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Friday, April 17, 2009

You Know Who You Are

This bit of brilliance was submitted anonymously via email:

A Manifesto
By Waldo Eisenberg
Dead Editors,

We love you. We really do. You do the important work of sifting the chaff from the wheat, which the literary community needs. But there are some behaviors that must stop. Shape up a bit. Act like a professional. Be more like an editor and less like a despot. We promise: If you leap these ten pitfalls, our love will have no limits.

1. “Glacial”: Journals That Take Over A Year To Respond To Your Manuscript
Yeah, I’m thinking of you, Zoetrope, Mr. I’m-Funded-By-A-Billionaire-But-Can’t-Afford-Slush-Pile-Readers. But worst of all is Notre Dame Review, which claims in correspondence that their editor requires two years to consider a manuscript.

2. “Incommunicado”: Journals That Never Answer Email Queries
Dear Open City—This is my third query about a twenty-month-old manuscript. Will you never answer? Will you never get back to me? Do you ever read your email? Because seriously, if I can’t trust you to read email, do I really trust you to be able to read my story? (same three-queries-unanswered goes for you, Columbia Journal of Literature and Arts).

3. “Anal”: Journals That Limit Submissions To Once A Year
Or once a reading period, same thing. Honestly, Potomac Review, you think we want to wait ten years to be published? We know that you don’t want to get flooded with manuscripts from hacks, but seriously, since you take four months to get back to people, why don’t you bump it up to at least two a year, or perhaps three. Be a kind journal. Play nice.

4. “Inbred”: Journals That Only Publish Their Friends
Newbie writers, or writers outside the lit journal world, think this is a flaw common to all journals. Quite the contrary, it only applies to some. But Sewanee Review, when you publish four fiction stories, and it’s an event—such an event that it needs announcing—that one of the writers is “New” to the journal, then we all know that your “reading” usually consists of nudging fellow professors. When everyone is a “longtime contributor,” there’s no room for anyone else.

5. “Pickpocket”: Journals That Require Fees For Regular Submissions
An evil trend has started: even though it would be unthinkable for a journal to charge for over-the-transom mail submissions, apparently it’s not verboten to charge for electronic submissions. Tisk, tisk. Cut out that greediness. Poor writers don’t need to be charged for the privilege of you deleting their manuscript after a paragraph. Missouri Review, American Short Fiction, Sonora Review, Massachusetts Review, Meridian, Narrative: Yes, we’re staring you down.

6. “Stonewalling”: Journals That Don’t Accept Fiction Manuscripts
Seriously, Brick and Mississippi Review, did it just start being too much work to look for the newest generation of writers? Was the slush pile too big, or too disappointing? Was it much easier to just take referrals and recommendations? Because the slush pile is the essence of democracy: everyone’s got a shot. Refusing to look at manuscripts is a little despotic. The only notch in your favor is that, unlike some inbred journals, you actually admit you’ve stopped reading.

7. “Bait-And-Switch”: Journals That Sucker In Unwanted Submissions
Listen, New Delta Review, if you insist on sending me cursory rejection letters five days after every submission saying “There is no room left in the upcoming issue,” then why don’t you stop accepting submissions? Maybe a nice note on the website, saying, “The Issue is Full,” so hundreds of writers don’t waste postage on you. It’s just basic courtesy.

8. “Archaic”: Journals That Don’t Accept Electronic Submissions
Exclusively accepting postal submissions is like being in the dark ages. It’s like a publisher who refuses to make their books available on the Kindle, or a magazine editor who doesn’t have a website. Plus, while you’re bellyaching about not having enough funding, writers are spending tens of millions of dollars a year on postage: ever think that some of that cash could be diverted from the United States Postal Service to your journal? Just a thought.

9. “Wasteful”: Journals That Ask For Two Copies
Seriously, Hunger Mountain and Connecticut Review, this is the opposite direction of electronic submissions. You really want us to pay for printing TWO copies of our story, plus the extra postage? The only submissions you’ll get will be from the truly desperate hacks.

10. “Na├»ve”: Journals That Don’t Accept Simultaneous Submissions
First of all, if you don’t reply in under a month, you don’t get the right to refuse simultaneous submissions. If you do reply in under a month, then writers could still send simultaneously to you, because no other journal will say yes or no by the time you’ve responded. But it’s laughably ridiculous to have a policy like Descant, which says on its website “No Simultaneous Submissions” next to a disclaimer that their editors take up to a year to respond.

Bonus: “Apartheid”: Journals That Only Publish Fiction Separately
BOMB magazine, we saw you switched to that annual First Proof thing, cordoning all your fiction to separate pages, just like the Atlantic Monthly. Zoetrope – what’s with publishing your contest winners only online instead of in the print magazine? Let your fiction play with the other writing. Segregation is so ’60s.


CAPS MAN! said...



Native Ink said...

Loved this. It needs to be nailed to the doors of every literary magazine in America.

Anonymous said...

Dear Waldo:

Thank you for your kindness. We are dedicated to bringing literature to the digital world for free. And we thank you for your support in our efforts.


Pat Gage

(After being emailed to Narrative magazine.)

Anonymous said...

And then the following correspondence.

"Obviously, Pat Gage, you need to read this email again."


"Thank you for your insight. I have read it twice.


Pat Gage"

Anonymous said...


