Welp, normally I’d stick a fabulously lousy photo here, but WordPress has changed their editor since I last logged in and I can’t figure out how to do it.
oh look, I did it! Nope, nothing to do with this post, but I like the way this photo came out. Or maybe this is me, glaring at all the world’s nonsense.
What brings me here after my long months away? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about respect and ever elusive dignity in the writing world. The other day someone tweeted a great thread that’s gone close to writing-twitter viral, and I have thoughts. Ok, maybe not close to viral, but it found its way into my feed a lot, and my standards for numbers (or anything else) aren’t that high. I love what the OP had to say and think these are great guidelines for members of the writing community. The reality for many is they don’t have the bandwidth (mental or otherwise) to make the table bigger.
So I’ll make it even simpler–don’t shit on the table. That’s it. Seems pretty straightforward to me, and yet, basic respect and professionalism is somehow a reach for too many. Writing is weird.
Weird by definition, it can be lonely, isolating to allow yourself to get lost in your head and create characters, entire worlds. The publishing world, also weird, so much of it balanced on personal opinions, lots of the entry points having different expectations for formatting, guidelines, information required, etc. Tell me about yourself! Don’t tell me about yourself! Query only! Query and first 10 pages! Query, synopsis, and first three chapters! Simultaneous submissions are fine! Simultaneous submissions are never okay! Have your work professionally edited before sending! Never pay for an editor if you aren’t self publishing! Is your head spinning yet? Mine does, all the time. What focuses me is the writing itself, and the writing community.
Like any community, there are constant squabbles, jabs, and disagreements (often referred to as discourse). That’s cool. We’re all individual humans, bringing our individual points of view and experiences. We should, however, not forget our table manners. Personal attacks? Not cool. Bashing a genre you don’t write or read because you don’t write or read it? Yo, who’s farting and blaming the dog? Sending a ranty missive and you’ll-be-sorry-you-wouldn’t-recognize-excellent-writing-if-it-bit-you-on-the-ass threats to an editor or agent who sent you a rejection? Now you shit on the table. There’s the obvious of how unprofessional, disrespectful and downright criminal those follow up to rejection notes are, but there’s also the fallout for the rest of us. Those of us trying to keep straight the individual guidelines and follow them, make connections, build relationships, get an offer of rep or publication? Congrats, you’ve just made it a million times harder for us, because now that agent or editor may stop including a personal note where they otherwise might have, or increasingly, not send a rejection at all, because they’re concerned it will be perceived as an invitation for abuse.
Basic respect is everything. And not just respect for industry professionals, but for ourselves and each other. Know your own limits. I’ve seen a zillion tweets ranting about things that might or might not bother me. Or you. What I perceive as fine, others might perceive as disrespectful. I’ve seen many complaints about wording in rejection letters, sometimes for phrases I know are forms. Rarely has the phrasing in a rejection letter bothered me. I didn’t love this as much as I’d hoped? Cool, I’ve had that thought myself about lots of stories, published and not. Solicitations to buy your mag/take your course within a rejection? Yeah, that bothers me. A lot. Some can’t tolerate submission fees from lit mags. I don’t mind a small (seriously, small, a couple/few dollars, $20 is not only disrespectful, but predatory, imo) fee for a paying market. Honestly I don’t see it as different than an annual kickstarter favored by some of the mags. Others vehemently oppose a small sub fee.
Contest with a significant entry fee but equally significant payoff? Cool. Contest with a significant entry fee and a small payoff? Annual contest where the winners just happen to only consist of those who’ve taken (paid for) the editor’s classes? Contest with a significant entry fee and solicitations for 2-3 more run by the same mag arriving in my inbox before the first one is closed/winners announced…hmm, do you smell that?
Long wait times. Shrug. We all have different definitions of a long wait time. Having the innate patience of a flea, I love fast responses. I’ve seen complaints about mags that respond within a day, or a couple of days. Personal preference. But I’m also fine with mags that take 3-6 months to reply, if they take simultaneous submissions. Over a year to reply to a short story? Yeah, no. Again, that’s me, others are fine with it. Simultaneous submissions. Some won’t sub to mags that are no sim sub places. Honestly, it makes me a little uncomfortable, but often these are the better paying and well known mags, so I can tolerate some discomfort–if/when those mags are straightforward about how long it will take them to respond. Please, magazines/editors: have enough respect for those submitting work to be honest about approximately how long to expect for a reply. I’m an
old bag big girl, I know the difference between 2 weeks and 5 months, and know exactly how many markets I may miss/missed submitting to because their sub window closed while I was waiting for your reply. I’m also old enough to understand life happens to the best of us (especially these past years. Oy. Covid, burnout, childcare issues, eldercare issues, the whole fucking world is on fire), including those who run literary magazines. So maybe, for whatever reason (none of my business what that reason is) your usual response time has turned to dust. Send an email letting submitters know you’re behind, expect to have replies out in X months, have a note posted on Duotrope/The Submission Grinder, close your subs until you catch up, and I dunno, is it insane for me to think hey, if you haven’t heard back within three times the amount of weeks/months originally projected, maybe say it’s ok to send the work to other venues? Seriously, I’m asking, is that whiney or is that reasonable?
About that whole “each other” thing. Honestly, I’m pretty lucky. I’ve got a number of fantastic, long-time writer friends who are incredibly supportive, all at different points on their writing journey, with varying goals. Quite a few where I am literally squealing with joy as I retweet their links and successes, scream about their brilliant words, harass everyone else I know to purchase and read their work. You won’t see every link or success, but you’ll see some–offer the support. Or maybe they aren’t there, so if you have the time to do it well, read and crit for them. Certainly, cheerlead. Do this. Really, it feels good, and we all need it–the giving and the receiving. The success of others, small or large, takes nothing from you or your work. Don’t belittle the accomplishments of others. Unless it’s yet another 6 figure publishing contract for a traitorous bastard trying to step on democracy and strip the rights of others whose book is actually being written by an underpaid & unacknowledged ghost writer.
Some have brought me to tears with their generous thoughts and support for my words, and I’m grateful each and every time. Regardless of where our seat is; writer, editor, publisher, agent, trade published, self published, unpublished, we all deserve some basic respect to be given and received. Most of all, don’t shit on the table.
*WP isn’t letting me see this in preview, so bear with me if there are glaring formatting mistakes and typos.