The Need for Respect Between Writers and Editors

Saturday, June 03, 2023
Photo by Yan Krukau (Pexels)

I took part in a nasty email exchange recently. I didn’t start it, and I certainly didn’t want to continue it. 

This dust-up began when I submitted a CNF essay to a print journal. I had received one of those “Open to Submissions” digests through email. You know the kind. It’s similar to the sidebars we include in each monthly WOW! Markets newsletter, alerting writers to open calls for submissions. 

* This round-up I’m referencing was not, for the record, included in the WOW! Markets newsletter.

Anyway, this particular round-up noted that one journal—a name I was not familiar with, a print magazine—was open to original work, as well as reprints. It’s rare to find journals open to reprints, so I immediately took notice. I have a CNF essay that is very dear to me, published three years ago in an online journal. I always keep my eyes open for reprint opportunities because I’d love to hold this essay in a print publication. It’s about my sister-in-law’s suicide, and it’s one of the most bittersweet pieces I’ve ever written. 

I sent my essay to the print journal on a Monday morning. I clearly noted at the top that it was a reprint, and cited where and when it had been published online. Three days later, I got an email from them. I was surprised at the speed of the reply, and wasn’t sure if I should take it as a good or bad sign that they were getting back to me so quickly. 

Prior to submitting my reprint, I had visited the journal’s website to see if they published any pieces online. Some print journals have been known to post a few sample pieces, to help give writers a flavor of what they publish. With print, it’s sometimes harder to get a sense of what a particular journal likes when one does not have a paid subscription.  

Their website did not have any sample pieces posted. I also did not see in their submission guidelines where they said they accepted reprints. I wanted to cover my bases to show that I was not randomly spraying out essays without reading guidelines. As an online journal editor myself, I appreciate the importance of following guidelines to the letter. I pointed out in my cover letter that the submissions round-up email had indicated reprints were accepted. 

I opened their reply with my usual expectation of a 50/50 coin toss. They were either going to thank me for considering them and tell me they were not interested in my piece, or they might surprise me and say that they wanted to republish it. What I was not expecting was the sarcastic reply I read:
Print magazine editors are weary of junk submissions from people who have not read an issue. 

“Junk” submissions? Ouch! Where the hell did that come from? 

This editor—as it turns out, when I Googled him—is white and male and older, judging by his photo. Not a good look, this email reply of his, especially in an industry that has a history of literary gatekeeping. An industry that consistently and unabashedly valued male (and almost always white) writers and all but ignored, well, everyone else: females, people of color, the LGBTQ community, neurodivergent writers, and on and on. For, um, centuries. 

But, this is not a discussion about white male privilege. It’s actually just a discussion about rudeness. About sarcastic, conceited dismissal. Stick with me. We’re getting to that part. 

He went on to scold me that they do not accept previously published work, and that the digest that included that guidance was clearly in error. What I read between the lines was that he, in his haughty wisdom, dismissed them as well for being sloppy. 

He continued: Visit our website. And read the magazine. 

Though I found his email off-putting, and though I rarely respond to editors when I receive a rejection, I felt this called for some kind of reply. I let him know that I had, in fact, visited the journal’s website before submitting and I had tried to read some of their published work, but that I could not find any writing in any shape or form published on their website. (The only thing I saw was instructions on how to purchase back copies, or sign up for an annual subscription.) 

I also apologized for sending my reprint in error, then mentioned in closing how I’ve seen some print journals publish samples, which helps those writers who may not have money to buy subscriptions to every publication. I’m pretty sure that’s the point where our email conversation went from unpleasant to ugly. His reply, a half hour later: 

Like other magazines, XX receives many submissions from people who have not read it. When I call this fact to their attention, they reply as you did that they cannot buy every magazine to which they submit. Why not? If a magazine is good enough to publish your work, it is good enough for you to buy a copy. Please save your advice on how to run the magazine, and what to put on the website. Editors rarely welcome such comments from writers.  

I sat there, stewing over his condescension. I thought about how I had apologized to him and was sincere in owning up to my mistake. The onus was on me after all, as the submitter, to fact-check what I’d read in an erroneous third-party round-up that said this particular journal did accept reprints.  

I’ll be sure to file your emails in my Pompous Ass folder, I replied. Get over yourself. 

I was not proud of my snark. OK, who am I kidding, you’re damn right I was proud. I assumed that would be the end of it. It was not. Minutes later, I got another scorching email. 

And I’ll be sure to pass your name to other editors as a writer to avoid! 

I'll do you one better, I wrote back, and share with the journal for which I am an editor to keep your name in mind as one to avoid

I hit the Send button, but soon regretted engaging in a juvenile tit-for-tat with some gray-haired, bespectacled man who oozed grandiosity. While Googling him, I saw that he crowed about his Ivy-League education, and listed a handful of what he considered higher-tier—and therefore worthy, in his esteemed opinion—journals in which he’d been published. 

My Inbox dinged five minutes later. He’d apparently also Googled me, because he called out by name both the literary journal where I volunteer as a Flash CNF editor, and the WOW! Women on Writing community where I write newsletter columns. His comments about both put his ugliness on full display. 

Barren Magazine? Are you kidding me? Women on Writing? Am I a woman? 

He rattled off a few more insults and closed his rant with the question: Who do you think you are? 

