Dear Literary Journals, Remember the Golden Rule?

There is a certain mid-level publication* which, I have decided, will remain nameless, who sent me a rejection letter recently. A perfectly polite form rejection letter. I agreed with them. Since I submitted the story to them, I’ve reread the story–been thoroughly horrified by how silly a writer I was back then–and rewritten the story to, what I believe, great effect. The original version I submitted to them didn’t deserve to be published. No hard feelings.

I do have hard feelings over how long it took them to get back to me, though. You see, I submitted this short story in January 2011. Yeah, it took them fifteen months to get back to me with a rejection letter. This is particularly horrifying when contrasted with their promised response time: six months. And the fact that they are one of the rare bird publications that don’t allow simultaneous submissions. They expect exclusive rights to view your work, and then don’t get back to you for more than a year!

I understand that editors are busy people. Really, I do. So about two months after I should have heard back from them, I sent a very polite email. Just checking in that my story hadn’t been lost (I saw it was “In-Progress” on Submittable.com, but still) if there was a projected average response time, and how I was interested in potentially interviewing an editor for my blog.

No response.

Since then, I had sent two more, very polite emails, and two equally polite Facebook inbox messages (their editors update the content on their Facebook fan page every.single.day.)

Nada.

And now the informal rejection letter. I just wish somebody had thought it worth their time to say, in response to one of my many messages, “Hey, we’ll get back to you.” Something vague and unhelpful, but at least a response. Proof that the journal is run by real people, not a hoard of robots.

Let’s just say I’m not planning on dooming one of my stories to a year of hard-time, languishing in this literary journal’s inbox, ever again.

*By “mid-level publication” I mean it’s decently well-known, respectable publication, but it doesn’t pay the contributors a cent, which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, and is, on the ladder system, definitely several dozen rungs below some really swoon-worthy publications that serve as massive high-points in a writer’s career, like Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, New Yorker, and Hayden Ferry’s Review.

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30 thoughts on “Dear Literary Journals, Remember the Golden Rule?

  1. brentondickieson says:

    I’m struggling with this in academic publishing too. Some articles are tied up for years. So when I’m on a review committee, I give myself 1 month, that’s it. And I give actual advice.

  2. Donigan Merritt says:

    Unconscionable, rude, and pathetic. You need to name this so-called literary journal as a service to your readers. Post on their FB page (or I will if you give me the name — it’s nothing to me, since I write novels and never submit works to non-paying journals). The word needs to spread about faux journals of this kind and with any luck put them out of business.

    • hannahkarena says:

      Hi Donigan. I’m not going to single out this publication, mostly because it wouldn’t be fair to point out one journal that does something that a dozen others also do, especially because the publication in question is listed on Duotrope’s 25 Most Slothful Publications, so the fact that they’re generally non-responsive is being made public knowledge. I’d recommend EVERYONE look at that list and know what they’re in for before submitting. I’m glad I know that lists exists now!

    • brentondickieson says:

      Not yet. I suspect that will come eventually. With lit journals, I’ve gotten simple rejections. With magazines, I’ve had almost everything accepted. I’m still pretty new to the academic journal side of things. I’ve had every book review accepted, one article accepted without comment, and others in process. I’ll know eventually, I guess. It is good form to give comments (basic practice I think).

  3. anniecardi says:

    These days I find it highly suspect for any literary journal that doesn’t pay its contributors to expect exclusivity for 6 months. If you want to submit to them again, I say don’t make it exclusive and don’t expect any kind of answer. But there are a lot of other lit journals out there who’d rather read your work and would respond in a timely fashion.

  4. jpbohannon says:

    I would doubt very much if you will get any feedback from this publication. The form rejection, so many months after your submission, is all you will get. Unfortunately. Just cross it off your list. The bottom line is that they need writers, and if they continue to treat writers like this, they will soon be without them.

    • hannahkarena says:

      It was a form rejection letter, so yeah, no helpful feedback. They have such a backlog of stories, I’m sure it will be years before they notice that submissions are dwindling!

  5. Cora Vasseur says:

    You know exactly what I’m talking about. I have a friend who is a literary manager and she feels writers should never accept a silent pass (she deals more in screenwriting so when you’re submitting to a production company, etc). She thinks we have every right to contact them if we haven’t heard back in a while.

    • hannahkarena says:

      I agree. It’s just really frustrating when editors disagree with you and give you the very solid cold shoulder in response to all your polite follow-up queries :/

  6. Laura Davis says:

    ha, was it opium? they had me listed as “recommend for accept” for six months. i kept withdrawing pieces as they were accepted elsewhere. then the rest got accepted in my chapbook. i withdrew the whole thing. never heard a word. they are, according to duotrope, one of the slowest markets. it happens. i’m an editor. i currently have people waiting for me to read their poems. i should get on that. oh right, i have to do the work that pays me first… hrm… šŸ™‚

    • hannahkarena says:

      Ha, no it wasn’t Opium (though I did sent them a story two months ago and now I’m not really EVER expecting a response from them…) I’m glad to hear you had such a happy reason to withdraw your work though! Congrats on getting them accepted elsewhere! It was actually PBQ and hopefully my other story gets accepted elsewhere sometime soon so I can withdraw it too!

  7. lovethebadguy says:

    Wow, that’s pathetic. It’s one thing to be busy (ridiculously busy, apparently…), but this was just rude. Ah well. At least you found the silver lining, and now have a new-and-improved version of the work!

    A DIFFERENT publisher, I’m sure, will be glad to have it. šŸ˜‰

  8. elwoodcock says:

    This is precisely why indie publishing is so great: cutting out that great sucking vacuum of time and hope and effort that is waiting for people to get back to you! I hope you have success with it elsewhere šŸ™‚

    • hannahkarena says:

      Definitions are so fuzzy now-a-days. What’s your definition of “indie publishing”? Indie publishing, to me, is publishing with indie publishers, like small independent presses. If you’re submitting a book to them, you still have to wait, but at lot less waiting than securing an agent and then a publisher, indeed!

  9. elwoodcock says:

    I meant doing it yourself. I’ve been thinking about this and I reckon I might make a blog post out of how the publishing industry is likely to change now that it’s so easy to do yourself… hmm *begins to plot*

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