Maybe We Should Just Stop

Book and lit blog, BookFox (which I just discovered from my logs of links to this site) has a post about literary journals and their response times. I quote:

I’ll have a tiny journal like Apple Valley Review reject my short shorts in less than a week, while a heavy hitter like Columbia Journal still hasn’t responded to a story I mailed out in January 2006 (and neither have they responded to email queries, and my last short story I sent them took a year and a half to receive a reply).

Writers should rise up and stop submitting to journals that take over a year to respond. Who cares if they’re understaffed, backlogged, and occassionally underfunded? I think it’s fair to say that they have a responsibility to their submitters in addition to their readers. You can’t have a lit journal without writers.

I’d love to know why this sort of response time should be tolerated.

Keep in mind that I take the time in my own understaffed, backlogged, and underfunded life to empty out my email inbox at least once a week. Yes, I have things that are left undone, phone calls that I haven’t made, but I’m just me. And if I do take a while to return an email, I say “sorry.” I may be more prone than the average person to get aneurysms when organizations, companies, and other people don’t take the same pains to show enough respect to make timely replies.

Imagine if we could charge them late fees like banks and credit card companies….

BookFox’s post does not go so far as what I’m ranting about. But he does end by saying, “anything over eight months makes me extremely reluctant to send any more submissions.” And for that, I commend him. Fight the power.

Read all about it here: Literary Journals

Comments 7

  1. Aaron wrote:

    I have an issue of the West Coast review Zyzzyva in which the publisher goes on a sort of mini rant about how so few writers subscribe compared to the number of people who submit stories for publication. Not to play devil’s advocate, but I think he has a point (at least insofar as his numbers were concerned.) A lot of people want to be published or acknowledged but don’t otherwise want to get involved in any way, shape or form. I DO think journals should be more honest about their turn-around times but sadly a lot of editors have taken the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude usually associated with the more shallow end of the creativity industry.

    Posted 03 Feb 2007 at 4:46 pm
  2. gordon wrote:

    Excellent point about getting involved.

    I think there are a number of relationships at play here.

    * Writer as sumbitter to journal
    * Writer as reader of journal
    * Journal as reviewer of submissions
    * Journal as medium for readers of fine literature
    * Any remaining comingling of the above

    Each of these has its own set of responsibilities, courtesies, insults, and knives in the back.

    For my part, I’m just concerned about the writer as sumbitter part. I definitely think if you believe in the quality of a journal, you should buy copies or subscribe as often as you can.

    I’ve only subscribed to One Story in the recent past, because I really like its format, it accepts online submissions, and quickly reviews and rejects submissions.

    Many of the other popular or big-name journals that don’t do any of the above, I just don’t feel like submitting to. Publication suicide? Maybe. But I think a lot of these journals are full of shit and do things in antiquated and obtuse ways, and I just can’t be bothered to get involved in the messy affair.

    I guess I’m stubborn. Sooner or later, I’ll probably learn the error of my ways. Who says edumacation stops with the diploma?

    Posted 03 Feb 2007 at 5:21 pm
  3. Bruce wrote:

    I have also submitted to journals and waited months for a response; and this from publications stating “no simultaneous submissions.??? And I have also been a volunteer reader for a Northern California journal and observed the stacks of mail they received daily. At that time, most submissions were read by volunteers who passed on competent stories to the editors to read. First everything was logged into a computer, then filed by date of receipt, etc. When you see first hand the volume of stories to be read, logged, reviewed, reread and replied to, mostly by volunteers, you understand what a daunting task it is. Their published response time: two to three months. Their actual response time: eight to ten months.

    The previous commenter, Aaron, and Howard Junker of Zyzzyva make some good points. But many writers can’t afford the cost of more than a journal or two, in addition to the mailings and contest fees. Another way to contribute is to volunteer your time at a journal in your area, help them with the backlog, and gain some insight into the process. Hopefully we’ll begin to see more “on-line??? submissions like Glimmer Train, where you can track your status.

    Given the turn-around time of most publications, I think their “no simultaneous submissions,??? policy should be abandoned (or ignored.) That being said, I give Howard at Zyzzyva kudos for their consistently quick response times. So, purchase when you can, submit on-line and volunteer.

    Posted 13 Feb 2007 at 1:48 pm
  4. Aaron wrote:

    I personally think the whole system of lit journals as a foot-in-the-door is somewhat obsolete. I like that they exist and like that one can still submit stories to them, but it seems like an even wider end-around now than ever due to all the issues mentioned above and the diminishing market for lit.

    Self-publishing with professional results is easier and more affordable than ever. Drop two grand to make 1000 copies. Do a little research and figure out the best 100 people to bulk mail promo copies to. With a book like Writer’s Market and a few friends with connections or knowledge of who’s who, a home printer and label-making software, you could have everything aside from the heavy lifting done in a month. Most of your freebies will go unread and the into recycling bin but some will get noticed. If anything, I have seen that people tend to approach what appears to be the real deal (i.e. a book instead of a manuscipt) a lot more seriously. Spend a year writing a book and then a year promoting it while you gestate ideas for the next book.

    At any rate, this is what I plan to do.

    Posted 20 Feb 2007 at 4:51 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    I am a reader for a lit mag. I have my MFA. I work full-time, try to do my own writing, try to submit my own writing and also volunteer to read many, many submissions in my spare time. Everyone of the readers for my magazine regrets that we don’t have faster turn around time, but we do what we can.

    I believe that writers should ignore the demand not to submit simultaneously. I would be disappointed if I read a story that I loved and could not publish. But if it took us 4 months to get to it and another, better staffed mag could publish it quicker, I would be more than willing to ask the author to submit another story and hope that I loved it as much as the one I missed out on.

    As far as the call to other writers to quit submitting to lit mags goes. I say go for it. The fewer stories I have to read, the faster my turn around time.

    Posted 23 Feb 2007 at 6:45 pm
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I read the slush pile at one of the “most wanted” journals, and have seen the workings of a second “most wanted.”

    Response times are simply a product of the number of bins you have filled with stories. Everything gets read twice all the way through. That takes time. If lit mags had the money to hire more readers, they would.

    No simultaneous submission rules suck. I know some magazines will black list you if they were seriously considering something and you withdrawl it. That said, I think the only logical thing to do as an author is to break the policy. You can’t be waiting four years every time you want to publish a story.

    Posted 08 Apr 2007 at 9:32 pm
  7. Ryan Edel wrote:

    As much as I can respect that the piles of manuscripts are hard to get through, I imagine that part of the problem is a reluctance to say “not this one.” The Atlantic Monthly, for example, has one of the fastest turnaround times I’ve ever seen – they regularly send back a reply within a month. And the fiction editor, C. Michael Curtis, said he personally reads about twelve manuscripts a day every day so he can pick out ten manuscripts (per year) for the fiction issue. Sometimes he’ll even scrawl out a sentence or two on the rejection, and that’s more than many magazines give.

    I think another part of the problem is priority. It seems like many literary magazines are not staffed full time by anyone – the editor may be a college professor, and the volunteer readers may be students or adjunct faculty. But this is a function of profits – the magazines simply don’t earn enough money for full-time staff. And I think this is a real failure of marketing. Yes, I understand the idea that writers should contribute to magazines if they want to be published, but this is somewhat like saying the assembly line workers at a Ford plant should buy a car for each one they help assemble, that’s simply not possible. Our goal – our real goal – should be to expand the base of readers. We need to show non-writers just how important these stories are for our daily lives. Because, honestly, if we aren’t writing for a wide audience, then who are we writing for?


    Posted 11 May 2010 at 4:26 pm

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