no more Ms. Nice Writer

I’ve gotten decidedly snippier with the queries I send to magazines when they’ve held my story for an unreasonably long time. These aren’t your everyday queries — “hey, Strange Horizons, you say to nudge you after 70 days, so I’m politely nudging” — this is the “hey you’ve had it for a year and I queried and you said you’d gone on hiatus (would have been nice if you told anyone that) but you’d have a response for me Real Soon Now but it’s been another three months since then” kind of query.

The really sad part is, I’m betting half the short story writers reading this post just thought, “I wonder if she’s talking about Market X,” where Market X could be one of a number of different ‘zines. I’ve actually sent out more than one of these queries lately. Which is a really depressing statement on the lack of professional behavior to be found in some corners of our field. I know that precious few editors out there actually do this as a job, and I cut very large amounts of slack for that; a market pretty much has to have a regular response time above six months before I’ll consider them “slow,” and all too often I let a year go by before I actually get annoyed. But when you do things like putting your magazine or anthology on hiatus without informing the people in your slush pile (or even announcing it anywhere other people might see), or ignoring polite queries for months on end, or continually promising results you don’t deliver . . . eventually, I do lose patience.

And it’s started to show up in those late-stage queries. I’m not rude — at least, I try not to be — but I’m less forgiving. I’ve been burned a little too much lately by editors jerking me around to cut anyone endless slack anymore. I’m confident enough in myself now to say I have better things to do than waste my time on this kind of crap.

Not confident enough that I haven’t second- and third-guessed my decision to post this, but hey. I haven’t named names, and I think we do need to occasionally remind ourselves that not everything is reasonable. When I start having to specify what year a story got submitted in, things have gone too far.

0 Responses to “no more Ms. Nice Writer”

  1. amysun

    Wow, you have more patience than me. I’d withdraw my story.

    • Marie Brennan

      In a lot of cases it’s a story that doesn’t have a lot of places to go — because of length (short or long) or subject matter or whatever. But I also tend to forget about these things for months at a time. 🙂

  2. london_setterby

    You were right to post this. I can understand the long response times (well… to a point), but seriously, not informing anyone that they had gone on hiatus? That’s disrespectful to writers *and* readers. If they get in over their head, that’s understandable, of course, but they should let people know. (Especially when these same zines discourage simultaneous submissions..)

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve gotten that from several places lately. Also lots of excuses about the difficulties on the editor’s end — even, and I won’t provide any details that might be used to identify, one person at a magazine saying the other one maybe took on an impossible task in trying to do their job.

      Which more or less makes me think, “okay, then I’m done working with that person.” Because when you get down to it, an editor’s personal difficulties are not my problem. I may be sympathetic, but my professional response is unchanged: I’ll come back when you’ve proven that you can do your job. Until then, I’ll look elsewhere. If your response to me consists of “here’s the problems I’ve been having” without any kind of concrete plan for how you’re going to deal with them (at least as far as our interactions are concerned), then you haven’t actually addressed my concern. You’ve just made it worse, because now I have even less reason to believe I’m going to see any kind of productive response.

      Yes, short fiction is at this point mostly a club scene, people doing it for the love and not the money, often at cost to themselves. But some people manage to do that and still be reliable in their dealings. Those people are going to be my first port of call.

  3. mrissa

    Oh yes, I had candidates. For sure. Multiple candidates.


  4. Marie Brennan

    It’s when things that don’t look dubious behave dubiously that I get really irritated. (Admittedly, of the three really annoying experiences I’ve had lately, two were places I’d never subbed before. The third . . . I don’t talk about publicly.)

  5. la_marquise_de_

    That’s admirable. I am so long trained by academic journals (than some of which glaciers move more swiftly) that this is a skill I have yet to learn.

  6. ken_schneyer

    We had a lively debate concerning simultaneous submissions on my LJ a while back, and another concerning long response times.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m able to respect requests to avoid simultaneous submissions only when they come from mags with something resembling reasonable response times. What this really means is that I choose not to submit at all to those markets that say, “Send your story to no one else, but you might not hear from us for a year.” (…or Duotrope indicates that that’s how long I may have to wait for a response…) That’s inconsiderate and unprofessional, and there are only about a dozen different ways for them to avoid the problem.

    I’m early enough in my writing career that this amounts to a sacrifice (i.e., I actually worry about whether a story will get accepted elsewhere, and foregoing the publication possibility will have negative consequences) but I just don’t have time for nonsense. For someone as well-established as you are, I’m amazed you keep your temper as long as you can when you’re treated so badly.

    • Marie Brennan

      Interesting debates. Despite my annoyance here, I’m not on the side of those who advocate ignoring the no-simsub rule. Editors have the right to run their slushpile however they want; if I don’t like it, then (as you say) I just don’t submit to them. (Or, more likely, they stay on my list — but at the bottom. They can look over the stories nobody else has wanted.)

      In my experience, btw, you’re totally right about there being distinct break-points in response times. You’ve got your 1-2 week markets, your 1-month markets, your 2-3 month markets, your 6-month markets, and then your “god knows” markets. And that corresponds with moderate closeness to my hierarchy of submissions order, though the ideal of that order gets messed up by which markets are open when I have a story available, and also the consideration of what’s well-suited for what magazine.

      As for my patience . . . well, all things considered, I’m still a small fish in this pond. Not a minnow, but not Jay Lake, either. I’m reluctant to take steps that might offend anyone. (The fact that I did recently tell an editor point-blank that I liked their mag, but would not submit to it again until they demonstrated that they had gotten their act together, should be taken as a measure of how completely ripshit I am about my experiences there. And even then, I know the reaction on their end probably boiled down to “<shrug>, whatever.”)

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