Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saying "No" Sucks

I sometimes wonder how many slushpile readers reach a personal limit on how many stories and poems they can say "no" to. We all know how much being told "no"--whether for a date, story, job application, whatever--sucks. I hate seeing my stories come back with the form rejection note as much as anyone, I'm sure.

What I hadn't thought about until I had to start sending those notes myself was how much it sucks to say "no" to someone else's story or poem. I usually take a liking to the writers who submit to Noneuclidean Cafe, particularly writers who submit regularly enough that I get to know their work, even if I haven't accepted a piece of theirs. I find out an odd fact or two about their lives in their cover letters, get a sense of what subjects and themes excite them as writers, see what technical issues they're dealing with. How can you not like someone who still works (in an era when media spend more time covering Paris Hilton than every poet in North America combined) with meter and formal rhyme schemes, even if they sometimes struggle with their lines getting too sing-songy? How can you not like someone who finds the time between work and family and dozens of other responsibilities to sneak away and write stories about distant planets, even if they sometimes lose control of POV?

I wonder if the suckiness of repeatedly saying "no" is why I've heard some editors sound so negative about the slushpile--knocking the quality of both the submissions and the writers who send them. It's easier psychologically if you can look down on the whole process, than if you have to think about the people on the receiving end as, you know, actual people. And I have to say, sometimes the anger an editor expresses about slushpile submissions seems out of proportion to the problem--if the problem were strictly a rational one to them.

I remember hearing one editor on a panel at Balticon a couple years ago--I've forgotten his name or magazine, so I couldn't share even if I wanted to--saying that he usually reads submissions within a week or two, but because he doesn't want submitters bombarding him with work he has a program that doesn't send the rejection note until sixty days have passed. At the point one has that little respect for writers and their time, why is he even in publishing? (Even given he has a legitimate need to limit submissions, if he cared about his writer's time, he could just limit submissions to one every sixty days--a number of good publications place limits like that--rather than keep them waiting for a response.) But he managed to work with writers while nonetheless seeing writers in general as a problem, with no cognitive dissonance.

Given that alternative--I'll stay with feeling bad every time I say "no."



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