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09:13 am: 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.


Comments

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 4th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
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I have not logged in today, but this is David Kopaska-Merkel. I pretty much agree with everything you say, with one exception. I don't think it's a good idea to send a verbally abusive message to an editor, no matter how you have suffered because of that editor's incompetence etc.. My preference is to politely withdraw the submission and warn other writers (as you have done). you are completely correct that prompt responses to inquiries are fundamental to good editing/publishing. You are also right on the money that a polite inquiry about a submission in case it has been lost or was never received, is perfectly all right once the response time has elapsed. As an editor, I welcome such inquiries. I always ask the poet to resend the missing piece. I have bought some of these, and was very grateful for the inquiry.
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From:fibitz
Date:February 4th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)

In nearly complete agreement

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David is correct, of course—and it's a good idea before sending off premature hissy-fits to bear in mind that delay may not only be due to an innocent mistake, but possibly to your work being held for further consideration. But for a journal that is demonstrably receiving your inquiries to take over a year to make a decision is intolerable, and as for accepting work, which totally precludes its submission elsewhere, and then neither publishing as promised nor responding to inquiries.... The only time I've been really intemperate was in withdrawing from EOAGH, where the provocation was spectacular, and I can't say I regret it.
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From:ysabetwordsmith
Date:February 4th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)

New Friend

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I followed you here from the link you sent on the SFPA elist; I have added you to my Friends list.

Regarding the matter of manuscript replies, here's my perspective as someone who is both writer and editor: It's reasonable to expect editors to treat writers decently. Many editors choose not to treat writers decently, and writers can choose to file those guidelines in the circular file and work with someone else. Editors who treat writers favorably will find their consideration paid off in the quality of submissions and the time saved.

However, when someone on one side behaves in a crass and unprofessional manner, the first question to ask on the other side is: how does your professional bearing apply to the situation? I generally don't think that ranting, especially in public, is a safe or effective response. (YMMV.) I send a brief, polite note and then move on to the next editor or writer on my list. A key reason for this is that I've observed, on several occasions, that public temper tantrums can make one look like a damn fool and cause other people to decide that they'd really rather deal with someone else. Case in point: the Helix fiasco last year.

If you're concerned about warning other people, that's valid, and there are various professional ways to do so. One is market-response trackers such as Duotrope's Digest. They aren't perfect, but they are very helpful, and their quality depends on the reliability of the people who contribute to them. You could make a good-sized impact doing that. Another option is to report notably troublesome editors to Preditors & Editors. If you don't feel those are adequate, you could reasonably start another list of your own (negative and/or positive). A calm professional presentation is likely to be better respected and more consulted than one with a sharper tone, but again, that's up to you. Also putting it on its own page would make it easier to find.
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From:fibitz
Date:February 4th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)

Re: New Friend

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Thanks for the input. I'm past being concerned with "safety"; forgive me for saying that, to me, in this context the term would translate to "self-serving cowardice." I don't mean that as a reflection on you: wiser heads than mine may well generate more effective means of driving change than ranting in public, but as I indicated, Duotrope is unreliable and offers no way to distinguish accurate responses from unreliable input. By stating circumstances and specifics (clearly and accurately, I hope), I'm validating what would be merely part of a range of stats. More importantly, within 5 minutes of the post going live, I began to get private e-mails from writers praising the post and expressing determination to begin withdrawing work from markets that had delayed their response excessively (note my caveat in reply to previous comment). I feel that it's important that writers as a group not support editors or markets that devalue their writing, and I'm concerned about the rise of increasingly predatory practices within the literary community at large.
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From:ysabetwordsmith
Date:February 4th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)

Re: New Friend

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Caution (or in your terms, cowardice) isn't the only reason to refrain from ranting in public. Self-respect is a valid reason too. There are both subjective and objective concerns, and each person sets their own parameters.

I'm not surprised that you got a lot of quiet support. There is some value to be had from colorful personalities who make a giant public fuss over some bit of obnoxious behavior.

"I feel that it's important that writers as a group not support editors or markets that devalue their writing, and I'm concerned about the rise of increasingly predatory practices within the literary community at large."

