The Case of the Disappearing
Editor You pitch. They bite. Then they
fall off the face of the earth. What's up with that?
MICHAEL MALONE |
A so-so day in March turned good in a hurry. A publicist offered me an
exclusive interview with a reclusive best-selling author, his first press in
five years. Because the author was in New York for just a few days, I eschewed
my typical written query for a phone pitch, this one to a New York daily. Not
the most prestigious paper in Gotham, but the one I'd read for the last decade
and one I'd never before been published in. It wouldn't be the crown
jewel of my freelance oeuvre, but it would sparkle nonetheless. The editor said
he'd call me back in 15. He did, and told me to move on it: 500 to 600 words,
due the following Monday.
I met the author at a hotel on a Thursday and he gave me good
material to work with, including some juicy quotes that were sure to piss off
certain people. I wrote up 600 words even, and emailed it to the editor first
thing Monday morning.
On Tuesday, I left a voice message, making sure the story was
received and offering any further assistance. No response. On Wednesday I emailed
a similar message. By Friday I was kicking myself for not discussing payment
with the editor or demanding a contract. It's a huge daily paper, I'd told myself.
This wasn't some dot-com. It had been around for, what, a few centuries?
My story was mostly evergreen, but the green was fading to brown.
The author pestered the publicist, who questioned me. I pestered the editor
with polite messages every few days, trying hard not to appear the stalker.
A few weeks after I filed, someone picked up his phone. She asked my name, covered
the phone, then said he'd be calling back. I sat by the phone like a homely
girl just before prom night. Nothing. A few days later, his voicemail indicated
he was out for a few days, and all matters should be directed toward a co-worker.
I left a message with the co-worker. Nada.
It's now nine weeks since our first and last conversation.
I hope and assume he's in good health. I wonder sometimes if I imagined our
original conversation. Was it the result of delirium brought on by too many
hours in front of a computer screen? The piece still hasn't run, and there's
no reason to think it will. My mom has stopped asking me about it. I haven't
been paid. I still buy the damn paper every day, not because I expect to see
my article, but because I enjoy reading it. Though not as much as I used to.
Maybe I'll cough up an extra quarter for the Times. Or save a quarter
and buy the Post. Either way, I should look elsewhere for the news.
Postscript: The day after this story was posted, the writer
sold his article to Publishers Weekly.
Malone has written for Details,
New York magazine,