amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

magazines that don’t send word

to acknowledge, reject or accept work are a pain in the ass, aren’t they? this happens too much these days with literary magazines. the thing is these are often mighty fine publications, content-wise, but their management skills are the pits.

it’s important to at least let writers know when their work has been accepted, if nothing else. how many times have you, dear writers, opened up a magazine only to find your work published? or found it online for that matter?

and those rejection e-mails or’s ok if they take time (although a year is pretty crazy), but not to send them out at all is bad.

i’ve seen some of these aforementioned publications begging for submissions and i’m not surprised. after a while if you treat people with disrespect, they will no longer participate in your endeavour.

yep, most in small press publishing are volunteers or very poorly paid, but that’s no excuse. if the number of submissions is overwhelming and thus making it impossible to respond, editors should figure out a way to manage the submissions: find someone or a webtool to automate the system; communicate that a submission won’t receive any acknowledgement unless it’s accepted or that the writer must find out by awaiting publication. this helps to manages expectations. editors can also allow for simultaneous submissions. they can post updates about delays on their website or blog. they shouldn’t say they will respond within four months when there’s not a cat in hell’s chance that this is the case. after four months, i’ve queried, only to be ignored some more.

i see this issue from both sides because i also wear the hat of Bywords' managing editor and i’m the one who receives all the submissions (about 100 poems a month via e-mail). i’m happy to say we have an excellent record of handling submissions. if you don’t receive an acknowledgment from us within 48 hours, something has gone awry.

the whole system of submission, selection and publication depends on communication. if something breaks down, the system is shot to hell. perhaps it’s easy to take those who submit their work for granted because there are so many people dying to get their work published, but this runs the risk of alienating them. while invited calls are another way to acquire content, if guidelines claim to consider unsolicited work, that work needs to be taken seriously and handled with respect.

personally, i’m tired of sending work to magazines and hearing nothing back. nothing at all. there are a few Canadian magazines i simply won’t submit any more of my work to.

the main thing is to communicate and treat those who submit work with the respect and attention you want the publication to receive. it’s a working relationship and both sides should treat one another with professionalism and respect.

and if you’re a writer, i’d like to say that if you follow the guidelines, write the appropriate query letter, format your submissions properly and follow all instructions to the letter, you’ll receive equal professionalism back. alas it doesn’t appear to be the case, but you should do so anyway.

here are a few dos and don’ts for writers who wish to submit their work:


1. include your name and contact info;
2. include a bio only if it is requested;
3. follow instructions about attachment types;
4. title the work within the body of the text and not just using a file name;
5. write a cover letter which lists the titles of the work you are submitting;
6. keep track of your submissions;


1. exceed the maximum number of pieces specified in the guidelines;
2. ask the editor about his or her personal response to your work;
3. take a rejection of your work personally;
4. submit simultaneously if the guidelines specify not to;
5. submit previously published work (that’s a bit of a grey area...some consider self- published or self-blog published to be published and some don’t.)

i’d suggest you send query e-mails, but the chance of a response is pretty unlikely.

if you have any success or horror stories about sending work to a literary magazine, feel free to comment. if you have any constructive ideas about how to make the whole submission process more workable, be you publisher, editor, writer or all three or a combination thereof, i’d love to hear your thoughts. how can we improve things for everyone involved?

1 comment:

Stephen Rowntree said...

Thanks Amanda,

I've pretty much stopped submitting to certain publications for many of the reasons you outlined...there is nothing more frustrating than having to send a second or third email or missive politely asking if 'they got your submission', then, as you said, finding it published after all. Courtesy should go both ways.

On a positive note Bywords has always shown me not only courtesy, but respect and, Amanda, and the Bywords staff (volunteers, which is lovely) were the first to accept and publish my work, and for that, and so much more, I am so very fortunate.

On a sad note, the other major Ottawa poetry magazine/journal did nothing of the kind, never even acknowledging my submission, even after a second polite query.

If an editor does not find ones' work suitable or what they are looking for, they should be respectful enough to tell you.

Lastely, Coach House was extraordinary, not only did I recieve a prompt, 3 months, which I gather is prompt, rejection letter, but a handwritten note from the editor enouraging me to submit in the future and continue writing.