It’s late July, halfway through the summer quarter, and the word of the week is “actually.” As in: “The Neon Bible‘s actually kind of interesting,” and “this book is actually pretty good.” Rack up another point for youth readership. I hope next week’s foray into Never Let Me Go is as fruitful. In rereading the book for class prep, I realized there was a good deal more sex in it than I remembered. I hope we’re able to deal with it with more élan than we dealt with the word “bosom” (in context, it meant heart or soul) today.
Goofy as my kids’ behavior can be, the title of today’s post isn’t anything to do with classroom behavior. Instead, “How Not to Behave” brings me back to the publishing world. It was an interesting week in the literary magazine world at large, and there was some interesting and, I would say, “bad” behavior we could stand to learn from.
On Sunday, my writing partner Tanya and I were having a cup of coffee and going over a new chapter of her manuscript when both our phones buzzed with a new email message. It was from a fellow Los Angeles Review editor, who had forwarded to us several angry rants from a submitter. The editor had sent this individual a form rejection (which is less an indicator of our interest/lack thereof than it is of our very limited time). This submitter, who had sent material that was not a good fit for us in any way, then replied with multiple, abusive emails making bizarre racial and ethnic references, suggesting that we were brutalizing him with our form letter, and speaking obliquely about the destruction of our and other nations.
On the one hand, the declarations this submitter made were so non sequitur that they were kind of amusing, and we made a few jokes among ourselves to diffuse the creepiness of the messages. But the idea that a routine rejection could so fully unhinge someone? That’s scary. And why would you want to scare your potential editors? We’re here to publish people’s work, and just because one piece didn’t do it for us doesn’t mean a follow-up piece wouldn’t be a good fit. But when submitters take out their strange and terrible frustrations on editors, they’d better believe they’ve just significantly lowered their chances of seeing work in print. Submitters: play nice. (Most of you do already).
But on the flipside, there’s been some bad behavior on the editorial side of the lit mag world this week, too. In what The Paris Review likely thought would be a quiet move, its new poetry editor took a gander at the backlog of the journal’s accepted work, found a discrepancy between his and the previous editor’s tastes, and then sent un-acceptance letters to a number of poets who’d been told their work would appear in forthcoming issues. That’s right. An un-acceptance. A fake-out, if you will. They accepted, and then they rejected with a form note saying “we have not found a place for your (poem/s).” Wow.
Now I’m not usually one to criticize how other literary journals do their work–goodness knows we at LAR are not perfect, and I’ve personally made some embarrassing editorial flubs that still make me blush. But to send someone a form un-acceptance letter? That’s just not okay. To me, it seems that this problem was created by an editor who was more interested in his own aesthetic than in his readers or his writers. Without readers and writers (and the two go together quite a bit in this field), editors are worthless. Who cares what kind of taste we have or don’t have if we’re driving away our audience and our producers by treating them dismissively? Editors: let’s remember that our writers make our journals worth reading. Without writers, our publications are nothing but stacks of blank paper. Editors: play nice. (And yes, most of you do already, too. Let’s just not take a page from The Paris Review’s playbook. )