Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Case for Courtesy

This piece appeared in The Foghorn, the newsletter of the San Diego Press Club.

The Case for Courtesy

I used to lament to friends that I could wallpaper my home in rejections slips. 

Come back, rejection slips.  All is forgiven.

Now, of course, I just want a reply, any sign from the ether that my submission was indeed considered even if it doesn’t meet their present needs.

Some publications avoid the reply issue by saying that if you haven’t heard in X days, they’re not interested.  They’ll insist all submissions are read.   Not that we believe that for a nanosecond.

We who write fear in our hearts that at the other end of the Send button is a minimum wage recent journalism school graduate who spends his or her latte-fueled day on Facebook and hits Select All and Delete on the submission in-basket on a pretty much hourly basis.  

The guest column I submitted per the guidelines to Editor & Publisher went ignored until a writer friend gave me the private email of an editor there who bought it within an hour.  Ditto a piece for San Diego Magazine.

A timely humor piece went to our local daily last year that I felt was perfect for them.  I submitted it weekly for eight weeks, including follow-ups to the editor who was supposed to get it, and resubmissions to editors who weren’t.  Not a word.  On the eighth week, I got a call from None of the Above saying he’d just received my wonderfully timely very funny piece and was running it that weekend. 


“Just out of curiosity,” I said, “do you remember seeing this piece before?”

“No,” he says.  “Why?”

I really try to target my work to specific publications.  So I wouldn’t mind my piece being rejected (oh, all right, yes I would) if a sentient editorial human really thought it wasn’t right for them.

My technogeek husband maintains that the excuse about their being so swamped with submissions as to be unable to reply individually is nonsense.  For the same amount of energy our entry-level ennuied Instant Messager expends hitting Delete before heading for the Mojitos, he could be hitting Control N, as in No, and sending an automated message of regret.  It would at least give the illusion of courtesy.   

Fortunately, I now have a column in the La Jolla Light which has largely removed me from marketing.  It’s a sure sell every time, well, except maybe for my April 8 column called “I was a mistress of both Tiger AND Jesse” which was deemed unsuitable for a family newspaper although I swear it was totally G-rated.  (In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to submit it Easter week when there was a lot of coverage of chicks and bunnies.) 

But the freelance work and my book project are uphill.  My completed book manuscript sits ready for adulation while queries to prospective agents go unanswered or at best get a snooty “We only deal with authors who have published at least ten best sellers even though you’ve never heard of a single title on our list.”  Last time I published a book, in aught five the year of the big snow, it really wasn’t hard to get an agent.  Now I think you need an agent to get an agent.

I don’t think any of my fellow writers would argue that we deserve better.  But above all, we deserve an answer. 

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