to contact or not to contact?
February 11, 2021 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I know there are no guarantees, but...

... I've been trying to get my creative writing published but I'm pretty new at this process. I have work forthcoming in a literary magazine this spring - my first acceptance after a year of working on getting my writing out into the world seriously beyond being a regular columnist for a regional arts publication (run by my friends, so they publish me no matter what, though they do tell me that they think I'm a good writer).

Last fall I submitted a fiction piece to an online literary magazine. I got a response about a week later rejecting it, but there was a personal note to me from the editors saying that they really loved the piece but couldn't find a way to fit it into their upcoming edition. However, in addition to their online magazine they publish a companion, hard-copy fiction anthology twice a year, and the editors strongly encouraged me to submit the story to the editors of the anthology, saying that they would be reaching out to those editors saying that they strongly believed in my piece and felt it would be a good fit for the anthology and urging them to accept.

So I did so. I replied to the editors who wrote me the kind note and let them know when I had sent in my submission to the anthology. (I did not tell the editors of the anthology that the online editors had encouraged me to submit, which maybe was a mistake?)

I just received a very perfunctory rejection from the anthology with no further comment. I know that the editors of the online wing of the publication were not guaranteeing that I'd be accepted for the anthology, but their endorsement seemed to indicated that they felt acceptance would be likely especially with a recommendation from them.

I'm new at this, as I said. I'm wondering if it may be worthwhile to reach out to the editors who encouraged me to submit to the anthology asking... I don't know what. Why? Did they actually tell the anthology editors that they were recommending my piece?

Or should I let this go? If so, that's totally fine, and I'll let it go. There are other pubs out there that I could submit this work to, it's no big deal.

Usually I follow my gut on this kind of thing, but this is a rare situation of my gut not really having a clear feeling. On the one hand, what do I have to lose reaching out to the editors of the online wing of the pub? On the other hand, am I going to look like a petulant whiner (which I'm sure they get a lot of because us writers tend to be sensitive beings and are protective of our work)?

Input from published writers or folks who have worked for literary pubs are who I'd love to hear from especially, but am open to any advice. And again, if the answer is "leave it alone", I'll happily leave it alone. I'm asking this question, again, because I'm so new to this world and don't know what the appropriate response is in a scenario like this. I'm DEFINITELY not looking to pick a fight here.

posted by nayantara to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You've had your story rejected. It's not pleasant, but as a writer you will discover that will happen almost every time you submit something. You have to let it go, and move to another market. If the editors didn't want your story, they didn't want your story. Contacting them about what the previous editor said will just come across as whining.

My suggestion, as someone who has some stories published (see my profile), go to the Submission Grinder, search for markets that will fit your story, accept multiple submissions, and have a reasonable average reply time, and submit to a large number of the markets at the same time.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Unless you have a personal relationship with one of the editors on either side, I'd say don't reach out. You should have mentioned that Editor Group 1 recommended you submit - as long as it's true, that sort of thing is helpful - but once the rejection is out, there's really no way to question it without, at best, raising eyebrows.

(Credentials: I don't write short fiction but at this point my entire social group does, I hear a ton about the process in a fair bit of detail.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I've worked for a few different literary magazines, and was the assistant fiction editor at a pretty prominent one. You are correct that it's not uncommon for editors to get emails from petulant rejected writers who can't believe their unsung masterpiece was not accepted. This is NOT at all how you sound, here. There are many clear signals that the editors expected your story to make it into their hard-copy anthology. If they're good editors they would understand your confusion and might be happy to have a chance to offer an explanation.

Also keep in mind that in my experience, turnover is pretty high at literary publications. Often submission-reading editors are volunteers or graduate students. Could that be in play here? Did they respond when you said you'd submitted to the hard-copy anthology?

A caveat: I'm not sure that reaching out will necessary lead to a reversed decision on the piece's publication. So don't message them with that expectation. But for your own clarity, why not? If you handle it graciously, they will probably give a closer look to any work you submit in the future.

And one more thing to keep in mind: there's this kind of default writer/editor dynamic that places writers in a subordinate role—especially new writers. Like editors are doing you a favor by even reading your work. Be wary of that perspective (even if it's only in your own mind). Magazines wouldn't exist without writers. Good editors know this and practice it in the way they interact with writers.

[edits for typos.]
posted by gold bridges at 12:08 PM on February 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks gold bridges - it's nice to get a sense of what it looks like on the inside, so to speak.

The editors of the online wing didn't respond when I sent them the note that I'd submitted on the hard-copy anthology. Perhaps there was a turnaround issue, as you note. I submitted the work in late September and only just got the second rejection today.

