Friday, October 9, 2009

Editorial: Letters to the Editors, A (Cathartic) Survey of the Prick of the Spindle X-List Thus Far, or, Ego v

Editorial: Letters to the Editors, A (Cathartic) Survey of the Prick of the Spindle X-List Thus Far, or, Ego vs. Art, or, How Insecure Writers “Handle” Rejection, or, How Not to Get Your Work Recognized, or, Showing Your Ass to the Editors

By Cynthia Reeser

Being an editor has its rewards—among these is the opportunity to read work by promising authors, some of whom are new to the publishing game; the chance to transform pieces that are capable of shining with a bit of polishing; and the pride that comes with seeing the launch of an issue that has involved months of planning, editing and designing. But then, there are drawbacks. Unfortunately, that list is much longer and includes but is not limited to: long, thankless, unpaid hours of reading through stacks of submissions measurable in feet (not the poetic kind); the investment of time reading and editing work that is accepted and planned for in an upcoming issue, only to have the author say that, sorry, it’s already been accepted by another publication, and they’d be happy to send us more work. This list could go on, but I’ll spare the uninitiated.

But I will say that perhaps the worst offense of all is the slap (spittle?) in the face that comes from having a writer act unprofessionally. “Unprofessional” is a pretty broad term, but to us, it often boils down to something specific. Let me offer you a place in my Gianni Binis for a moment: You’ve come home from an eight hour workday, kick off your shoes, grab the leftovers from the fridge that you probably wouldn’t feed your neighbor’s dog (all in the interest of time management) and sit down to:

a. answer e-mails
b. read submissions
c. write reviews
d. plan interviews
e. write bitchy articles like this one
f. plan layout and design until you drop sometime around midnight-4 a.m.
(Choose one for any given night of any given week.)

If you chose a., and your response to a submission was:

We appreciate your considering Prick of the Spindle as a creative outlet; however, we ask that you follow submission guidelines, and submit only once per reading period, as we request.

Then the reply could be this:

YAWN, worry about quality not rules.

Or this (of which the initial e-mail’s subject line was the commanding imperative “Accept These Two Poems for v1.3”):

Thank you for your recent rejection letter from Prick of the Spindle. As per the instructions of Aleister Crowley (Liber III Vel Jugorum) I've chosen to cut myself sharply on the forearm with a razor each and every time I am rejected from a literary journal. My arm will then serve as a constant reminder of my shortcomings—a constant reminder of my apparent inability to write in a way that is trendy and "contemporary" enough to be worth reading. There is work to be done; there is blood to free; so I leave you with a question, Mrs. Reeser: Feareth not the *Unicorn* the claws and teeth of the *Lion*? I suppose we shall see, Mrs. Reeser. I suppose we shall see.

O Evil Arrogant One, Creator of Words, Assigner of Marital Status*

*Editor’s Note: Name of author has been changed to protect him from being awarded publication and to reflect actual personality or lack thereof.

I couldn’t make these up—they’re far too clever for me. The preceding nugget of gold received this response:

Sometimes a work is rejected because it is not the right fit for the journal, and other times it is simply due to its being outvoted
between the poetry editors, though I personally would like to see more of your work.

If you ever have further questions, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Yes, I know. I’m waaaay too nice. But—oh!—it gets better. A response! Which goes exactly like this:

All we have are questions, Cynthia. We are bound to them like the manacled to the bourgeois; like the self to the flesh. We dream, Cynthia. Futile dreams. Do you hear them plea, Cynthia? Do you hear the dreams and dreamers plea?

Oh we plea.

We plea in hungry aching whispers: "Fin de siècle, fin de siècle."

And when the curtain fails to fall we envenom the alley puddles behind your establishments with bubbles of insemination like an infantry of broken oxygenaters. Silent streams of bubbles, Cynthia. Silent because no one wants to listen to whimpers.

Silent because no one wants to listen to truth.

O Evil Arrogant One, Creator of Words, Assigner of Marital Status

Oh, would that I were as clever and could make references to a movement from roughly a hundred years ago without bothering to link it to any meaning. Or that I held the power to divine that the editor was married and use the term “Mrs.” without thought. Or that I could inseminate puddles with my bubbles.

