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Writers and Publishers

Friday, 22 May 2009

I've had a response from Interzone about A, C, G and T. It was along the lines of "if you didn't hear anything back then the story must have been rejected". This is disappointing on several levels.

Firstly, of course, all rejections hurt. A, C, G and T is a pretty good story, I think. It's a level above others that have been rejected by Interzone as "near misses" in the past. So I had high hopes for it. As it happens, the email from them arrived on my birthday too ...

More importantly, the response was unsatisfactory because I now don't know whether they even received my story in the first place. Something has got lost somewhere : either my original submission, or, if there actually was one, their rejection of it. How can I tell? I can't - only the magazine could tell me that. Now, most likely the marvellous UK postal system has failed here, not the magazine. But it highlights what you might term the imbalance of power between writers and publishers. All struggling writers will be familiar with this. I've had many submissions over the years that have, apparently, just been ignored. And, yes, I do of course follow all the guidelines carefully. I've had magazines hang onto stories for years, promising to publish them, and ultimately failing to. I've even had magazines who did publish a story of mine but didn't bother to tell me they'd done so. Sometimes, to put it bluntly, writers are treated like shit by magazines and publishers.

Now, not all publishers are like this. Some of them are the complete opposite - responsive, informative, professional. You submit by email, for example, and get an immediate response back to say that the submission has been received. And I'm certainly not singling out Interzone. In my few dealings with them in the past they've been utterly helpful and polite. And I'm sure a publisher could give a very different perspective on these issues. Doubtless they work very hard for little reward and have to put up with ungrateful or rude writers into the bargain. But still, it is the publisher that holds all the aces. If they lose one submission or upset one writer, it's no big deal. There will be plenty of others. It was the work of a few minutes for Interzone to tell me that my story "must" have been rejected. For me it meant the denial of many hours of writing effort and many weeks of anticipation. Yes, there are other outlets for the writer to pursue, but still, I'm willing to bet it is much harder for a writer - at least until they make their name - to find a good publisher than it is for a publisher to find a good writer.

So what would be a better system? No doubt frustrations like these have led a lot of writers in the past to either give up completely, resort to self-publishing or maybe even start their own magazine to try and do things differently. I've certainly decided to forget the whole ridiculous exercise lots of times in the past. But still, I think the system we have now is pretty much as good as it could be. I mean, there obviously should be more magazines. The number of outlets for, say, realist short stories is vanishingly small. The answer, though, is to make the system we have work better. It's incumbent upon writers and publishers to behave professionally and courteously as far as possible. If a magazine doesn't have the resource to do that then it shouldn't be trying. And if a writer can't then they don't deserve to get very far.

One thing that would help, I think, would be to have better information about the various publishers and magazines available. Then writers can see what each potential market is like, how they behave, how prompt they are etc. Some of this information is already available, e.g. via Duotrope. But there could be so much more. One of the things I want to do with Subtract - if I ever get on to developing it - is to allow writers to rate and comment upon the publishers they submit to. So, something like the ranking system used by Amazon. There is always the danger of inaccurate reviews from bonkers people, of course, but hopefully an accurate picture would always emerge given enough feedback. I think this would be good for everyone - writers, publishers and, ultimately, readers.

Meanwhile, their rejection of my story is Interzone's loss. The story has gone elsewhere ...


  1. Rejections suck. Period.

    I think it's like being a room of a hundred bees. 99 of them sting. 1 of them produces pure euphoria.

    I've had a ton of rejections but then again every aspiring author does.

    Big yourself. Try again. You'll forget all about this rejection soon enough.

  2. Fair point. I was trying - I may have failed - to draw out some more general points rather than moan about a particular rejection. But yes, you have to get used to them and, yes, they are soon forgotten, especially when an acceptance arrives.


I'd love to know what you think.