I'm leaning pretty strongly towards just letting this one go, but since I have your ear, if I were to send a brief note to the earlier editors, how would you suggest I approach it? I obviously won't demand that they force the anthology editors to reconsider, but I'm unsure how to word a request for clarity in a way that is gracious and not OMG HOW DARE YOU REJECT MY ILLUSTRIOUS WORK YOU SUCK.
posted by nayantara at 12:21 PM on February 11, 2021

This is sneaky but ... could you follow up pretending that you hadn't received the rejection, and drop in that So and So suggested you submit?
posted by cyndigo at 12:22 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, at the literary magazines I'm familiar with behind the scenes, this would be a slight faux-pas on the editors' part. For us, it was best practice that if an editor invited a writer to re-submit, when the author did, they'd get a personalized rejection back if the story wasn't accepted. Obviously, that made more work for the editors, which was why we were discouraged to do it, and it was super common for it to slip through the cracks.

Agree with everyone who says not to reach out to them. I don't think it's a situation where, IF ONLY THEY'D KNOWN, they would've accepted the story. But if you felt slightly jarred and like 'hmmm, that felt rude' you're not totally wrong!
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 12:24 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would not reach out to them; sorry about this. Rejections suck and it's ok to take a few days to tend to yourself over this. I find it good to have a list of other potential places to send work in my mind, if my first shot doesn't work out, because it helps me to have a plan after I process my feelings about a rejection. Is there anywhere else that you could send this? Also, in the future, if someone invites you to submit to something, it is good to remind them of that in the cover letter--even if you're writing the letter to the person who personally encouraged the submission. It's ok that you didn't do it this time, lesson learned. I hope you find a home for your work soon. Best of luck.
posted by k8lin at 12:59 PM on February 11, 2021

Best answer: I echo the general consensus that there's not much to be done at this point and you should probably drop it. But I just wanted to point out that you should definitely submit future stories to the editor who sent you the personal note. Make sure your cover letter reminds them of your previous personal contact. Something like, "Thanks again for your kind words about STORY TITLE. I hope you'll enjoy this one as well."

And this, by the way, is the answer to your question "What do I have to lose?" You currently have good will and a personal in with the editor of the magazine. You can apply that good will to any number of future submissions. I don't think it would be worth the risk of losing that good will over a single story.

(DISCLAIMER: I have never edited a short story magazine but I have submitted a bunch of stories to them and occasionally been published.)
posted by yankeefog at 1:35 PM on February 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

I’m not a published fiction writer but my partner is. My bystander’s impression of lit mags is that there’s a tremendous amount of turnover and the review process varies tremendously from one to the next. If an editor decides they like your work, that’s kind of the golden ticket and they may want to publish you repeatedly, so I would be willing to let this one go in order to set yourself up to refer to the whole business with your next submission. “Thank you for your kind words on my last submission and suggestion that I submit it to Online Wing” etc. Also the other surprising thing to me is that submissions are to a certain extent a numbers game. It’s a lot like dating I guess. It isn’t so much about your intrinsic merit as a writer as it is about finding someone who likes your writing and catching them on the day when they’re open to it. Another thing, some of them take close to a year to finally send a form rejection, but others are incredibly kind and generous with their advice. The whole enterprise feels very random.
posted by HotToddy at 3:10 PM on February 11, 2021

Best answer: I was thinking of including a potential note in my response, but then I wasn't entirely sure how to fit it within the context. But maybe something like:

"Hey [editors]! Thanks again for your kind note and encouragement to submit my piece [title] to [magazine]'s anthology. I received a standard rejection for that piece, which is, of course, not a problem. But I'm new to the submissions process, and I'm wondering for future reference: should I have mentioned your note of encouragement in my anthology submission? Thanks for your time, and I look forward to reading the latest issue!"

Something like that. As an editor I would have gladly responded to that message to clear things up. If I really loved your piece, I would have talked to the editors of the hard-copy anthology restating my enthusiasm for your work. Many editors I know would do the same, but on a sliding scale depending on how overworked they are... which, of course, you can't control. But I have gone to bat HARD for a piece I loved.

Agreed with everyone who says to mention this situation in further submissions! Good luck out there!
posted by gold bridges at 3:37 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I've got three pieces out for submission in several places so fingers crossed something works out! Still learning towards letting this one go, but I like gold bridge's script so I'm gonna sleep on it for a day or so and see how I feel about sending them a note in a few days when the sting of rejection is less fresh. (Ahh, the life of a writer.)

Thanks again!
posted by nayantara at 4:48 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

OK, Gold Bridges' script is so good that I'm flipping my vote. Ignore my advice to let it drop, and listen to Gold Bridges instead.
posted by yankeefog at 2:20 AM on February 12, 2021

Response by poster: I'm doing it! Thank you gold bridge for giving me a gracious script. I'll report back if I hear anything. 🙂
posted by nayantara at 11:32 AM on February 12, 2021

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