Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Annals of an Editor #74

The ongoing study of editors beset on all sides by personality conflicts, rights permission disputes, and editorial arguments in endless forms most awful. Authors' names have been removed, for the sake of privacy. Source texts other than the Editors' have been paraphrased, abridged and redacted for the sake of respecting copyright, and small changes may be made for the sake of clarity. 

In this episode of AOAE, we reproduce an email exchange between a young Author, and the editors of a literary magazine published by Pen & Anvil. For the sake of this reproduction, we will give this publication the fictitious name Betty Magazine.

The exchange begins with a brusque inquiry discovered in the Spam folder of the lit mag's general correspondence account. The Author is in red; the Editors are Blue.

Email 1, from the author; subject line, "It's been 11 MONTHS": 
I sent my submission to your magazine months ago...
I'm staggered at the total and utter lack in response.
What accounts for this?
Email 2, replying to the author:
We, in turn, are staggered by the negligence we have shown you. How, [AUTHOR], can we make it up to you?
Kind regards, 
Email 3, the author's reply:
I want you to explain why the other three emails I sent over the course of the year received no answer.I want to know the fate of my submissions, sent originally on [DATE]. Did you ignore them? Lose them? Were they deleted?I want you to heavily consider those those originals submissions for an appearance in your publication.I await your reply
Email 4, replying to the author:
Dear Author: 
Note that we're copying all of our editorial staff on this message, so that everyone on our team is on the same page in understanding that this kind of shoddy treatment of potential contributors will. not. stand. Your email will be a reminder to all involved that we simply must do better in this regard. To reply to your questions, inter alia: 
<<I want you to explain why the other three emails I sent over the course of the year received no answer..>>Technological gremlins doing their best to gum up our process, is the best we can say. According to the minimal information we can parse out of our automated mail sorting rubric, your emails were perhaps shunted into "spam" because of the presence in your signature line of the URL for your personal webpage. Our email provider will sometimes flag outbound links as being potential problems if those links lead to sites with the wrong kind of security certificate. Another possibility of course is that the first message might have been flagged as spam manually, in error, and the other messages followed the first into spam.  
Today, we happened to think to check our spam folder for a spring clean-out, and lo, there you were.
<<I want to know the fate of my submissions, sent originally on [DATE]>>We have found the hard-copy submission printout that our reader returned with his commentary and recommendations as to publish or not. His recommendation was not to publish. Shall we scan the mark-up comments and send them to you, for your interest and information? 
<<Did you ignore them? Lose them? Were they deleted?>>Ignore them, of course not. Bettymag, as you probably are aware from following industry publications that report on this sort of thing, has a reputation for providing voluminous feedback and generous correspondence with its authors and potential authors. It's an expense of labor and time, true, but it's one we gladly undertake as part of our work in finding, developing and promoting talent.  
"Lose them" is closer to truth, since it seems your piece was brought to the point where a decision was made, but that decision was not delivered to you. For that, our apologies. In our defense, we do process hundreds of submissions a week, and in all that volume, it isn't difficult for the occasional submission to slip through the cracks. We are only human.  
We've updated the Submittable listing for your submission to reflect our decision to decline to publish your poems. 
<<I want you to heavily consider those those originals submissions for an appearance in your publication.>>We assure you that your pieces were given serious, heavy consideration. We fancy ourselves sonnet-lovers, however old-fashioned that might sound in this age of whizbang screen media, so of course we hoped your sonnet especially might be fit for print.
<<I await your reply>>Well, we hope that that this reply begins to rectify the situation. 
[AUTHOR], what more can we tell you about our process, and about the systems we have in place at this end to review and respond to submissions? Clearly our the appearance of our inaction hit you hard, and if a little more information could be a salve for that we're keen to provide. 
Kind regards,
Email 5, the author's reply:
Thank you for the informative message.If you are can share the feedback your reader gave my poems, I'd be glad to see that.Besides that, there isn't anything else I can think to do.Take care.
Email 6, replying to the author:
Dear [AUTHOR],
We've gone ahead and scanned those marked-up pages for you. [Three of those pages are embedded in this post, with the author's text redacted.]
One of our editorial team suggested that this exchange of ours might be of interest to a wider readership, touching as it does on matters of author relations, editorial etiquette, and the shared woes of working in an underfunded sector of the arts world. We think this is a great idea, and will see about posting it to Ampersand, the blog of our publisher, Pen & Anvil Press. Our question to you is, would you prefer that your identity be concealed, or the text of your poems concealed (leaving the markup visible), or both, or neither?
Kind regards, and best wishes,

Update! The author replied, and we replied in turn, for another few rounds of messages. Here below are those post-blog emails, redacted or paraphrased as are those above.

