March of the living dead lit mag submissions

Interesting thread over on the Facebook page of author Martin Ott. To quote:

Getting organized to do a few submissions and noticed I still had a large number of submissions from last fall sitting in lit mag online submission queues: Tin House (not a surprise), Missouri Review, LIT Magazine, Idaho Review, Southern Review, Harvard Review (they tend to be slow), among others. Most of the work is fiction (some isn't). Are other writers experiencing the same trend?

Answer to that last question: Yes. Big yes. A hell yes yes.

And it's worse than that Facebook thread makes out. When I contacted Martin Ott to ask if I could quote his post, he told me that one of his recent submissions to Granta took 579 days for a response. Dang!

As an author, let me say this is BS. Short fiction, poetry and essay submissions shouldn't take this long. In our instant connection world no submission should disappear down a literary magazine's slush pile hole for more than three months unless an editor specifically contacted you to say they need more time to consider your work.

I say this because — sarcastic yet eye-opening truth time — when a lit mag takes a year with a submission it's not like your story or poem or essay spends all that time being read and re-read and critically dissected on its literary merits by a group of editors sipping hot toddies from crystal glasses in a candle-lit room.

No, your submission sits within an in-box pile of unseen electrons on a server or, less frequently, in a box in the corner of a cheaply made cubical, until some student intern or underpaid editorial assistant reads the first few paragraphs of the story and rejects it.

One year's wait in the slush pile comes down to a few seconds of face time with an editor.

I know this because I edited a literary magazine, storySouth, for many years. While I no longer edit the magazine I remember dealing with my own slush pile. And before you ask, yes, I sometimes took longer than three months with submissions. We all make mistakes. But I tried to not make that my pattern. And there's even less need for long waits today, what with all the cheap and easily available submission management systems out there.

I wish I could issue a call to arms over this issue. Urge authors to fight back by both shaming literary magazines which take too long with their submissions and not submitting to these places. But part of the problem is that fewer and fewer of the biggest literary magazines are accepting unsolicited submissions. And many of those that do now charge a submission fee, which is a separate irritation for writers.

All I can do is raise awareness of the issue. And point out to lit mags that magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genres rarely charge submissions fees and usually return submission in under three months. A few, like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed, even have reputations for dealing with most submissions in only a few days.

Maybe lit mags could learn a few things from their genre brethren.

(Note: Yes, I take this very personally. I once received a rejection letter from a lit mag six years after submitting. Need I say more?)