Letters to the Editor

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

I think the hardest part of being a writer and putting your work “out there” is not the rejection, it’s the waiting, especially when that waiting doesn’t culminate in anything and you’re left in limbo. So we—the editors of Toasted Cheese—always notify everyone who submits whether or not they’ve been accepted. The acceptances usually don’t garner much response (occasionally we’ll get a happy note from someone we’ve decided to publish and we do love those!), but lately we’ve been getting a lot of bizarre responses to the rejection letters.

The letters we send out are form letters, sure. But if the submission warrants it, we add personal comments, for example, “Your work shows promise; please submit again.” or “Your work was disqualified for the following reason: _____. Please read the guidelines before submitting again.”

For the contest entrants, we include a compilation of comments from the editors about various stories, because the same gaffes often crop up repeatedly. We probably won’t do this anymore, because we’ve been getting more and more angry responses that attack us for our decisions.

In one letter, the writer notes how she worked very hard to write a story specifically for our Dead of Winter contest. She then goes on to complain because she didn’t receive a personal response, or personalized critiques. She whines about having put time and effort into “jumping through the hoops” of our entry process. Finally, she closes by snarking about not expecting a response to her diatribe.

This letter was written in dark red Lucida Handwriting. Now, I have nothing against the font, but it’s not exactly appropriate for professional correspondence.

I’m perplexed by the fact the writer seems put out at having to “work very hard to write a story specifically for the contest”. That is the point of a writing contest, is it not? The “hoops” she had to jump through were writing a story that conformed to the contest theme and length, pasting her story into the body of an e-mail, and including her contact info with her submission. Onerous, I know.

What I’m wondering is, who enters a no entry fee contest and expects not only a personal response, but a personalized critique? We do include comments on the winning stories as part of their “reward” for winning. If your story didn’t cut the mustard and you want a critique, post at the forums, as we suggest. That’s what they’re there for!

By the way— this writer got a response almost immediately, as the editor who does our correspondence was at her computer when it arrived.

In another oh-so-professional epistle, the writer complains about not being told her ranking in the contest. She then compares opinions to armpit odor, in that everyone has both. She signs her letter: “[name withheld], writer”.

Does any publication rank all the submissions/entries they receive? I think not. Where do people get these bizarre ideas? As for comment number two, I am simply gobsmacked. Apparently what everyone doesn’t have is manners.

And if anything screams amateur more than appending “writer” to one’s name, as if it’s a title, rather than an occupation, I don’t know what does.

From the latest round of submissions to the e-zine, here are a sampling of responses.

In one, the writer tells us our web site is “boring as hell” and closes with “FU”.

This letter displays such creativity. Seriously, what the?! Why did he submit to Toasted Cheese in the first place if he thought we were so boring? And who sends “fuck you” in response to a rejection letter? How does it even cross one’s mind to do this?

I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was twelve, if the first line of his cover letter hadn’t been: “My name is ________. I am forty years old…”

This next one really baffled me.

The writer claims not to remember submitting her work to Toasted Cheese. She then goes on to tell us that she has published a book, the title of which contains a word pluralized by adding an ‘s. She claims to be writing because she is concerned that we have responded to the wrong person. Finally, she asks what Toasted Cheese is.

At least this letter started with a greeting and ended with a closing. I am wondering, though, if she was so curious about TC, why not click on the link found in the letter she received?

Anyhow, her submission was included in the rejection letter, so there really is no question of what we’re referring to or that we received her work (I still have it in my submissions folder). So what exactly did she hope to achieve by sending this? If she honestly forgot she submitted to us, why admit to that fact?

Methinks this letter is really an opportunity to say “Take your e-zine and shove it! I have a publisher!” Judging from the grammar in this missive, I’d place good money on that publisher being print-on-demand. But inquiring minds want to know— does this book really have an extraneous apostrophe in the title?

As a matter of fact, yes it does! It’s listed at a popular online bookstore and there’s even a cover shot. Its subtitle indicates this is a compilation of the writer’s best, and that this is the first of a series. The publisher is a print-on-demand site, whose FAQ indicates they do not edit manuscripts. Really? I couldn’t tell.

Now, some may question my motives in writing this, so here’s my point in a nutshell: while sending nastygrams to editors may momentarily make you feel better, in the long run, it’s detrimental to your career as a writer, because those editors will never, ever consider your work again, no matter how much you may improve as a writer in the future. And really, can you blame them? I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but I believe it’s worth mentioning.

Why burn bridges? We can and do accept work from writers whose work we’ve previously rejected. Instead of sending a rude letter, stomp around your office, complain to your friends, or pour it all out in a journal entry. And then write something new and try again.

One more thing: if the only way you can get published is to find a publisher who doesn’t read your work, at least consider the possibility that it is your writing that needs work, and not that all the publications that have rejected you are staffed by deranged individuals who live only to crush dreams.

Unlike American Idol’s Simon, we never tell people: “You. can’t. write. Do something else.” — even though in some cases it may be the more humane thing. But Toasted Cheese is a refereed journal. We make this clear in our submission guidelines. We do not subscribe to the “everyone’s a winner” philosophy. If you do, then be forewarned: this is not the type of journal for you.

However, remember that we do subscribe to the “writing is hard work but can be learned” philosophy. Before you set fire to that bridge, consider that maybe you have some learning to do. Take us up on our offer, and visit TC’s forums, where you can interact with other writers, receive honest critiques, and work on making your writing the best it can be.

When not editing Toasted Cheese, Beaver masquerades as a law student.

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