I try to submit my short stories to literary magazines on a fairly regular basis. I have a handful of short stories that I feel are of publishable quality and because most lit mags these days are okay with simultaneous submissions, I tend to submit them each to multiple places. This can be a lot of work.
First I need to make sure my story is suitable for each place I want to send it. Not only does this require making sure that it is of the length and format they require and making sure that the lit mag is actually accepting submissions at that time, but I also have to make sure I cater to all their specific requirements. Do they have a submissions manager or do I need to email it to them? Which email address? Do they want a bio? Do I need to put certain requested information in my cover letter? Do they even want a cover letter? It is a process that can be tedious.
But I don't mind because that is the only way I am going to get my stories published in all these great lit mags. And I don't mind catering to all their special requirements because, hey, their jobs are hard. They have to sift through a lot of crappy stories and they also have to turn down good work just because it doesn't fit with their aesthetics. Often they are understaffed and usually they aren't getting paid. Lit mags are a labor of love. So if making sure my margins are the right width and taking the time to type out all my contact info in an email somehow makes their job easier, I am all for it. Writing fiction is my other job and it is one I am usually not paid for, even when I do get an acceptance. So essentially the editors of lit mags and I are in the same boat. Lots of work, little pay, but the joy doing something we love. They are rewarded with a magazine of quality fiction that they helped to select. I am rewarded occasionally with seeing my work in print, but usually I just get a form email saying thanks, but no thanks. And that is enough to keep me trying.
But lately I am noticing a new trend. I have run across two lit mags in recent weeks who currently have stories of mine under consideration. Or so I thought. Part of my job as a writer is to also check up on my stories and make sure that they didn't get lost somewhere along the way. I usually start by going to the lit mag's website and double-checking on their usual response time. This is how I discovered that two places I submitted to in 2010 changed their response policies. Or lack of response policies, I guess would be more accurate.
Some lit mags are now deciding that they get so many submissions that they can't be bothered to respond unless they actually want to publish the story. But yet, they still expect me, as a professional author, to inform them if my story is published somewhere else. They do not bother to state a time frame of when it is safe to assume my story is no longer under consideration.
Well, this causes a few problems for me. First of all, does this mean if I don't get my story published for a year after I submit it, do I have to notify you it has been published then? What about in five years? How about a decade?
Secondly, while many lit mags do accept simultaneous submissions, there are still a lot out there that don't. Now as a rule I am not quick to submit to these places, but if I have a story that I feel would be a good fit for them, especially if they are having a themed issue, I am going to respect their guidelines and make sure that my story is not under consideration elsewhere when they have it. But how do I know if my story is still under consideration if I sent it to one of these "no response" lit mags a few months prior? Or a year prior? It can take a long time to find the right home for some stories. It can take some lit mags over a year to respond. But at least they respond!
Finally, by having a no response policy, the lit mags are depriving all these struggling authors of the one thing that makes this process worthwhile -- confirmation that even though it wasn't accepted, someone did indeed receive and take the time to read our work. Even when it is a form email, it is still somehow encouraging to get back on the computer and submit again.
I understand that many lit mags are hit with thousands of stories, most of which will not be accepted. But there are a lot of great programs out there (like Submishmash) that can make the submission and response process easier for everyone involved. Many of them are free of charge to the lit mags, as long as they are not charging fees to the writers to submit their work. Even if the editors still find it impossible to send everyone a form rejection, at least with a submission manager, as a writer, I can log into my account and obsessively check to see if my piece has been rejected or not.
I suppose I have the option of emailing the editors and asking if my story is still under consideration with them, but if they can't be bothered to send me a form email in the first place, I don't hold out much hope of them going to the trouble of looking in their records for my story and sending a personal response to my email.
I hope that any editors who may read this takes a moment to consider that while you have a tough, time-consuming job, so do all the writers who are trusting you with their work. A impersonal mass email letting us know that we didn't make the cut doesn't seem like too much ask in my opinion.
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