It’s so easy to forget to consider picking up the phone and calling a publication to find out who an assigning editor is.  With all of the non-verbal forms of communication–tweets, pokes, texts,which are great and definitely serve their purpose when necessary–picking up the telephone isn’t always a priority.  But writers shouldn’t overlook how useful the phone can be.  Especially when it comes to finding out information on the submission guidelines for a magazine.  This information may not always be listed on the publication’s website and mastheads may not always be up-to-date.  So, the phone is still a powerful tool for writers to use.

Here’s what I learned from a little experiment I conducted today.  I decided to call a few publications I’ve been eyeing lately.  And get this, I spoke to an actual person in all but one case.  One publication’s phone number took me through a series of prompts that eventually gave me the information I wasn’t able to find online, which was instructions for writers on how to submit queries.  On my other calls, I spoke with an operator who transferred me to the editorial department (But, be sure to ask the operator who you’re being transferred to and get a first and last name—I’ll share with you why a little later).

And although I mostly had to leave voice mail messages, I was able to speak with two editors. One provided me with an email to forward my clips and query.  The other editor asked “What, story do you have in mind?”  While I was temporarily thrown for a loop because I was just calling in to get a who and a where I can send queries to directly, I didn’t consider being asked to pitch an idea over the phone.  Thankfully, I was familiar with the stories of that publication, and I had a story I felt would work.  So I did a brief pitch over the phone and she asked that I expand on the idea a bit more and email it to her for consideration.

I may not get a story sold on my first try.  But I believe that by picking up the phone I made some really good impressions today.  And by submitting some solid pitches I am confident that I will be able to sell a story to the editors I spoke with today.  The lesson for me was that it doesn’t hurt to call in and ask—you just have to be prepared and sound confident (even if you’re scared of getting rejected in-person rather than in an email).

Here are some useful tips to encourage you to consider calling a publication:

  1. Prepare Yourself: Make sure you have an idea of the publication’s readership before you call.  Because as I just found out today you may be put in the position to prove to an editor that you know the magazine by pitching an idea over the phone.  So have some ideas in your mind just in case and wrap it up with a simple statement like “I’d love to clean this idea up a little more and email it to you along with some clips of similar work that I’ve done.”
  2. Fight Your Jitters: If you’re nervous about calling publications, I would suggest having a short script that basically describes why you’re calling, so you’re not fumbling over your words during the call.  The more you call magazine offices the less fearful you’ll become of speaking with someone over the phone.  And before you know it you won’t need your script.  Being a nervous wreck on the phone, you may ramble and forget to leave either your name, e-mail and phone number when transferred to an editor’s voice mail.  So, while you’re thinking you’ve been rejected it may just be that an editor or his assistant has no way of getting back to you.
  3. Be Organized: Keep track of the date that you’ve called a publication and left a voice mail.  So, you can call back the office and follow-up.  And maybe this time you’ll be able to speak with the editor.
  4. Don’t Rely on Your Memory: Write names down, especially when you’re being transferred to someone’s voice mail.  Always ask who you’re being transferred to.  So, if you get voice mail, in addition to leaving a message you can do an online search for the editor’s email address for follow-up later (and be sure to preface your email with the fact that you called and left a message, and even include a pitch idea).

There are many ways to get information and relying only on the Web can slow you down when it comes to identifying the right people to send queries off to.  Sometimes picking up the phone and asking for information can have surprisingly faster results than searching the Internet for the same information that you can get by speaking to someone.  Give it a try!