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Friday, 26 February 2010

Why do some magazines and publishers treat writers so badly?

Running a magazine or publishing house is, I'm sure, a lot of work. Often thankless, unpaid work. But still, most people who do so manage to treat writers submitting work to them with respect. Some sense of fellow-feeling. And then there are those that don't. I seem to have seen a lot of these of late. Markets that just don't bother replying, don't even bother responding to queries. What is it with these people?

I don't expect receipt of a submission to be acknowledged, althought it's impressive when that does happen. But for electronic submissions, it's hard to understand why this isn't the norm. It's, what, five minutes work to set up a few email rules to do that? I don't even expect a reply if the market decide they're rejecting my submission - if they've made it clear in their guidelines that's what they do. If they say I'm rejected if I haven't heard anything back in three months, then I know where I am. It's the ones that don't say that, don't communicate in any way that are so galling. I think they treat writers disrespectfully.

My usual response is just to strike those markets of my list of places to submit to. They'll regret it when I'm on the bestseller list! But it's tempting, very tempting, to name and shame more. In the past, on occasion, I have, and it's been quite an interesting experience, with writers having the same experiences with particular magazines speaking up too. Should we do this more? Is it unprofessional to out them or is it fair play? It's certainly cathartic ...

There are some fantastic magazines out there that use email, forums, blogs, Twitter or even the good old postal service to stay in touch with their (potential) contributors. They treat writers with respect. I think they should all be like that. And if they can't they shouldn't be trying.


  1. Rather than naming and shaming the bad ones you could list the good ones.

  2. We are exprected to be professional in our approach so expecting then to be professional back is not a great deal to ask.

    Fortunatly many of them are, but it sounds as if you've been coming across some bad ones recently. :-(

  3. fairyhedgehog,

    Fair point - I do do that when I have a good experience with a magazine. I suppose what I'm thinking is that, when I submit somehwere, it would be nice to have known beforehand that other people had had good or bad experiences. So perhaps we should post this to help others.

  4. Kate,

    Yep, one or two bad ones, although they're in a minority, thankfully.

  5. It's a good point. I suppose "naming and shaming" set off bells for me, but if you simply stated the facts: this publisher gives email acknowledgement, this publisher does not acknowledge unless accepting, etc. that would be very useful.

  6. fairyhedgehog,

    There are, of course, web sites that already do exactly this. Duotrope's Digest, for example, collects statistics on magazines that don't respond among other things. I guess I should pay more attention to that!

  7. While editing Bolts of Silk I try my very best to reply to people within two weeks but as more people submit it has got harder to do that. I still reply to probably 99% of people within a month.

    But you're right there are some appalling editors out there, I've several times received no reply at all for poetry I've submitted.

  8. Crafty Green Poet,

    Thanks - it's interesting to get your perspective. It goes without saying that you're an exemplarary editor and that Bolts of Silk is one of the good guys.

    I'm sure running a magazine means you come in for a deluge of submissions and, no doubt, impolite and irate writers from time to time. That's obviously unacceptable too.

  9. Hi

    Womagwriter had the same sort of gripe about mags who don't respond to writers after months and months with v interesting comments: Women


    In an ideal world, respect would be mutual. Just best to let go, blog about it, take a deep breath and then move on!

    Take care

  10. One Utah publisher, the largest one, sends out a form postcard whenever they get a submission, that says "We received your submission, thank you for your interest, and you can expect a response in 4-6 weeks."

    I think that is so classy. They're the only publisher I've ever seen who does that.

  11. KarenG,

    That is very good. That's just the sort of positive comment it would be useful to know I think.

  12. Old Kitty,

    Thanks that is an interesting thread - and expressing some familiar sentiments!

    You're right, of course, that it is best to sigh and move on. But I just can't help thinking it would be an invaluable service to other writers to tell the community about one's experiences - positive or negative.

    Let's be honest, the reason writers are reluctant to talk about this is that they're afraid of jeapordizing their future chances. We're supposed to shut up and take it. Or am I wrong? But we're all grown-ups aren't we? Magazines, publishers and writers live and die by readers' views and reviews. Why can't writers' opinions of magazines/publishers be in the public domain?

    I sometimes think we should start a new blog and have a post for each magazine and let people comment their experiences, anonymously if they prefer, positive or negative. Then one could check before submitting. Of course, the danger is that the comments would be skewed to the negative, as people would tend to think badly of markets that had rejected them. Even so, there have been plenty of times I could have made use of such a resource ...

  13. Your last comment is interesting, Simon. I (and colleagues) have come across some of the worst human behaviour in the last year or so. Writers are expected to be above reproach, and yet there are some agents out there who believe they are omnipotent.

    A name and shame blog is tempting, but I think it detracts from the one goal: to make our writing the best it can be, and to eventually succeed in an industry that is trying to evolve with the times.

    The negativity held towards rude individuals just festers. Take a deep breath, know you are a better person and use that creatively.

  14. Donna,

    Wise words. I'm sure it'll come back to haunt them somehow!


  15. I think it has to do with who has the power in this business. Power corrupts the corruptible. Agents & editors have the power to determine whether or not an author makes headway into publication. Resulting in a few rude, obnoxious, power-heady morons. Making the nice helpful ones stand out even more.

  16. KarenG,

    I guess that's true in all walks of life. I'm sure you're right. Some people seem to have a problem with simple, basic politeness.

    I don't know, I've just reached this point where I don't see why I or anyone else should put up with it anymore. I always treat publishers/magazines with respect, follow the guidelines, remain polite etc. That's the least I can expect in return.

    So, yes, I'll probably just rasse above it and move on. Their loss etc. Still it niggles at me that this means the bad guys are getting away with it ...


I'd love to know what you think.