But you can never get through to the inbreeding journals, they exist solely as vanity presses for smalls group of friends. Demand that they open up to other writers and they will fold. They have Duotrope listings, and there are litblogs dedicated to reporting "what's new" with these journals, but that is only frosting on the vanity.

I'm sure they appreciate that you noticed them!

Native Ink said...

I honestly think most editors avoid submission queries like the plague. I guess they don't want to be reminded that they've been sitting on a manuscript forever. And they certainly don't want to get into a dialogue with an impatient writer, who almost certainly wants to know what chance her story stands.

On the other hand, I've queried top-tier magazines about relatively minor stuff (like whether they'll accept a story that's one page longer than their guidelines) and the editors have gotten back to me right away.

Lindsey said...

Love it! This post made my dreary, doughy day...

Dave Clapper said...

This one goes to eleven. And is perfect.

Anonymous said...

This was clearly written by somebody with a very poor grasp of the space-time continuum. One cannot simultaneously demand that more publications accept more work from more people more quickly while also demanding that they respond faster. Publications can either consider more work or they can respond faster. They cannot do both.

We do not serve our craft well by making such foolish demands.

Native Ink said...

Anon 7:19,
Waldo Eisenberg doesn't make any of the demands you accuse him of. He only asks for a little courtesy and common sense. If your literary magazine holds on to a manuscript for a long time, fine, but don't ignore query letters, or demand exclusivity, or think writers won't find it a little demeaning to wait ages only to get a crappy little form rejection from you.

ho hum said...


Lit J said...

Space-time continuum? What? You some kind of Sci-Fi writer?

And electronic submissions does not necessarily mean accepting more publications -- you can limit it to twice a year, or only allow submissions for four months out of the year. Also, it speeds up the process, so yes, it might be possible to read faster.

And I think it entirely reasonable that journals reply within six months. Over a year is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

I was expecting this to be really annoying but as an editor and writer I agree with much of this. A few responses:

1) Doesn't go far enough for my tastes. Any journal that takes longer than 6 months to send a form rejection should be blacklisted (you can take longer if you are seriously debating a manuscript)

3) I agree once a year is too little, but twice a year is fine for me. You have to do something to cut down the slush and I'd prefer a journal that got back to me in 3 months or less but only let me submit twice than a journal that takes a year but theoretically would let me submit more if they actually responded in time.

5) I wouldn't lump a journal like the Missouri Review (which only asks 3 bucks and still allows snail mail submissions) with a place like Narrative that wants 20 bucks for a short short.

Everything else looks good.

Definitly the two biggest problems with literary magazines, from my standpoint are:

a) Taking more than 4 months to respond (even though I said six months above, I really think longer than 4 is horrible... and MOST journals should be able to get back in 1-2 months (for anything that is being straight rejected)

b) journals demanding no simultaneous submissions.

Of course, some of these problems are caused by writers who by and large

a) don't buy literary magazines, ensuring they don't have the financial support to be adequately staffed

b) dont' even read the journals they submit to, so have no idea what kind of work is appropriate

c) carpet bomb every magazine in existence with multiple submissions.

Anonymous said...


But you can never get through to the inbreeding journals, they exist solely as vanity presses for smalls group of friends. [/i]

What journals are these exactly? I always hear talk of said journals, but I have no idea which ones they are supposed to be. Certainly not any of hte well regarded ones.

for your edification said...

anon 3:35

1)look at online-only, non-paying publications listed on duotrope.

2)click on any journal with a name so bizarre it is either (a) an obscure literary reference that you are not cool enough to get, (b) an inside joke among the contributors, or (c) words randomly generated.

3)look at the list of contributors for 2 or 3 back issues.

if you see the same names over and over, and they are not famous names, then you have a classic inbreeding journal.

this is so novices and hobbyists do not get their spirits crushed with a rejection from such a journal. it's not you, it's them.

Anonymous said...

if you see the same names over and over, and they are not famous names, then you have a classic inbreeding journal.[/i]

Oh... who gives a shit about those though? They don't help you get to bigger places, they don't get you readers, they don't pay you money...

So what if friends want to publish each other in little zines? I think that is healthy and fun.

I thought we were talking about real journals though.

for your edification said...

anon 2:01

totes in agreement with you. i don't know what percentage of the readers here are novices, so i just gave a guide to identifying which publications are a waste of time submitting to.


Lucas said...

I don't think it's fair to call out American Short Fiction on the list of "Pickpockets." Submission manager programs aren't free, so they have to pay for them somehow. It's (as I remember) 2 dollars to submit, which is about the cost of printing, driving to the P.O. and mailing it, so I don't see the problem here.

The other journals I can't speak for, but I found the fee to be fair and way more convenient than a drive to the post office. If those other journals are charging 5, 10 or more dollars, sure that's too much and not cool. But don't call out ASF on a ecologically responsible (and self sustaining) practice.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
> This was clearly written by somebody
> with a very poor grasp of the space-time
> continuum. One cannot simultaneously
> demand that more publications accept
> more work from more people more quickly
> while also demanding that they respond
> faster. Publications can either consider
> more work or they can respond faster.
> They cannot do both.

I'm coming to this thread a year late, but I felt that I had to point out, that as a physics graduate, I'm unaware of any constraint in special or general relativity that actually rules this out.

Further, it seems to me that if a publication were responding at rate n, and were to increase that rate to 2n, they would be able to to increase the number of responses to x < 2n and still be responding faster, while also responding to more submissions.

I'm hoping there might be a paper in this that I can send to 'nature'.