There’s a lot of material on the internet about how not to be a deadbeat writer. Much of it is posted by fiction editors, often in exasperation after the latest badly-formatted 30,000-word story about zombie mangosteens, submitted in response to guidelines clearly stating that only vampire vegetable stories under 4000 words will be considered.
While I agree that editors have a right to be irritated by all the writers out there who fail to follow clearly-outlined submission guidelines, send death threats in response to rejections, and consider the use of proper punctuation to have a stifling effect on their creativity … well, I just think that there’s another side to the story, and lately I haven’t been hearing much from that side.
Hence, I present the Top 10 Habits of Highly Irritating Editors. Names have been withheld in case I might still want to send one of them another story some day.
10. Requiring overseas authors to include IRCs (International Reply Coupons). (To be fair, it’s not that hard to order postage from other countries via the internet. Of course, one might suggest that it shouldn’t be that hard to reply to overseas authors via the internet, either.)
9. Submission guidelines that are not easy to find on the magazine’s website. Please don’t make me search through 6 months of blog archive just to make sure I’ve correctly formatted my submission.
8. Rambling submission guidelines that are longer than the stories that the magazine accepts. I actually don’t mind this so much, if the rambling submission guidelines are entertaining. Often they’re not.
7. Special treatment for submitting authors who also subscribe to the magazine. Or contest fees. Or any extra hoops that authors need to jump through in order to submit a story. I’m actually sympathetic to some of these things. But they still irritate me.
6. Unnecessarily mean rejection letters. I once received the following rejection letter: “Unfortunately, your story fails to overcome the overly cliched opening and I was never sufficiently grounded in the story to truly sympathize with your protagonist’s dilemma.” This was, in retrospect, a valid criticism of the story I had submitted. But isn’t there a nicer way of saying it? (In fact, there is, and a received a much more constructively worded rejection letter for the same story from a different magazine. Interestingly, even though both rejection letters basically said the same thing, it was the nice rejection letter that convinced me I ought to go back and revise the story.)
5. Rejection letters including terse suggestions that I read sample copies of the magazine to find out what sort of stories they publish. It’s especially irksome when I did read sample copies of the magazine. “Well,” I think. “That was pointless. Better save my money next time.”
4. Number 5, only with a subscription form included with the rejection letter.
3. Making me check the magazine’s blog periodically to see if my story has been rejected, instead of sending a quick e-mail to that effect.
2. Not following through on the obligations outlined in the contract, once a story has been accepted. This includes many different irritating behaviors, but the two most irritating are probably (a) not paying the author, and (b) not publishing a story after the contract has been signed. (B) is especially obnoxious when combined with the Number One way to irritate an author …
1. Not responding to query letters!
We’ve all been there as authors. The magazine has had our story for a really long time. Maybe a year. Maybe longer. We start to wonder. Did their reply get lost in the mail? Eaten by the internet? Did they even receive the story? So we send a politely-worded query letter, asking if they are still considering the story, of course we’re happy to wait if it’s still under consideration, but just in case it’s already been rejected and we just never got the memo … we send off the query e-mail. And, nothing. Another month goes by, or two. They don’t accept simultaneous submissions, and neither do any of the other magazines we’d like to submit the story to. So, perhaps we send a second query letter. Perhaps we go so far as to send a (still-polite) e-mail to the effect that if we don’t hear back from the editor by X date, we’ll assume they’re not interested.
It happens all too often. Sometimes, a year after the “ultimatum” e-mail (and after we’ve already sent the story to 4 or 5 other magazines), we finally receive the missing rejection letter. A form letter. Encouraging us to read a sample copy of the magazine. With a subscription form enclosed.
In closing, I would like to offer my thanks to all those editors who, by their example, made it possible for me to write this list. And extra-special thanks to those who didn’t.