On the other hand, if you received a rejection and were feeling all pissy and creative and hadn’t read that particular journal’s content, you might write something like this:

thanks, here's one you can enjoy

The Editor by Uninformed Moron*

There was this guy. We’ll call him Michael. He ran this small literary magazine. He tried to publish underground writers. Mostly he published bad writing. There are plenty of them out there. Bad writers. He always wrote these funny rejections letters. Most were arrogant and worse than the hacks he published. What does it take to be an editor? First of all, you have to have no talent. That’s the first step. The rest is just being an ass hole. You have to think you are doing something important. That is key. Michael thought he was important. His little magazine had a few readers. He even had a few decent writers. The good writers never submitted after they got published. They had bigger fish to fry. So Michael was left with bad writers. He’d send these pompous rejection slips each week. “I like this, but I don’t trust it.” “I feel that you are just making things up.” That is writing. More than half of it, is all bullshit. Nobody wants to read about reality. Most like reading about whores, drunks, and sex. The readers crave escape. They want an alternate reality. Michael was pretty good at publishing whore stories, but lately his magazine’s head had swollen. He started looking for art and culture. That is when you are finished. When you start listening to the voices. You start puffing your own chest out. You get away from your roots. You forget what you do best. There was one particular writer that Michael published named Tom. Tom was the real deal. He wrote about whores, boxing, drunks, and sex. Most of his stories were gross. None of them were ever boring. Tom never worried about his writing. He never cared about anything. He just wrote. It flowed out of him. He had to write. Tom had a few stories published. Michael even published one. “Tom, these are always fun to read but I feel that I don’t trust it.” Tom was doing Michael a favor. Imagine all the horrible stories Michael read on a daily basis. Tom was bringing a little joy and happiness by submitting. The years rolled by. Michael kept publishing the small magazine. His readers slowly dwindled. Part of it was that the writers were the only ones who read it. Once Michael had pissed off the talent, they took their brilliance elsewhere. Tom was no different. He took his poetry and stories to the more established rags. Michael finally decided to pull the plug on his little magazine. It had been a good run. He focused on his writing more. “Michael, I like this but I feel it’s not true.” “Best of luck placing it somewhere else.” Tom retired at 35. He published his first novel. It was a best seller. It was about whores, drunks, and sex.
The End

Uninformed Moron (with too much time on his hands)*

*Editor’s Note: Name of author has been changed to protect him from being awarded publication and to reflect actual personality or lack thereof.

However, if you were a person who held a particular sense of entitlement due to past circumstances in your personal life that had given you a feeling of victimization so embedded within your personality that you would never, ever be able to get rid of it and would always treat others like dirt to make yourself feel better, you might, just might, write something along these lines after being accepted by a journal with whom you had been working on edits, and from whom you had decided to pull your submission because you couldn’t bring yourself to stoop to changing your work, even if only for clarity’s sake:

Oh, I 'm so sorry to have inconvenienced you. I have only been published 7 or 8 times, so i didn't realize that i couldn't choose between several publishers if I had multiple offers. You mean, I have to pick the first publisher that picks me? For some reason i thought I actually had a choice where my intellectual property is published. i thought i actually owned my work up until the time it appeared in print. Thanks for disabusing me of that notion. What if a second or third offer involves payment. Do I still have to go with the first offer if i never agreed to give my piece to that first editor?

Oh, this is indeed a learning process.

The other journal accepted my piece first, but i was not clear if he was really going to publish it because he did not state when it would be published. When i got assurance that the short story would be in an upcoming issue, i gave it to him.

Victim 4 Life

Ahh…time to kick back, sip a glass of wine, and let those ungrateful writers’ e-mails roll on in. Bring on the ego trips guys—they really do provide some much-needed comic relief! In the meantime, I’ll be reading your submissions, free of charge.


Mel Bosworth said...

awesome, painful, funny.

Cynthia Reeser said...

Mel, you're a rock star.

Laura Ellen Scott said...

just saw this. priceless. stay strong Mrs. Reeser!

Cynthia Reeser said...

Thanks, Laura. The journal's a pure joy, no matter which way you slice it.