I know that litmags demand a certain amount of courtesy from writers who submit work; whether this is courtesy in the form of addressing the editor by name (as opposed to the thoughtless “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern”) or in the form of standard formatting (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, inch margins, numbered pages, etc.), there is an expected etiquette in the realm of literary submissions.
THAT SAID–I have had my taste of strange (or lack thereof) etiquette in return from litmags lately. Most litmags are not guilty of this, but I still find it odd that the establishment (and yes, it’s an establishment) of litmags won’t return courtesies…
Earlier this year, during the holidays, I got quite a few letters from litmags asking me to donate. I shrugged.
There is one litmag to which I will donate, and that is ZYZZYVA and its editor, Howard Junker. He opened the door to my writing career, and for that I am always indebted, and for that ZYZZYVA will always be first in line (okay, maybe when Haiti has an apocalyptic earthquake, they get my money first). This is all to say that I’m no stranger to donations.
But when a litmag that has rejected me multiple times with curt letters (nay, I wouldn’t even call them “letters”–more like a sentence or two, which technically isn’t even a paragraph), asks me to donate, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. And before you think I’m anti-litmag, I’ll let you know that I’m the fiction editor at a litmag that runs on a shoestring budget. I’m pro-litmag, and pro-donation-to-litmags. Writers should read, donate, and subscribe, to literary magazines.
My friend who used to work at one of the litmags that sent out the letters protested when I said the donation queries disgusted me. She defended the litmags saying they need the money, and we should give money without thought to our personal experience with being rejected. True, I told her, true. We *should* give even if we were rejected by the litmag.
But out of *courtesy*, why can’t the litmag figure out a different form letter to send those whose work had been rejected? Just a touch of courtesy might pierce my scarred, cold heart. To that, my friend agreed. That would be a nice touch.
My other pet peeve these days have to do with litmag contests. Specifically, my pet peeve is about litmag contests that don’t bother to notify the
losers entrants whose work didn’t win.
I entered two litmag contests months ago recently. I did it on whim–knowing I probably wouldn’t win. In the past, my work has been named a finalist, a couple of times in various contests. (Many, many other times, my work has lost). I’ve noticed in the past that litmag contests sometime fail to notify everyone of the winners, and to notify folks who didn’t win, that they didn’t win. I thought to myself, “Huh. Maybe the letter got lost in the mail.”
But I’m beginning to notice this as a trend. There is no such indication in the contest submission instructions that winners will be announced on a particular website (implying no notification otherwise)–so there’s no way to think you won’t be notified personally.
Zoetrope’s Fiction Contest clearly states that winners are announced on its website, and that’s fine by me. And the venerable Glimmertrain with its multiple contests, always manages to notify its writers (winners, finalists, honorable mentions, and outright rejections alike) in an organized manner.
But when litmags don’t state how entrants will be notified, I assume I’ll be notified either by email or by postal
letter note. Both The Missouri Review Editors Prize and The Mississippi Review Prize posted the winning writers on their websites, but didn’t notify entrants.
I’ve gotten used to the 2 inch x 4 inch xeroxed rejection slips sent to me in the postal mail. In fact, I’m so used to it that when I see a handwritten note scrawled on a rejection slip with a six-word-long encouragement, I get quite excited. I’ve gotten used to the one sentence rejection emails. I’ve gotten so used to the rejection form letters that have been xeroxed over and over again so that my copy is barely readable, that I am not offended at all. I understand that there is a balance of power, here, and that as a writer I don’t have much power at all.
I would not be kvetching if etiquette and courtesy weren’t such a priority expectation in the litmag world, but it is something that litmags expect out of writers. Shouldn’t we writers expect the same in return? Even if one sentence long, shouldn’t writers get the courtesy of notification? Even if a different form letter, shouldn’t writers get the courtesy of an acknowledgment that their work has been rejected, but they’re still being queried for a donation?