We cordially invite you to a new column that will help you avoid gaffes and snafus and guide you in what to do when you don’t have a clue what is expected of you. This is a column where writers, editors, and other literary types can air their questions and pet peeves. We won’t be limited to publishing questions and concerns: we are happy to help out with the variety of predicaments and irritants that may come your way throughout your literary endeavors.
Each month you will be invited to submit your queries, complaints and accusations (no, not personal ones!) of failures of etiquette on Twitter or Facebook, and we will select a few for investigation by our team of experts whose qualifications include literary acclaim, publishing experience, and/or just a refined sense of rude and wrong.
So come in, have a seat. Cross your legs, take your elbows off that table, and let’s begin by introducing you to our experts as they address this month’s question:
WHEN ARE THANK YOU NOTES NECESSARY?
“I’m going to assume you’re asking this question in a professional context. As we all know, thank you notes are necessary in nearly every aspect of social life – hence the old joke, “Why do Junior Leaguers so rarely attend orgies?” “Too many thank you notes to write!” Preppy orgies aside, most of us are not as attentive to thank you notes as we should be, whether in our personal or work lives.
It may be useful to turn your question around and ask, “When are thank you notes NOT necessary?” They’re not needed in situations where you don’t care if the other person ever hires you, or gives you an assignment, or mentions you without spitting and cursing. They’re not needed if you are leaving the country, or faking your own death and assuming a new identity. They’re not needed if the other person has been sleeping with your spouse behind your back.
Otherwise, they are necessary. They should be written and sent more or less immediately after the event for which you are thankful (job interview, lunch with potential editor or agent, drinks or book launch). As in social life, the professional thank you note should be brief, specific, and sincere. They are best written in ink on decent stationery (though pre-printed “thank you” notes are acceptable if they don’t make you look like a fool); a box of blank folded notes or flat cards, marked with your initial or monogram, is an excellent investment even the most destitute freelancer can afford. It may just land you a job.”
-Lulu Manchester is a literary critic and journalist. After several years serving as managing editor of online magazines and academic reference works, she is left with plenty of opinions and no employees to yell at about them.
“Always nice to send a note thanking the editor after you’ve been published in a journal. I remember one writer mailed me a beautiful hand-painted card that must have taken her hours. At the very least send an email of thanks after you receive a copy of the issue. Me, I sent a bottle of Macallan’s to the fiction editor of a major magazine after he published a story of mine, and he was impressed. He said Henry Luce’s granddaughter came by to visit and shared the scotch, and thereafter he kept his house stocked with Macallan’s. I wish I had a comparable anecdote, but I don’t move in those circles.”
-Crusty Fartlek is a fiction writer and used to edit a lit mag.
“While many thank-yous (for the surprise party, the baby gift, the wedding present) are pro forma, it’s when our non-Martha Stewart acts of generosity are acknowledged that we understand ourselves as appreciated beings in this world. Has someone read your manuscript/ recommended you for something/ helped you out of a pickle? Express your gratitude. It matters. Ask any writer who has ever received a fan letter saying thank you for your story/poem/novel; those are the notes that don’t end up in the recycling bin. (And yes, if you don’t want to travel on the last legs of the U.S. postal service, an email will do.) ”
–Penelope Peacock is a writer of short stories, novels, book reviews, and magazine articles, all of which she has managed to publish without burning bridges or creating mortal enemies. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has taught literature, composition, and creative writing at the college and graduate levels for nearly twenty years. Though known for being easy-going, she is in fact highly judgmental.
“Do you have to thank someone? That depends – are you grateful?
If so, then, yes.
Chances are, especially if you were not raised by feral canines, you are appreciative to those who have offered you a kindness or helped you in some way. But those people will never know about your gratitude if you don’t tell them.
Which means you must send a thank you note. Remember, like treason and fraud, there is no statute of limitations on sending a thank you note. Don’t be embarrassed if you think too much time has passed. I can assure that the second grade teacher who helped you write your first poem would be thrilled to receive a (grammatically correct) note from you.
Likewise, dropping a line to the editor who published your most recent work is a great idea, too. Treating an editor like an actual person, recognizing his or her humanity! What a wholly unexpected surprise that would be!
In our fast-paced world, an email is the most convenient way to express you thanks. If that has been your primary means of communication with the thankee, then that’s acceptable.
But if at all possible – AT ALL POSSIBLE – the thank you note should be hand-written. It needn’t be long or even that legible, just make sure your gratitude is sincere.
The small effort you put into finding a pen and a stamp will have a magically uplifting impact on the person receiving the note, especially an editor. He or she may even smile.”
-Anna Graham is a woman of experience. She has read and observed widely. She is young enough to sympathize with love’s young dream. She will answer, to the best of her ability, all letters on subjects pertaining to manners.
“The thing to remember is that the literary community is a small world. Through each interaction, however small, you are building (or destroying!) relationships. If you query someone about advice or ask for a favor, and they take the time to respond to you, it is terribly thoughtless, and likely foolish, to not respond with an acknowledgment and a thank you. Failing to do so is rude and may end a possibly interesting correspondence or connection that could have been maintained.
Or has someone hosted you at a reading, which they likely organized, promoted, got refreshments for? Did they wrestle sound systems, lights, bureaucracies that got you an honorarium or a nice meal? Did they drive you around? Take you to the drugstore when you needed some allergy medicine? Thank them, no question! Because they’ll remember you for next time, and because it’s the right thing to do.
It is important to remember that most of the people providing services in our community are unpaid or underpaid and are writers, too. They probably could have spent the time writing instead of helping you. Or maybe they would have watched television or eaten their final stash of Twinkies. Who are we to judge? The point is, they gave that up to support you and your writing in some way.
Thoughtfulness is certainly remembered. Thoughtlessness is often remembered. How do you want to be remembered?”
-Belle Tristic: On my thirteenth birthday my father sent me a copy of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. (At the time, I wanted one of those yellow waterproof Walkmen. Am I dating myself? Don’t you know it’s rude to even guess a woman’s age?) I’ve been writing, teaching, editing, and judging people ever since.
To submit your literary etiquette questions for our consideration, follow us on Twitter or Facebook where you can leave us your questions and etiquette pet peeves. We’ll select one or two of these each month. Meanwhile, go order that monogrammed stationary! And thank you so much for stopping by.
For original poetry, fiction, interviews, and art song, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.