February 4th, 2009


Worse than Rejection

I don't mind rejections, but what I can't stand are non-reponses. One of my perennial New Year's resolutions is to remember to send inquiries to the places that have grossly exceeded their stated response time, and withdrawals to the folks that don't respond to inquiries. There's really no excuse for this. If nothing else, they should have a convenient stock response that can be pasted in, like "we expect to be through with our backlog by Feb 1" or whatever. And then, of course, THIS SHOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.

It has become apparent with the success of many iniquitous practices within the field of literature that there is an ample supply of folks so desperate to be published that they will suffer through ridiculous delays and any amount of abuse. At least 35% of my poem submissions result in acceptances (now if only that were true for the short stories ...), and I send to good places. That means I'm in a position to tell those editors that don't treat writers or their inquiries with respect to shove it. There are a lot of markets out there, and more start up all the time.

If more writers were less tolerant of abusive editorial practices, these places would have to shape up, or see their slushpile composition change to 99%—or even 100%—crud, as the better writers stopped submitting there. I've got to admit I've been remiss in reporting my own stats to Duotrope (and what do they consider an unrealistic acceptance ratio?) or the Black Hole—that's one of the '09 resolutions as well.

Speaking of which, one of my '08 non-responder submission-query-withdrawal sequences was Brutarian. I understand from corresponding with Ralan that the editor deliberately maintains an extremely aggressive spam filter to prevent the number of submissions he has to deal with from becoming excessive—and screw those who wait and wait and never hear back. I think that this is a destructive and predatory practice. I'm disappointed that SFWA would consider it an approved market—doesn't treatment of writers play any part in their rating system? It should.

Call and Response

I was ranting again about places that never respond to submissions—and then I got handed a stack of postal submissions that the general editor of Mobius: A Journal of Social Change (of which I am poetry editor) had allowed to accumulate, without my knowledge, since JUNE (yes, heads have rolled). On the other hand, that's June of '08. And most of them were more recent. And I responded immediately to all of them. On yet another pseudopod, when I first took over as poetry editor, back in the fall of '06, there was a slushpile going all the way back to 1998—I'm not kidding. The previous poetry editor had tried to implement a policy of including extensive kindly comments with each rejection and—understandably, sort of—had imploded. I replied to all of them with the announcement of a new régime (and major groveling). My turnaround for e-mail subs is usually no more than a week or so (with two rejection flavors: "Try us again" and"Read the journal first").

But now for the submitter's side of it. There may be extenuating circumstances (illness, internet problems, etc.)—I once got a very nice letter, many months later, explaining that my submission had fallen behind a file cabinet—that interfere with prompt erosion of the slushpile. In that case, apologies ought to be forthcoming at some point. It should not be that difficult to do a mass e-mail notification of difficulties, or at least to post to a blog, listserv, or forum. I am not convinced that Duotrope is that reliable--at least twice I've seen recent responses and guidelines listed from journals I know have been dead for awhile.

Not only that, but it's infuriating to find that other writers are supposedly getting rapid responses from places that won't answer polite inquiries. I'm thinking of posting a personal shit list somewhere. Many markets have an extremely rapid turnaround, measured in days rather than weeks or months.

Two journals accepted my work--and then never responded again: Arabesques Review (which Duotrope still lists as a current market), and EOAGH. I submitted poems to EOAGH in April '06, along with some nice words about a poem of the editor's (I still love the poem—check out http://jacketmagazine.com/30/fl-tarzan.html). I inquired politely in September of '06, and again on November of '06, to no avail, and gave up on them. Then I noticed in August of '07 that the editor and webmaster were engaged in other, current projects and e-mailed both to ask whether EOAGH had been abandoned. I got an immediate reply from the webmaster, claiming that it was about to be updated, and an immediate acceptance from the editor—which was actually a reply to the Sept. '06 inquiry! Since then, nothing—no new issue, no response to any further inquiries. I finally e-mailed a week ago a not-polite, f-word-including (I don't normally do this, but felt it was a Special Case) withdrawal to the editor and webmaster—and received IMMEDIATELY an apology (but no explanation) from the webmaster. And it was a "no simultaneous submissions" place, of course.

