I’m getting old. It’s been almost 40 years since Yankee Magazine gave me my first sale. Almost 45 years since I started sending out stories to book and magazine publishers. Times have changed in publishing. Ebooks, POD, the acceptance of self-publishing—you know the drill. But one thing has remained the same: publishers who take forever to review your submission and want an exclusive.
Here’s the story: last fall I sent a short story to a small zine that promised to respond within three months. That’s on the outside edge of an acceptable response time, IMO, but because the zine had a good reputation and seemed a good fit, I went for it, even though they ask for an exclusive. Now, this zine uses an online submissions manager, and I know from my work as editor of the Poisoned Pencil that this is a kickass invention that makes it impossible to lose a MS and reminds you with annoyingly bright colors when a submission is still pending.
In due course, I noted the passage of 3.5 months in my little submissions calendar, and sent the zine a note. No response. I checked the ever-wonderful Absolute Write site, and discovered that the zine had a reputation for non-responsiveness. I thought that was odd, because it’s really hard to forget about writers when you use a submissions manager. Or maybe they started to use a submissions manager because they were having trouble?
I waited another two weeks and wrote the zine again. Same same. I then took two actions, which to me marked the end of my relationship with the zine. I wrote to the owners of the online submissions manager and suggested that they drop the zine, since it would only give them a bad name to be affiliated with such a bunch of unprofessional yahoos. I then sent my MS off to another magazine. Which is how (because with age comes experience) I have learned to deal with such sadly common events. Yes, I gave up writing the polite “I am withdrawing my submission….” letter some fifteen years ago. Because the idea of “giving the benefit of the doubt” only works if you couple it with the idea of “sometimes there is really no excuse.”
But wait! A week or so later and—lo and behold!—I received a note from the zine! I have no proof, but I like to think it’s because the submissions manager folks contacted them. Here is the email:
Sorry about the late reply. Your story is still under review, and we apologize for not meeting our 90 day turn around time. We recently had two of our editors leave for other positions, and, as we are a volunteer staff, we have been struggling to keep up with the amount of submissions we have been getting lately. I will make sure your piece is reviewed for the March issue.
Isn’t that nice? A very good excuse! Am I not duly chastened for losing faith in my fellow publishing industry professionals?
Well, some stories write themselves, don’t they. Because March 1 came and went—as did April 1, and no, as of this writing I have still not heard anything more from the nice editor. Six months—with a request for an exclusive, don’t forget, and a submissions manager that still says my submission is pending, let alone the personal note. Makes you wonder what goes on in people’s heads, doesn’t it?
The great thing about being old is that what killed you when you were 20 just makes you snicker now. As a student of human nature, I admit that I find this pretty amusing. The absurdity of it attracts me. The poignant knowledge that this has happened to ninety percent of writer for a hundred years, and yet still we submit. Lord, we’re such sheep! Thank the gods there are alternatives these days.
I was going to just out the silly zine and wait to see how long it took them to notice, but that seems so mundane. So I had the idea of having a contest, to see if you, my fellow writers, editors, and industry professionals, can guess which zine it is! Because there are so many possibilities. And to the first person who guesses correctly, I will send a signed ARC of my upcoming book, In Retrospect (for which I got a response within a week of submission, btw).
So, to all you bold souls out there, use the Comments to send me the names of zines or magazines or publishers who have stiffed you cold, and we’ll make a nice list! Tell your tale if you like. I’ll update this blog entry as (and if) guesses come in. Won’t it be fun to see all the possibilities!
BTW, let’s forgo agents for now. Because WordPress would explode.