I’m a fairly frequent reader of Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal since I discovered it not long ago (though I can’t remember how). Mamatas mostly seems a pretty interesting guy, and I noted some things in common; we’ve both just recently handed in a thesis to Master’s programs, . . . well. And that’s about it. He’s got quite the track record–winner of a Stoker and nominated for both another Stoker and an International Horror Guild Award. And he’s the editor of Clarkesworld, an ezine/literary mag (is it just me or is there becoming very little difference between an online zine and a blog?).
All three seem to be instances in which writers respond to rejections, which I’ll be the first to acknowledge is not something writers should do. Rejection is part of the process, part of the story, part of the life. If you’re not prepared to get rejected fairly often and fairly conclusively, go to med school and invest some hours in becoming a doctor, because the pay’s way better, there’s more security, and if Grey’s Anatomy is any indication, it’s probably easier (I jest on that last note. One of my buddies is a doctor. One of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met. That’s why we’re friends).
However, posting such correspondence on their blogs is not something editors should do.
If this were an isolated occurrence, I might never have brought it up, but it’s not. John Fox, who was on staff at Southern California Review, recently posted A Slush Pile Dispatch in which he inserted comments into a letter SCR received from an inmate. This was troubling not just for the vetting of such correspondence but because John was one of my classmates in the MPW program, a program I chose because it was supposed to be about professionalism, and not “arts”. For what it’s worth, and not that whoever wrote the letter will probably ever see it, but I’d like to note that John’s comments don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the USC MPW program.
I’d also like to note two other things: first, that John is actually a great guy I’ve enjoyed taking classes with, which means I was a bit surprised by the post but don’t particularly hold it against him; and second, another post I found via John’s site (which, I just realized, I didn’t mention up above: John writes Book Fox, which is really pretty awesome. His interviews at the BookFest were terrific, and he’s going to be running another set soon from Book Expo America). This one over pointed to Fence, which is a literary magazine I’ve actually seen at a newsstand (unlike just about every other one).
When did this become acceptable behavior from editors?
I used to be an editor. For three years, I was assistant editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. The audience of said journal, which had a consumer magazine format, was two-fold: first, psychiatric and forensic nurses involved in the mental and behavioral health care industries.
The other was their patients.
Given that second audience, we received many, many queries and submissions from patients in private institutions that specialized in mental and behavioral health. People with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphia, autism spectrum disorders, and various addictions–as well as people in corrective populations (that’s prisons to you and me), juvenile offenders, and individuals who had great difficulty with lives I have difficulty imagining. We often received manuscripts handwritten in tiny scrawl over twenty pages– or phone calls to the office when particular submitters entered the manic phase of their bipolar cycles and decided to head to Atlantic City for a night of gambling and other self-destructive behaviors.
I edited articles by people who had been in the justice system, and not on the end with the gavel. I edited articles by nurses who had overcome addictions and illnesses to train and gain licensure to treat individuals coping with problems those nurses knew and understood perhaps more intimately than they would have liked. I admire sobriety, and I think of the nurses who found it and then dedicated their lives to helping other people find it, which I can’t imagine would have been easy, perhaps somewhat roughly akin to having alcoholism but going to a bar anyway, perhaps to bartend or perhaps again to try to lend the people who believed they needed a drink the ear and support they truly needed but didn’t want to admit.
But you know what? Besides me and my supervisor, no one ever heard about those letters. No one heard about the correspondences, many of which began before I ever started working there and continue, I’m certain, to this day.
Not only did I edit that magazine, but I’ve been reading Making Light since back when it was both Making Light and Electrolite, probably around 2001 or so (I remember I found it while I was working in Manhattan, which was 2000-2001). It’s maintained by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, two editors at TOR (well. I know Patrick is. I remember Teresa mentioned a position consulting for, I believe, a media company, but I’m not certain she left TOR to take that position).
I mention Making Light because it’s maintained by not one but two editors and features frequent contributions from people like Jo Walton and Dave Langford, and never once have I seen such an egregious lack of professional etiquette on that site. They’ve focused on takedowns of plagiarism and fly-by-night/scam publishers, certainly, but never anything like what I’ve seen going occurring lately.
I wish it would stop. I’d really like to see editors do their job, rather than sharing their jobs with the world. I’m a writer. Tell me your guidelines and your rates. Tell me the sorts of stories you’re looking for. Tell me, even, what you’re not looking for. Tell me about any upcoming anthologies you’re putting together, tell me about any projects you’re excited about and want me to be excited about, too.
But don’t tell me how you tell your contributors to “eat shit and die,” and don’t tell me how many you’ve banned, no matter how egregious those writers’ behaviors. Because I’m a writer, and if I see that’s how you’ve treated some prospective authors, or authors you’ve already even published, well, I can’t help but worry about how you’re going to treat me. And nowadays, we’ve got blogs, we’ve got Lulu, we’ve got book reviewers and designers, and the Internet makes it incredibly easy to meet people we need to when we want to, so what do we even need you for, anyway?
In the relationship of aspiring author and zine/mag editor, one person often has professional status, and one often does not (especially considering the word: “aspiring”). Here’s a helpful hint: if you’re paying for stories, you’re a professional editor, and you should act so.