I normally don't submit simultaneously anyway, because my acceptance rate for poetry has been around 35-40% for the last several years and it's too hard to keep track of multiple subs. But I feel that anyplace that publishes poetry (which doesn't require anything like the reading time of fiction) had either better respond within 3 months max, or not have a problem with sim subs. And I resent late responses even from places that do allow sim subs—it still prevents writers from submitting the work to places that don't, until they hear back.

In the SF poetry world, I've been extremely disappointed with Chiaroscuro, Coyote Wild, and Dark Wisdom, from all of which I withdrew poems after waiting over a year for a decision. Dark Wisdom responded sporadically and belatedly to claim that replies were forthcoming (they weren't)—but responded immediately to the poems' withdrawal with a sour-grapes you're-not-withdrawing-we're-rejecting you. I did get a (not at all prompt) response from Chiaroscuro to a Sept. '08 inquiry, saying that new assistants were helping to clear the backlog, but after no further replies to queries since then, I sent the following e-mail, which I think is justified:

"It has now been over a year since I sent you my poems. Your original stated response time has been grossly exceeded; moreover, I feel that it is outrageous to demand that poems not be simultaneously submitted in the absence of a prompt editorial decision. Unless you can give me a definite response within the next two weeks, consider the poems withdrawn."

And I got no reply. Coyote Wild had already gone way beyond its stated response time (and I had already inquired, as their site suggested, to no avail--except for the sub autoresponder, Coyote Wild has NEVER responded to any e-mail, despite verbal assurances that they were received) before Viable Paradise last year. One of my poems was rejected in the VP slushkill, but I was personally assured that the others were still being considered. I've heard nothing back from subsequent, pleasant inquiries, so I've withdrawn those poems as well. Nor will I submit again to those markets, or any other that feels it can treat writers so shabbily.

While I owe my one Pushcart nomination to VOX, I was terribly disappointed by the amateurish layout, poor design, and terrible proofreading of the issue I appeared in, compounded by extraordinary diifficulty in obtaining my contributor's copy. I resubmitted—by invitation— to their War issue, which has never transpired. Originally scheduled to appear in Dec. '07, a reply to an August '08 inquiry gave a publication date of October. And then nothing, until I got a Facebook offer to be a friend of one of the editors, whom I have never met. I e-mailed this person immediately to ask how the journal was coming along, and he breezily informed me that VOX "was dead at the moment" and begrudgingly offered to allow me to withdraw the work—which he had never made a decision on—apparently surprised that I wouldn't want to just leave it in limbo with him indefinitely!

I don't think of withdrawing my work—or naming names— as "turfing my career." I think of it as refusing to let myself and my writing be treated with disrespect. It saddens me how few writers are driven to withdraw work, or to send irate missives when no response is forthcoming, for fear of offending editors who are lazy, incompetent, or hostile—or at least to inquire to inquire, in case editors have simply misplaced the submission or not received it for some reason. For obvious reasons, discouraging or not permitting inquiries is a perfectly repellent editorial practice, but there is nothing wrong with something like "do not inquire unless at least 6 weeks have passed."

SF markets that have replied promptly (or at least within the stated time), whether in the affirmative or negative, include Aberrant Dreams, Abyss & Apex, Albedo One, Alimentum (hey; they paid me $50 for a poem and have a demonstrable weakness for SF!), Analog, Anotherrealm, Asimov's (very fast with fiction, a bit slower with poetry), Atomjack, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Boys' Life, Cemetery Dance, Clarkesworld, Clockwork Phoenix, Doorways, Drabblecast, Dreams & Nightmares, ElectricSpec, Escape Pod, Everyday Weirdness, Expanded Horizons, Fantasy, F&SF, Farrago's Wainscot (delayed, but instant response to first inquiry), Fear & Trembling, Flash Fiction Online, Flash Scribe, Goblin Fruit, Heliotrope, Illumen, Interzone, Jabberwocky, Killer-Works (delayed, but instant response to first inquiry), Lamination Colony, Lone Star Stories (next day!), Mag. of Spec. Poetry, The Martian Wave, Mythic Delirium, New Myths, On the Brighter Side, Paradox (delayed, but instant response to first inquiry), The Pedestal, Raven Electrick, Realms of Fantasy, Scifaikuest, Serpentarius (same day!), Shock Totem, Strange Horizons, Sybil's Garage, Talebones, TOTU, The Town Drunk, Vestal Review, Weird Tales. Obviously, these are the places I'd submit to again. The ones that are still with us, anyway.