Too true.
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From:je_reviens
Date:February 4th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
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I can only imagine the anger and frustration on your part. I can REALLY imagine it bc I have experienced same on a much smaller level.

I used to be on the reviews and contributors list for newWitch magazine. Our list would get emails from the editor (no longer editor due to this crappy behavior, I was told by the magazine's publisher) begging for music reviews. I would write them and submit them via email. No response. No publishing. I would see another email on th elist begging again 6 months later. I would email and remind him of my submissions and ask if they were not good enough (ridiculous since what he was publishing was riddled with errors and sometimes looked slapped together) or perhaps he did not feel they fit the magazine (these were reviews of items he had sent out for review, so he had pre-vetted them and solicited a reviewer and paid the postage to mail them). He would say, sounds good but I can't find it, can you re-send. I would re-send. STILL no response, no publish.

The last straw was when I discovered a fantastic new Pagan music group on my own, asked them for a review CD, which they paid to mail me. Thought it was fantastic, sat down and wrote a glowing and detailed review same weekend it arrived. I wanted everyone to know about this group and their CD. No response to my submission. A few months later I got a copy of the mag as compensation for a small review I had written and they had finally pubbed 4 yrs later (I mean the book is FOUR YEARS out now, what is the point of such a late review anyway? I reviewed when it was new!) In the SAME review space, the first review, *featured*, was a review of the very same CD. And it was crappy. Glaring grammar mistakes in the very first paragraph, typos, etc. And no details, just "I really liked it a lot" pretty much, said in 5 different ways. This was 6 whole months after I had quickly submitted that music review to him bc he was desperate for more Pagan music reviews.

So eventually he was taken off the roster as editor of the whole mag and just made REVIEW editor. I said, forget it.

The shame is, he is a fantastic writer and I always loved his editorials and articles. But as an editor he was so so awful.

And i personally work in publishing, have for 12 years. I have Art Directed magazines, worked in production and advertising. I have worked for companies where we pubbed 6 books a month, not one book a quarter. So when I bitch, it's with knowing what professional editors do and what it takes to create a magazine and get it out there. My giant pet peeve is when people take on a job and then they don't friggin' do it.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 5th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)

EOAGH submission

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Dear F.J. Bergmann,

Here is what happened. Your poem was accepted for Issue 5 of EOAGH. The journal is published yearly. There was a delay of a few months between the publication of Issue 4 (very late 2007) and Issue 5 (early 2009), but Issue 5 is about to come out now. You never asked for clarification or information at any stage of this process after your poems were accepted. You withdrew your work just before the next issue was about to be published.

I pride myself on running my journal in an organized manner. Try to picture yourself in the position of an editor receiving 5-10 submissions per day, as I do. My responses to you were polite, positive, and clear.

Sincerely,

Tim Peterson
Editor, EOAGH
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From:fibitz
Date:February 5th, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)

Re: EOAGH submission

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In fact I sent FIVE inquiries at different "stages of this process," either inquiring about my submission or asking if the journal was still a going concern. The only replies I ever received were to two messages that I had also copied to your webmaster (he replied promptly, twice). I received no response to my April '06 submission or its subsequent inquiries, which very politely asked for confirmation that my e-mails had been received and a date by which a decision might be forthcoming, until an acceptance (the only editorial response, other than your posting above) suddenly arrived—after an inquiry to the webmaster—in August '07—the following year. And then no further communication or responses to anything, until I withdrew the submission in January '09, nearly THREE years after my original submission.

I also edit a journal, and I respond to all e-mails within a few days, and I try to give an accurate idea of when publication can be expected if it's not going to be in the very next issue. Whatever you are doing, it's NOT running a journal in an "organized manner." This is incompetent, arrogant, and absurd.
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From:time_shark
Date:February 5th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)

Re: EOAGH submission

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Alas, receiving 5-10 submissions a day (which really isn't a lot, believe it or not) is no excuse whatsoever for not answering queries.

Edited at 2009-02-05 02:12 pm (UTC)
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From:ajodasso
Date:February 5th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Thankfully, I haven't had any negative experiences as of yet with response times (except for one print magazine out of London, which I think released one or two issues and then went under anyway). I'll agree with you on the ones that have/do respond promptly in that last paragraph, though! They take good care of their subsmissions.
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