I’ve decided to lay aside my publishing work for a while so I can concentrate on my own writing, and the last interaction I had with a submitter was an unfortunate one.
This person had submitted a chapbook to our press, and we accepted it back in May, letting them know it would be published in September. We sent them our standard contract to sign, but it took more than three weeks for them to sign it even though it’s electronic – they only had to click a checkbox. But with four months until publication, it didn’t seem to be a huge issue. I asked for a bio and updated address, but what I got after another couple of weeks’ wait wasn’t really a bio. It read more like someone writing a letter to a distant relative, introducing themselves and catching them up. I deal with this all the time, and cleaned it up into an almost-presentable third-person bio, figuring that the author would likely want to make changes to it before publication.
In August, I sent out the proof copy of the book for sign off. The wording on the form letter accompanying the proof was something like “let us know if there are any changes to be made,” and for only the second time in the decades I’ve been an editor, someone decided this meant “you don’t actually have to reply.” This was to be the very last project our press would work on, and I was already working on other things, so when I didn’t hear from this person, I decided to save myself the time and aggravation of having to chase them down every time I needed something. I sent a note saying “since we didn’t hear anything from you, we’re rescinding our offer of publication.”
What did I think would happen? Well, I figured that at worst, I might get an apologetic note giving some excuse for their failure to respond. What I didn’t expect was several letters saying that it was my fault, and I should publish their work. The whole approach was so grating that I ended up feeling like I had dodged a bullet. I had to put together in my mind exactly why this person’s response offended me.
Their first email said “The last email I received stated that if I had no problems with the layout that you were going to go ahead with how it looked like.” Grammar aside, that’s not what the email they referenced said. I don’t know if this person assumed I hadn’t sent the email, or that I wouldn’t be able to easily look up what they had been sent. If you use Submittable to accept submissions, it keeps track of all correspondence for each submission. Even if I weren’t the person who had sent out the email, a single click would pull it up so I could read it.
But also, that grammar.
Minutes after sending the first email, they sent a second asking if we could still publish the work because “this is really upsetting for me.”
I get it. Realizing that you made a mistake that has cost you something important is upsetting. And the right response to that upset is to understand where the mistake was made, and be more diligent in the future. The way this person responded leads me to believe that they are the sort of person who has had people smooth things over for them in other areas of life and expects that to always be the case. As an adult, this is almost never the case, and sending a series of increasingly petulant emails is not professional.
I took pity on this person and responded to them to let them know the circumstances that led to the decision to pull their work, how another author that we accepted at the same time had responded on time and therefore had been published without issue, and said that while their work was good, no one’s work is so good that they can afford to ignore emails from publishers. I even suggested another venue for their work.
Which brings us to…
They responded, doubling down on the fact that the wording of the email was ambiguous, and suggesting “Maybe you guys could’ve chosen your words more wisely, for example ‘please respond yes or no’ would’ve been more forward of an email if you guys were going to actually cut my pieces out if I simply didn’t respond!”
After sending the same form letter email to hundreds of authors and having them respond without an issue, I am unsympathetic to this person, and don’t look kindly on the insistence that this is my fault, not theirs. If an editor is kind enough to take time out of their schedule to point out your error, it would be great if the recipient understood that the editor is trying to be helpful, not trying to rub their nose in it. I have a whole lot of other demands on my time, and letting people down makes me feel terrible, so insisting that I’m the asshole in this situation doesn’t go down well.
They weren’t happy that I mentioned the other person whose writing I accepted at the same time. “You said that you accepted my work at the same time you accepted someone else’s… I don’t mean to be rude but quite frankly if you accept people’s work it is not a competition … ”
Except that it is. Getting published is absolutely a competition where you are trying to give editors a good reason to publish your work, as opposed to anyone else’s. Years ago, I heard an editor from Graywolf Press say that each year, they cut from their lineup the authors who required the most attention and hand holding. At the time I was horrified, but now I get it. I have a “do not publish” list, and anyone who makes tons of unnecessary demands is added to that list. Putting together a journal is a time-intensive, laborious process, and I don’t need authors who make it worse. And for every great submission I get, there are about ten great submissions I don’t take. If I end up struggling with an author over time-wasting nonsense, it’s easier to just go with someone else.
They didn’t care for my remark that no one’s work is so great that they can afford to ignore emails. “I also do NOT appreciate you inferring that I think my work is so amazing that I do not have to respond to you guys! How can you make those crass assumptions when you’ve never met me, nor know who I am?”
First, I imply. You infer. If you want to present yourself as an author, learn what the words mean.
But I didn’t imply they thought their work was so great they could be rude about it. I said that no one‘s work was so great they could afford to be rude about it. And while it’s true I never met them, their emails tell me everything I need to know. I also know that this is a person who spelled their own name wrong on their Submittable account.
They closed with “This would’ve been the first time I was ever published, I graduated college and the writing world is harsh and cold at times, and I thought something good was finally coming out of my writing.” My heart is broken at the fact that their work was decent enough to be chosen, but a lack of professionalism undermined them.