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
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