Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Horror of Waiting

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, July 1, 2010

(Or, the Horrors of the Form Rejection Revisited)



I don’t send simultaneous submissions.

There are those who will tell you, yes, even though the guidelines say “no simultaneous submissions” professional writers do it anyway—and that’s fine if they want to say that. That’s fine if “professional writers” want to send out the same story to four different magazines and cross their fingers that they won’t burn in Speculative Fiction Hell for committing the sin of Literary Hubris.

This needs to be stated to establish the fact that, yes, I do respect guidelines, and yes, I do respect editors who spend a lot of personal time and effort in a labor of love that barely ever pays off in real cash moneys. These are valiant people who trudge through slush pile horror—which, I’ve heard, can be very emotionally damaging—in order to bring to readers fiction that will enrich their lives. Of course, that being said, here’s where I turn into a jerk:

Three months is too long to wait for a form rejection.

You know what you can do in three months? You can plant a garden, you can raise an army of the undead, you can write a freakin’ novel in three months. There are lots of things you can do in three months and, among those, is sending a quick form rejection for a story you know you don’t want.

Of course, I know editors are busy people. I know what its like to be busy. I’ve worked full-time secretary jobs while finishing college full-time and writing stories full-time and sleeping hardly any time at all. I’ve planted a garden while trying to raise an army of the undead, and thank God I haven’t had to wrestle with the time-sink that is children while doing it. (Soon, however. Soon, my mutant schnauzer baby I’ve got hooked up in the fish tank in the basement will spring to life and conquer the earth…and then when will I have time for classes?) So, yes; the fact that editors are busy is an important fact to consider.

But, consider this; the point of a form rejection is to save editors time. And, how often have we heard that editors will know if they want a story after reading the first page, or even the first paragraph?

Three months seems to be the industry standard across the board, so I’m not picking on any publication in particular. And, most of these publications get hundreds and hundreds of submissions a week, so I’m also not saying that rejections should be out within days. It’s totally cool if an editor wants to sit and consider a story for a while, or if they don’t want to deal with the monstrous crap that backs up in the slush pile more than once a month. I’m not charging up to the gates brandishing any pitchforks or torches just yet to these beleaguered heroes that make sure good fiction gets into print.

But, I am asking for two concessions.

First; if the three-month response time or more is what you, as an editor, truly need to respond to the masses, then it’d probably be respectful of those masses to allow simultaneous submissions.

I, personally, am one of those lucky writers who always have a handful of short stories to send out to different magazines each, but there are those writers—some of them maybe geniuses who you want to publish—who only have a story or two to send out at a time. And, asking for a three month turn around on that one precious, brilliant story before it can be rejected and sent off to another publisher is harsh. Really harsh. That means that story can wait years before it ever sees a page. Simultaneous submissions lessens this burden exponentially, and it keeps the good writers happy that they’re actually getting somewhere, instead of making them feel like they’ve been sitting with their thumbs up their butts since 1972.

And, second; if that story is just one you need to ponder for a bit before you’re comfortable rejecting it, just one little touch to that form rejection will make a massive world of difference. That touch is adding something like, “Thanks for your patience,” or “You made the shortlist, but…”



That’s all. I’m not suggesting a personal response be sent, or a long literary diatribe. I know you’re busy, but just a quick line added to those stories that made your shortlist to indicate that, yes, you thought on it for a while it but still had to pass will greatly, greatly increase the chances that the writer who you thought was pretty good will submit to your publication again. And that might make your slush pile look better. And your job easier.

At the end of the day, most people who gripe about the industry being “broken” are mostly butthurt that they’re not getting published. The industry isn’t “broken,” but these are things that I think might help it run more professionally. Of course, those butthurt folks often make it difficult for those reasonable people to give constructive criticism about the way the industry runs (and I’m a reasonable person. Dammit, I’m reasonable! *foams at mouth.*) So, feel free to lambaste me in the comments if you believe that what I’ve asked for here today is, in fact, unreasonable.

And then I will sick my mutant schnauzer baby on you, and you will feel the wrath of it’s nubby leetle teeth. But only one tooth at a time, because I respect someone when they ask to only be given one gruesome gnawing at once.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'd have to say I completely agree. I understand that slush reading is a laborious, time-devourering exercise, but a form letter takes seconds to send and there really isn't a need to read each manuscript from the first word to the final line to decide if you want to buy it. That's what a shortlist is for.

    My beef isn't even with these people, to be honest. They're annoying, and probably more than just a bit disorganized, and the delay is certainly irritating enough. However, i reserve my most deep-seated animosity for the "If you don't hear from us, EVER, we don't want it" editors. I spend the necessary amount of time to research the market to the best of my abilities (I can't buy a sample copy of every single publication, though I try), I track down editor names so that my submission doesn't feel like an anonymous shot through space, and I craft my short greeting/bio so that it takes up as little time as possible for the editor while still transmitting the needed information. For them to turn around and never reply is not only arrogant but completely unprofessional.

    A great big one-fingered salute to those poor excuses for editors.

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  2. Thanks, Lorna. That needed to be said.

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