are you a phone call person? Or do you answer your text messages with a nod to yourself?
If you have any questions, don’t forget to drop a comment and
Ask Lynda the Awesomest Editor™
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6 thoughts on “My Editor Doesn’t Want to Talk to Me on the Phone!”
The lack of a ‘paper trail’ is the main reason for not doing things on a phone.
The lack of nuance on written media is a reason for doing a phone call.
Aware humans pick up a LOT more from audio, and even more from video, from others – which is why I much prefer video with my kids: even a short conversation makes it hard to miss if there’s something going on.
I would charge my regular per/hour rate for a phone call. No one would pay it. That would eliminate the problem. I will never have clients, which eliminates even more problems (I’m barely managing to take care of myself!).
Phone (preferably video) for desirable social contact; something in writing for everything else.
How do YOU charge for phone calls?
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I’m good with a mixture of medias when it comes to family or friendships. Some are great with text, some with only phone (my mother-in-law doesn’t text, but she’s brief on the phone, so it’s easy), and some are good with a combination of everything. My bestie and I try to have video chats every few weeks just to make sure we can cram as much conversation into the time we have. Plus, it’s just fun hearing each other’s voices because it makes the distance seem smaller.
For business, though, I want everything in email. I don’t want to try to listen and take notes at the same time that I’m processing an answer in my head. I also don’t want any ambiguity when it comes to what we’ve agreed on. I’ve only had a few phone calls with clients, and I was naive enough to not have a loud timer set. If I ever do another client call again (doubtful, but maaayyybe necessary someday), I will ask for questions ahead of time if possible, will make sure the client knows I have a timer, and will keep tabs on that timer. Anything beyond 15 minutes will be charged by the full hour at my hourly rate.
Experience is a great teacher – for those who will learn.
It is so easy to go longer than you think you will.
I find the video and audio chats exhausting sometimes, but still prefer them for family.
Taking notes while trying to listen isn’t likely to result in good notes! I didn’t like it in school, either.
I am absolutely an email person (I’m sure you’re SHOCKED by that revelation… 😉 ). I communicate far more clearly in writing, and I like being able to look back at what was discussed in the other person’s actual words, and not my barely-legible scribblings of notes that may or may not be accurate.
Plus, phone calls are scary.
The SO, on the other hand, makes phone calls for EVERYTHING, and gets annoyed if he can’t find a number to call. So we actually work it out quite well between us.
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That’s funny that the two of you are opposite in your approach! But that works.
I refer so often to my email communication with authors—with anyone!—that I can’t imagine having to recall from memory, or to even look somewhere different, for the information I need. Who could keep it all straight? I can’t remember whether I’ve moved the laundry to the dryer.
On the upside, you write great emails, so it’s like an entire conversation each time.
The main reason I write you emails is for the chat 😉
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