Email 7, the author's reply:
I'm confused by the question [...]  
You want make use of the misfortune of this underpaid writer, the one you overlooked, to make a case for how you as editors need to be paid more? 
I find that bewildering.
The only value of this exchange to me is that it tells me how long it takes to extract a statement of apology from a publication of your caliber. 
You declined my work months ago, and failed to info more; but for some reason you want to publish the details of this affair for educational purposes? 
NO. My answer is NO. 
You don't get to make use of my work, and the case of my rejection, and the facts of your unprofessionalism, as a means to lure readers to your blog with click bate. [sic]
If the post goes viral I wouldn't see a single cent of the benefits. [...]
You don't get to critique my work, turn it down, and then display it online like a stuffed animal. 
I DECLINE permission to you to post my writing edited by your staff on ANY publication that you publish.
If I find that you have written this blog post I will ask my lawyer to explain the term intellectual property to you.
We are finished.
Email 8, replying to the author:
Dear [AUTHOR]: 
As it happens, when we hadn't heard from you, we went ahead and published this exchange on our blog, abridged, redacted and without the identifying information (as we'd supposed, in our earlier message might be your preference). Frustrating to think that SOME things happen quickly around here, while your submissions languished without the reply you were waiting for, but so it goes. For the sake of providing full context, we'll add portions of this last round of messages, as well, to sort of finish out the story.
You're free, of course, to have your lawyer contact us, though it isn't clear what outcome you'd be looking for. We are familiar with intellectual property guidelines and other aspects of fair use, and you'll find that we're scrupulous about avoiding infringing behaviors. Exploiting the copyrighted verbiage of others is not really the kind of game we're interested in playing.
If we can tell you more, do let us know, otherwise, good luck with your writing, and acting, and all the rest. In the meantime, can we ask you to clarify something? 
You write, "We are finished." Not to pick at a recent wound, but does that mean we should cancel your subscription?
Kind regards,
Email 9, the author's reply:
If you were just going to ignore me again, why did you ask for my permission?I have not given you my permission to post that article.Take it down.
Email 10, replying to the author:
Dear [AUTHOR], 
Respectfully, we didn't ask for your permission; we asked you to clarify whether you'd prefer to have your identifying removed or retained. For redacted and abridged uses, such as that which we've undertaken in this case, permission of the copyright holder is not needed, as it falls into a fair use penumbra. 
We take seriously your displeasure with the article having been posted, but think it important not to allow ourselves to be -- if this isn't too much a dramatization -- bullied out of a publicational decision. 
We'll include a note indicating that you're not happy with the situation, as is only right. Is there anything else you'd like us to report? 
Email 11, the author's reply:
That you would so readily and rapidly treat me with such disrespect saddens me beyond the limits of my current vocabulary.This is artistically degrading.What is the link.
Email 12, replying to the author:
Dear [AUTHOR]: 
Please don't feel degraded. As a case history in author-editorial correspondence, we think this exchange has legs beyond our dealings here. You're not identified or identifiable, really. And you shouldn't feel self-conscious; you're guilty only of a bit of presumptuous entitlement, and the rest can be chalked up to the usual forms of escalation that one sees in online communications. "Let there be lessons learned", etc. 
We'll include a link to the post, along with other recent posts and news, in our next email bulletin; as a subscriber, it'll come direct to you.
Kind regards,
PS: May we make a suggestion, if a bit tongue in cheek? If you're hanging out your slate as an author, you might not want to advertise the fact that your vocabulary has limits so easily reached.
Email 13, the author's reply:
I am not now and have never been a paid subscriber to Betty Magazine. Therefore your suggestion that I wait for the subscriber email is nonviable. 
And your disdain about my vocabulary is neither wanted, asked for, or wished for.
I hope you can take the moment to consider that I am a poor poet. I do not wish to be portrayed in any kind of demeaning light. It will obstruct my scant momentum at this stage of my career in this line of work. I am worried and feel a lack of trust. I need to see for myself that this blog post does not disparage or damn me.
Here we'll end these transcripts. However, our email conversation with the author continued, as the author expressed additional worry and displeasure, and we set aside our cheerfully obtuse front to tell him straight to relax, to put on a thicker skin, and to move on to the next poem, the next publication, and the next opportunity, hopefully wiser after our encounter.

Originally, we'd entered into dialogue with the author with a few motives in mind. Firstly, to provide him with the information he was looking for. Secondly, to amuse ourselves a little, admittedly at at the expense of an over-entitled young writer -- a kind of cruelty, but a small and we hope forgivable kind. And thirdly, to try to focus his attention on his tone, and reflect on how terseness and demands, delivered right from the get-go, will strain patience, squash good will, and lead generally to an unpleasant experience all around.

But as the author's expression of concerns rose in pitch, we realized we had to pivot away from the playing and just give them some good straightforward reassurance. We wished him well, and mean it.

Tune in to the next edition of AOAE to see if I can manage to manage the manifold manuscripts and mandarin manners involved in getting the next text to press, or if I am once again thwarted by the peccadilloes of the poet, the noxiousness of the novelist or the truculence of the translator. 

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