Maintaining Professionalism

I met a fellow writer a few months ago.  Seemed like a nice fellow with submission plans on the horizon.  We traded email addresses.  He sent me a couple of stories to read, give feedback, and make suggestions on where they ought to be sent.  I read.  I gave feedback.  I made my market recommendations, and wished him the best.

And that should be the end of the story, right?

Well…

A few weeks later, I got another email from him saying he sent his stories to one of the magazines I suggested, but that the editor was very rude with him.  I’ve never met a rude editor before, so I asked what happened.  The source of the argument could be traced to his misunderstanding of the response time, assuming he’d hear back in a few days rather than the more realistic time frame of a couple of months.  He ended up sending the editor a touchy reply, using a film to validate his point that he deserved a more immediate response, and wished the editor good luck in the future.

Now, let’s examine the consequences using two figures I just made up: Andy and Tyler.  Both send the exact same story to the magazine (I’m not going to say which one, but it was a fairly reputable publication).  They’ve both got a few publications under their belt, even a Kindle title to boot, but their literary careers at this point is more akin to getting onto the on-ramp and heading for the freeway.  The difference is temperament.  Andy is more quick to action, while Tyler remains objective.

Andy sends this emotionally-charged email to the editor, an editor who has been running the show at this magazine for years, and a magazine that, while only a few years old, has established a pretty good reputation for itself.  They publish only a few stories twice a year, so competition is very high.  They’ve published Pushcart winners, Shirley Jackson winners.  You name it.  So to wish the editor good luck as if his little magazine is just a fad that’ll flicker out any day now is a pretty condescending thing to say, and I guarantee that the editorial staff will NEVER read a submission from this writer again.  Ever.

Tyler, however, says nothing.  He marks down the first email from the editor as a mere acknowledgement.  He’s sent his story.  They’re touching base that they have, in fact, received it.  Now he has to wait for the magazine to review his submission and make a decision.  They might accept it.  They probably won’t.  Again, there’s a high volume of submissions for a very small number of slots in the upcoming issue.

A few weeks later, Tyler does get rejected.  Good story, well-written, but it just doesn’t fit.  They wish him luck with his piece because there’s no reason it can’t find a home somewhere.  Tyler makes another note to himself, pointing out that he got a response earlier than the editor estimated.  It was a polite reply, clearly without any hard feelings, and, hey, Tyler’s really lucky because the editor pointed out something that worked in the story and something that didn’t.  So not only does he have his answer, he’s got some feedback too.

A few months later, Tyler’s got another story.  Starting from scratch.  It’s a brand new submission.  It’s got the same odds of acceptance as the last time, maybe a little higher because he’s ensured the story doesn’t have the weak point the editor pointed out last time.  It might get accepted.  It might get turned down.  Even though he avoided the problem in his last story, there might be another problem that didn’t fit with the editor again.  But because Tyler wasn’t a dick, there’s no reason for the editor to give him shit this time.

In the film Factotum, Matt Dillon’s Hank Chinaski imagines that his submissions to his favorite magazine Black Sparrow are met with people shaking heads and saying, “Hey, here’s another one from that nut.”  By the end of the film, Black Sparrow‘s editor writes to Chinaski that one of his stories has finally been accepted.  Not only that, but the editor says that the magazine staff has been paying attention to his writing for some time, even if they have passed on it.

The lesson: always maintain professionalism.

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