If you take a gander at the picture of me on the “About Us” page, the first thing that does not come to mind is “Ah, a Good Midwestern Girl.” If you know me personally, the idea of me as a GMG probably makes you giggle uncontrollably. But I am, at heart, a nice Nebraskan woman. I cannot pass up a really good steak. My spell check is configured to automatically replace “towards” with “toward,” because I’ve given up on the idea that I’m ever going to type “toward” of my own volition. And I always make my own Thanksgiving stuffing – from scratch, thank you.
Which is why I was stunned by what I read in this interesting and in-depth article about what editors of lit magazines want (on The Review Review).
Lynne Barrett’s article is full of good advice for people hoping to find recognition and publication in literary journals. She mentions practical stuff like keeping good records of where you’ve sent work out and making sure you indicate when submissions are simultaneous. But most of this (rather substantial) article’s advice amounted to this:
That’s it: be polite. It’s really sad that grown up artists – writers, painters, actors – have to be told to use the same rules that govern polite society when they approach someone about displaying/publishing/supporting their work.
Being polite is in the interest of both the artist and the purveyor of artistic work. In the same way that it’s not just nice but practical to give your mechanic a plate of homemade cookies for New Years, it’s not just rude but stupid to send a nasty-gram to an editor who rejects a favorite story. That same editor might have loved your second-favorite story, but not if you’ve gone off the rails at her once. And an editor who will identify you to other editors as One Big Headache will not help you create a professional reputation.
Let’s look at a less obvious example. Most editors have a clear and transparent submission policy; the results of that policy are usually apparent in the publication itself. So it’s easy to find out if the journal in question does not publish genre fiction, or is primarily interested in travel writing, or only publishes poetry in the style of Mary Oliver. If you send in a submission, without checking the publication’s style or requirements, you are essentially indicating that what the editor/manager/publisher of the magazine wants is not important to you. Is that really the message that’s going to get your work accepted?
An analogy: I had an attractive friend who tried on-line dating. In her profile, she stated explicitly that she would not date men who didn’t share the basic tenets of her faith. She wasn’t looking for a high income level, movie star looks, anything like that. Just a decent person around her age who shared some of her basic life views. The number of dates she went on where the person eventually mentioned that they totally disagreed with her faith was astounding – we stopped counting. And what was worse: most of the people told her they’d looked at her picture and contacted her because she was “cute” ; they told her that they didn’t care what she’d written.
That’s not very polite, is it? And it’s equally impolite to send an editor whatever we feel like without stopping to find out if it’s something they’d spend their time reading. If we expect respectful treatment for our work, we need to treat those who might support it respectfully as well. I’m saddened by how often fellow artists haven’t looked at the art work carried by a gallery they’d like to show their work in or haven’t read a sample issue of the publicatin in which they hope their work will appear.
This may seem unfair; after all, buying sample magazines is expensive and tickets to indie film festivals add up. But there are work-arounds. Many publications provide PDFs of previously published stories; lots of indie film festivals archive of clips of prior years’ winners online. More importantly, not being polite also costs you: time unpublished, time dealing with boomeranging artworks that could be used as creative time, time, energy and money for resubmissions.
Almost all Barrett’s advice – from how to respond to an acceptance letter to what to do about simultaneous submissions – comes down to being a courteous person. Don’t do to an editor/gallery manager /producer-director what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. It’s really that simple.