Oops, It Happened Again

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming


So, it happened again. After sending out the acceptance letters, we received an, “Oops, I’m sooooo sorry! I forgot to let you know that that piece has been published elsewhere.”

Sigh.

The Etiquette of Submitting… or Lack Thereof

My first emotion upon receiving an “oops!” letter is disappointment. A pretty natural reaction, I think. I mean, clearly we liked—in some cases, loved—the “oops!” piece; we chose it over 80 or so other submissions. We’ve spent time reading it, discussing it, deciding that this piece would make our final list. By the time we send out the acceptance letters, we’re attached to it.

Look, we’re not getting paid here; we do this because we love it. Editing Toasted Cheese is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I love seeing what comes into our submit box, sifting through it, finding the gems in the midst of the snark. Finding those gems—being able to say “I got to publish that! Wow.” is our reward.

When a writer rips away a submission at the last minute, that takes away a good deal of the satisfaction we get from doing this.

Policy Change

Inevitably, disappointment gives way to a second emotion: irritation. We’ve spent, no, wasted, a lot of time on the “oops!” piece. The first few times this happened, it was like, okay, we can deal. But more and more submissions are arriving marked as simultaneous submissions, withdrawals during submission periods are becoming a regular occurrence, and last-minute withdrawals are happening all too frequently.

So, as of March 1st, 2005, Toasted Cheese will no longer accept simultaneous submissions. We’ve hesitated to instate this policy, because we can’t really prevent people from sending simultaneous submissions. We can only request that you don’t, and let you know that if you do decide to flout the rules, your submissions will no longer be welcome at Toasted Cheese.

After March 1st, if you withdraw a submission because “it’s been accepted elsewhere,” any subsequent submissions you send to Toasted Cheese will be automatically disqualified.

Harsh? Perhaps. But we don’t think this little courtesy is too much too ask. We have set submission, reading, and notification periods—you know exactly when you are going to hear about the status of your submission. The longest you will wait to hear about the status of your submission, if you send at the very beginning of a submission period, is four months. Since most people don’t submit on Day One of a new submission period, in most cases, it will be a much shorter turnaround time.

A Philosophical Note

I understand that waiting is hard. And I get that it seems like the best strategy to speed up the process is the shotgun approach: send your story to every publication you can think of and see who bites first. After all, if you were applying for work or school, that’s what you’d do: send out multiple applications to as many potential employers or schools as possible.

Except… it’s not the same thing. The employer or the school is looking for anyone who fits certain criteria—so if you turn their offer down, it’s most cases not a big deal for them to turn to the next person on the list. You, on the other hand, really are stuck in limbo, waiting for a response. Since there’s only one of you and you can’t make up credentials you don’t have (without being unethical), you really are limited to applying to as many places as possible with the credentials you do have.

Writing isn’t like that. Editors aren’t looking for any poem about subject A or any story that has more than X number of words. What they’re looking for is something much more indefinable than that. But this much is true: each piece chosen is unique. There is no “going to the next thing on the list” when a submission is withdrawn—all there is is a hole. As for you, you’re not stuck simply waiting once you’ve sent a submission off. Since you’re a writer, it’s reasonable to assume that you have more than one story or poem in you.

When a writer withdraws a submission because they’ve been published elsewhere, I always check out the competition, so to speak. And sometimes I’m like, “Eh, okay” and sometimes I’m like “They chose this over TC?” But not once have I ever said, “Oh, wow, I can really see why they’d want to be published here rather than at Toasted Cheese.”

So the final emotion I feel, the one I’m inevitably stuck with, is sadness. Not for myself, but for the “oops!” writers. It’s not that I think Toasted Cheese is the be-all and end-all. There are lots of great e-zines and magazines. It’s just that when you submit everywhere and then jump at the first offer you get, you’re probably selling yourself short. There are a lot of crap-ass journals out there too—ones that’ll take anything and slap it up on their site. A little patience, and you could do so much better.

Forget shotguns. Think of submitting more like target practice. Aim your submission at a journal you’d be delighted to see it in. While you’re waiting to hear back about that submission, write something else. Find somewhere appropriate to submit it. Still waiting? Write something else. And so on and so on and so on.

Yeah, it never ends. But that’s what being a writer is about.

pencil

E-mail: beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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