I was floored. And, done. I filed his nasty-grams away in an archived folder, and reflected on what had gone down. I’m not sure I have any answers, certainly not any that can excuse this person’s overblown response to a legitimate mistake in thinking their journal accepted reprints. I regretted stooping to his level, as he baited me with his hostility. 

Even more so, I regretted sending him my essay about my deceased sister-in-law. An essay he in all likelihood never read, but felt compelled to call "junk." The whole experience left me feeling a bit brokenhearted. 

When writers and editors can’t or won’t respect one other, when someone like this boor dismisses another writer and editor, when he stoops to lording it over other journals and lashes out with a sexist comment about an entire community, it sucks the joy out of this thing we we all work so hard at capturing. How to relate to each other. Getting to universal truths. 

Here’s a truth about that editor. He is, indeed, a pompous ass. And if his journal’s mission in any way reflects his own ugliness, it’s not a journal I’d ever want to be in. 

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.


Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post, Ann! :) As an editor, I would NEVER call a writer's hard work "junk." That's the rudest thing I've ever heard, and just tells me that this editor must really hate writers.

Regarding buying a subscription to every magazine you submit to, it's such a privileged point of view to think "Why not?" Um, because many writers can't afford it. We're already paying submission fees.

I call BS on him spreading your name around to other editors. Like other editors would even listen or care. He must have a very high opinion of himself, and he's picking on writers who submit to him. Not a good look at all!

I hope you let the editors of the markets newsletter who listed that publication know, both about the reprint thing and the editor. One thing we do with WOW's is keep a list of banned markets--ones that ghost writers or don't pay when they say they will, etc.--and feedback really helps.

I'm proud of you, Ann, for standing up to this jackass, and for telling your story! Great takeaway here. Thank you! <3

Deborah-Zenha Adams said...

Thank you, Ann, for sharing this experience! I wonder how many other writers have been treated the same way by this man. Plenty, I'm sure. Luckily you have enough experience to know it isn't right, but there have surely been newer writers who've been reduced to tears (or worse!) by this expletive and others like him.

And Angela...where can we find that WOW list of banned markets?

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Hi Ang, it was his choice of the word "junk" that was especially cruel. I'm not the least bit worried he may spread my name around. In fact I say, go for it! This man is bloated with conceit, and it was a cheap shot for him to drag two more names into the mix (Barren and WOW) and try to throw more mud. Pompous ass, that's my final call.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Hi Deborah, thanks for chiming in and I agree 100% with your point: His bullying may have likely devastated a few writers whose hides are not as thick and leathery as mine. Shame on him, if that was ever the case.

Anonymous said...

I won't object if you share his name. :-)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Hi Deborah ~ WOW has a monthly markets newsletter for subscribers, so we have an ongoing informal list of markets not to include. I never thought of making it public, but it changes almost monthly. A few issues ago I almost included some children's magazine calls from Cricket Media, but there have been reports that writers haven't received payments, even with a contract. I would check out Victoria Strauss's Writer Beware for a comprehensive list of scam publishers, contests, and literary agencies. For literary journals, check out Becky Tuch's Lit Mag newsletter for questionable journals and practices, and basically everything journal related. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Wow. His mother must be so proud. Ugh. Why not just say "we regret to inform you that we do not accept reprints"?

Deborah- Another place to look is Predators and Editors.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

SueBE: Amen, amen, amen! That's all he needed to say. [eye roll]

Renee Roberson said...

This is just gross behavior on his part. When I worked as a magazine editor, do you know how many times I would get e-mails addressed to the old editor or pitches from writers who said, "I'd love to write for your magazine (and give the wrong magazine name). E-mail me with assignments!" Never did I rudely e-mail someone back and correct their mistakes, or tell them they were idiots if they thought I would give out an assignment without writing samples. Yes there were times I simply didn't respond to e-mails I wasn't interested in, but you have to be really full of yourself to berate a person like that for simply responding to a call for submissions.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

He was over-the-top full of himself, for sure, Renee. A legend only in his own mind. [eye roll]

Anonymous said...

Wow. This reminded me of the MFA professor who said my story could have been written in my sleep. Two weeks later, Martha Foley, editor of The Best American Short Stories, awarded it a prize. Next workshop he said, "Well it won a prize but it's still shit--with a prize." I didn't care. I'd won the contest, and not long after it was published in a national mag and I made today's equivalent of 7K.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Anonymous: Thank you for sharing your experience, yet I am sorry to read about the nasty comment you got. These kinds of cruel comments, and some peoples' overblown egos, really saddens me. Their conceit sickens me. But ... I love that you received prize recognition and dough! Rock on!!

Anonymous said...

You were too polite. I would have ended the conversation earlier, with a direct “Fuck off,” and blocked his email address. But you did good. What an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Flame wars! Engaging seems essential at the time. Have I ever had a flame war with an editor? I have gotten snippy responses to my work, including accusations of ignoring guidelines and sending work I should have known they wouldn't want. My feelings have been hurt indeed. My general policy is just to move on. It's a good policy, on the whole. But I wouldn't be surprised if somebody who thoroughly went through my writing records found a snippy response of my own.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Flame wars never satisfy. Agreed.

Myna said...

I'm sorry this happened to you. Thanks for sharing your story. You show more restraint that I would have. :)

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Thanks, Myna! I wish I didn't need to share a story like this ... but I'm glad to hear from some people how this resonates.

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