Posted by on Jan 15, 2008 in editors, literary magazines, rejection | 3 Comments

What a magazine editor owes a writer

A fascinating debate has begun over at Kelly J Spitzer’s blog. If you’re one of the many writers who doubles as an editor, even ‘trebles’ as editor and copy-editor, as I do, then you do get to see this problem from a wide range of perspectives. One of the most interesting things, to me, is that there’s a huge difference in genres when you meet editors talking about rejection letters. The literary fiction world is much more ‘suck it up and move on’ than the science fiction world, which is generally more collegiate and supportive (not in terms of individuals being nicer, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of having message boards and forums where writers foregather) and the poetry world can be very nasty indeed when it comes to critique from editors.

If only there was a way to show the average (or even above average) writer just how many stories arrive on a editor’s desk and cannot be distinguished one from another. The number of dead dog, college break up and ‘it turns out they were married all along’ type stories one has to read is downright morbid, and finding fresh reasons to reject them can test the ingenuity of the editor more than the writer ever tested theirs in the construction of their narrative!


  1. Jim Murdoch
    16th January 2008

    To answer your question I’m not sure there is. Certainly articles posted on-line help but they’re just numbers. Like all authors I’ve been rejected more that I’ll ever be accepted and all I have to say about rejection slips is that some are kinder than others. Especially with e-mails it is so much easier to send a slightly lengthier response explaining how many submissions they get every day and not to go away and swallow the entire contents of their medicine cabinets. Okay, it’s the same response to everyone but it hurts so much less when you get a nice wee personal-sounding note like that.

    I think a few magazines would do well to have a look at their submission guidelines too. That’s the first place to prepare a writer for rejection. Some do – We accept 2% of material submitted to us – and that’s good. It won’t stop the dafties sending in their half-baked ideas masquerading as poems and stories but they can’t say they weren’t warned.

    A few sites on-line incorporate pages about how to submit, not specifically to their site but in general, and I think that’s helpful; newbies have to learn. Back in the day when I first started sending out my stuff – way before the World Wide Web was a gleam in Timothy Berners-Lee’s eye – I was lucky enough to bump into a few editors who, even though they were busy, took a few minutes to explain why my submissions weren’t up to scratch and I will be forever grateful to them.

  2. Zen of Writing
    18th January 2008

    I think I’ve seen guidelines that specified “no college-break-up stories” — a lot of English majors send in their stories, I imagine. I wonder if their professors are telling them to give it a try, cluelessly encouraging as they can be at times.

  3. Kay Sexton
    18th January 2008

    Jim – I agree, an editor’s comments can be invaluable, and my personal preference is always to personalise replies. And I do think some places could do more to help the writer understand whether it’s worth submitting in the first place.

    Zen-of-Writing – I think it arises largely from the ghastly ‘write what you know’ edict that gets hammered into so many creative writing students, after all, tehir own college romances are their daily diet!


Leave a Reply