Poems, Perseverance and Politeness. - Part 4 of a 9 part series
by David S Taub
Friday, June 14, 2002
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Poems, Perseverance and Politeness.
(Part 4 of 9)
It is following a conversation I recently had with a friend on-line, that leads me to write this article. It also, coincidentally, follows on from a previous article I wrote (Poems, Presentation and PCs).
This friend was feeling very despondent and questioning their effectiveness as both a poet and 'letter writer'. She had written a covering letter accompanying some poems for submission to several poetry magazine editors. Each letter was slightly different, because she had taken the trouble to address each according to the editor's name, and supply the information requested according to the guidelines.
Three of the editors had not acknowledged or responded at all. She had come to the conclusion (or rather made the assumption) that the editors had not been impressed with her letter and / or poetry. And herein lies the problem! We all do it... I do it, though try hard not to. That is, jump to what seems the obvious conclusions, rather than take a step back and try and consider all the possibilities of what may have gone wrong. That can be quite a daunting task to actually consider ALL the possibilities.
We talked through some of the possibilities (which I also discussed in the last article) and discounted them on-by-one. She had indeed sought and followed guidelines, professionally presented her submissions and her letters were faultless. What was more telling, though, was the fact she had received responses from some of the editors that she had written to. OK - then that narrowed the possibilities down. Simply, had the submissions safely arrived with the 3 non-responding editors? If so, what reasons could there be for them not replying? In fact, was this a reflection on my friend's endeavours, OR a reflection on the each of the 3 editors / organisations she had sent them to!
We worked on the basis (for very good sound reasons) that each of the 3 had received her submission, and I then suggested we look at some of the possible reasons (and not that far-fetched) as to why they had not responded. The most obvious to consider is an assumed 'Time-scale' that one considers is reasonable to expect a reply by. Here are some interesting facts then. Let's just look at submissions using email which, generally speaking, should be the fastest method of turn-round correspondence. My personal findings are that an average time to send an initial query and get a response is about a week to two weeks. Now having said that (and bearing in mind I am English), it can take far longer when sending an email to an English based Editor / publication. Not because of anything to do with the email, but the English *attitude* towards this email technology! On the whole the English just don't give email the same consideration as they do towards hard-copy mail. Yes, that is a generalisation, and there are some equally like-minded American editors. But consider other possibilities too. All of which I have personally encountered.
It is normally easy enough to know if email was received (if the organisation uses the same server as you do), but that is not the same as having been read! Editors, like all other ordinary people, fall ill, go on vacation, go away on business, have unexpected domestic and business problems including their PC crashing, to accidentally deleting email before read! This could reasonably add two or three weeks to your eagerly anticipated response! Most of those factors also apply to submissions by mail, added to time taken for mail to get there and be replied to.
Now all this is fairly reasonable, but is also working on the assumption that all correspondence goes directly to an editor. Ahha!! two or more people 'involved' or rather 'getting in between you and the editor'. It happens with email too you know! You may THINK you are emailing directly to the editor, but I know a number of editors who NEVER sit in front of a screen, although you were told it was the 'editor's email address'.
Rather than assume things, the first obvious thing to do is send another quick letter checking that your submission was received and if there is a time-scale you should work to for a reply!
I allow about 10 days (for email). It is by this method I discovered the word 'tardiness', as in an apology from the editor not being 'tardy' (slow / 'dragging their heels') but for whatever reason they give.
What if this second attempt to get a response fails then? This is the point you have to decide if to still give the editor / publication the 'benefit of the doubt'. Personally I do. My strategy, however, is to send copies of the original correspondence, remaining courteous, and stating to the effect that I am assuming their lack of reply has been due to some 'oversight'. A marvellous word, which covers all eventualities and often will draw a response confirming it was an 'oversight.
But now what, when this third attempt has achieved nothing? Well quite frankly I have to draw the conclusion of one of the facts of life. The editor / publication is either totally disorganised / overworked AND / or the fact that some editors / publications are just down-right rude, inconsiderate or plain indifferent. The reality is some organisations are just that. The real test is to ask around and find out if anyone else has had the same lack of response. They tend to be the exception to the rule, but by no means unheard of. And another interesting discovery (both by personal experience and speaking with others) - this is very typical of 'Vanity publications'.
My advice is to warn others, because you can help them to save a lot of their time and expense. In some instances (for a number of reasons) I may well try again at a later date. Editors and staff do change, particularly when an organisation discovers it is getting a bad reputation by one of its idle members of staff, who has been filing submissions in the 'bottom drawer'. Yes that does happen!
One example I personally experienced recently, was receiving a letter enclosing the publisher's 'catalogue' and submission guidelines, 3 months after my original enquiry. They also added that it may take up to 6 months before they would get round to looking at any submission. My stance is very simple in that instance. My time is too valuable to waste on an organisation that clearly can't organise a "Drinking spree in a brewery". There is persistence and there is desperation. Believe me there are plenty more good publishers out there that will treat you courteously and efficiently.
The truth is this: An editor / organisation that repeatedly has not responded, should not be considered as a 'rejection'. A rejection or acceptance is very clear cut. It is when a response has been given by the 'decision-maker' in that organisation. This applies to poetry, magazine articles and book manuscripts alike.
One of the examples of when I may persist beyond three attempts of making a submission to an editor, is if I am fairly certain that it never reached the editor - the decision-maker! This is rare with small press publishers, but extremely common with larger organisations. I have first-hand personal experience of this situation, although mainly with working as a feature-writer, (free-lance) for magazines. I wrote about this in a published article only last year. With my persistence and unswerving conviction that the editor was not personally seeing my proposal, (if you must know the truth... 6 attempts including fax and phone calls), I finally got my work to the editor and it was accepted. I also discovered that some 'self-appointed wannabe-editor' in that organisation, had taken it upon himself to decide what the editor may or may not consider suitable. The real joke being - that individual did not even work directly for the editor!
So to conclude and summarise: Do not automatically assume that failing to get a response, or what appears to be a 'rejection' has anything to do with you as a writer and poet Success often also requires clear-thinking research, professionalism (which is not an automatically inherited quality with editors and publishers), and sensibly balanced persistence.
Copyright David Taub (UKpoet.aol.com), 1999
First written for Internet poetry magazine, Issue 4, 1999
Due to appear as a series in "Florida Palm" (Florida Writers' Association – membership magazine), 2002
David Taub is a member of :
The Florida Writers' Association;
The British organisation 'National Union of Journalists' (NUJ);
Columnist for the UK magazine 'Poetry Now';
Freelance writer for various UK and USA magazines;
Co-author of Language of Souls (listed on amazon.com)