Authors shouldn't whine about fast rejection times

The Dark is a online magazine of horror and dark fantasy which, in the last three years, has received a number of accolades and reprints in "year's best" anthologies. Edited by Sean Wallace and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the magazine is open to more experimental stories and new authors, which results in issues of The Dark often pushing the boundaries of both the genre and literary fiction.

The Dark is also known for fast response times on most submissions, often within 24 hours. Sean and assistant editor Jack Fisher divide up the slush pile and give each story a first read.

You'd think authors would be happy with fast response times because it means they can submit their stories somewhere else. But it turns out some authors hate a quick no. They'd rather the band-aid be pulled off bit by bit over months and years instead of a quick yank.

One reason for this is authors have been conditioned to expect long response times for short fiction, partly because many literary magazines like Tin House and Granta are notorious for letting submissions hang in limbo. This not only hurts authors but shows a lack of respect toward our work. When a literary magazine takes a year to decide on your story, don't pretend your submission spent all that time being read and analyzed. It likely received the same amount of attention as a submission rejected in only a few hours.

Before anyone screams, yes, there are exceptions. If your story is under active consideration or is a finalist for a magazine, expect longer waits. If a magazine says they take up to three months to consider stories (which many print magazines still require and I'm okay with), both expect and accept it. Part of this comes down to knowing a market before you submit. This knowledge can be easily gained through places like the Submission Grinder.

All of which makes the recent responses Sean Wallace received after a couple of prompt rejections all the more jarring.

A few days ago Sean quoted one author's response on Facebook:

“Yeah, okay. Just so you understand, there is no way I believe you have read that last one I sent you in this amount of time . . . and now, I don’t believe you read the first one, either. That’s okay. It’s not like that makes you exceptional or anything. I dream of an exceptional editor. I’ll spare you further submssions, since clearly you’re not bothering to read the ones I send.”

Followed a day or so later by a response from a different author.

"Wow, that’s quick! Thanks for giving it the due consideration it so obviously required. Luckily, these things require almost no effort to write ’em, so a curt dismissal is all the remuneration any writer needs. Oh, and maybe a hearty go f*#& yourself—or is that just too redundant?—author”

I get it. Rejection hurts. I've received a ton of rejections in my time and will keep receiving them until I die. But I would never respond like that to an editor.

First, you burned yourself with an editor who might buy one of your stories in the future. Second, you insulted an editor who respected your work enough to NOT sit on it for months even though the magazine won't ever be buying your story.

Third, the first person misspelled "submission" in their response. Which I'm sure really made that author look great in Sean's eyes.

It's not hard for submission editors to both read every submitted story and stay on top of their slush pile. As Sean has said, "If we get ten stories a day, and each slush editor takes five, spread out throughout the day, then the chances are fairly high that any given submission can be processed, rejected or moved into a maybe folder, within minutes. And the system is set up to do automatic rejections with a quick click of a button. As such, there is no inherent malice in a fast response these days. The issue, really, is that some magazines and markets have been traditionally so slow in the past that it established expectations and that is in of itself problematic."

Total agreement.

Note to authors: The editors of professional magazines work for their readers, not their writers. While it's nice when editors give specific feedback on a story, that rarely happens. If you want feedback on your writing enroll in a writing program or take part in a critique group. Don't expect it from editors.

In this day and age the way editors show respect to authors is by not wasting our time by holding submissions which won't work for their publications. That's what Sean Wallace and everyone at The Dark does and I praise them for it.