• By Tara Laskowski
  • June 8, 2015

Why I won’t submit to your journal.


Have you noticed there are lots of editors out there telling you how to quickly get rejected by their publication? While it’s certainly helpful to note some rookie mistakes or bad etiquette that makes you stick out like a Polish gal at a sunbathing competition, too many rules can make a writer’s head spin. Plus, deal-breakers are there so they can be, well, deal-broken.

So what about the flipside of the story-submission process? Editors can just as easily suffer from bad manners or ego trips that turn off writers from handing them their well-formed words. Here are some reasons I probably won’t submit to your journal, no matter what your reputation:

You charge to read my submission. I don't mind if it's a contest and the prize is a good one. That seems fair in the checks and balances of life, though I would caution writers not to spend months of salaries on contest entries. But charging people $3 to read their submission, especially if the publication does not pay the writers it accepts, just doesn’t seem right to me.

I know that editing is a thankless job, and I know most lit-mag editors don’t get paid a lick to do the work they do (I certainly don’t). But asking writers to pay to have their work reviewed for possible inclusion is wrong. In a world where it rained cotton candy and trees grew bottles of bourbon, all writers and editors would make a handsome living off their work. Until we find that island, though, don’t punish writers even more.

Your guidelines are too long. Okay, so I think we're guilty of this at SmokeLong Quarterly, and so pot, meet kettle. But really dreary, long, intimidating submission guidelines are just taxing, people. Streamline!

You require me to do too many things to submit. You ask me to write essays on seven previous stories you published and why I liked them. You want me to format my story in weird ways and print and mail it to you. You need me to create an account for your outdated online-submission manager that asks for my home number, Social Security number, and my opinion on creamed corn.

I'm all for the philosophy of reading a journal before you submit to it. With so much content online these days, there's really no excuse for someone to not read the stories at the place to which they are submitting. BUT, making your writers prove it just makes you seem pretentious.

You don't actually inform your submitters that their stories have been declined. Submission systems make declining stories easy — too easy. With a few clicks of a button, you can decline 100 stories with a polite form letter and go 'bout your business. There’s no excuse for a journal to completely ignore a submission. Some places will give you a heads-up about this practice by explicitly stating in their guidelines that only those accepted will be contacted (which I still think makes them seem jerky), but others will just wait until anxious writers log in to see their status has been changed to a big fat red “declined.” That just sucks. Sending rejections is the worst part of the job, but it’s a pretty essential one.

Your open-reading periods are annoying. We'll be open for submissions Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday between 4 and 7 p.m. the first two weeks of every April, May, and October, unless we get 200 submissions, in which case we'll close early. Maybe.

Your website is outdated. You've got 2004 contest winners featured on your homepage. Or really glaring typos everywhere. Or your site is too confusing to navigate. A writer can tell a lot about the way editors might treat them by how they showcase the work they’ve already accepted. And a journal does not need a fancy-pants site to do it well — just one that looks cared for and loved.

Yes, writers commit many faux pas. They don’t read submission guidelines; they send too many cancer stories; they write nastygrams back to our eloquent form rejection letters. But journals and editors are not immune to bad behavior, and just as editors can be selective in choosing stories, writers, too, should be picky about where and how they want to showcase their work.

Tara Laskowski is editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. Her collection of short stories, Bystanders, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in spring 2016.

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