Friday, February 29, 2008


I received a letter from a magazine publisher yesterday who, among other things, was responding to a comment I'd made in a recent publication about how many periodicals were not accepting freelance submissions. It apparently was a topic he felt passionate about. I'm not going to reveal his name or the name of the periodical--only to say it was one of the better denomionational magazines--but I am going to quote much of the letter because it's a message we really need to hear. I also think it is one most editors would agree with. It's long, but I guarantee you'll go away with a much better idea of what publishers expect from you.

"I cannot speak for other periodicals, but I can share this publisher's perspective on why publisher friendliness is diminishing toward freelancers. Many writers simply do not show respect to publishers, publisher's needs--and their own writing craft.

As writer's guidelines go, ours are pretty straightforward and readily available. We don't ask much, yet from the vast majority of material we receive, you'd think our guidelines didn't even exist. Author's flagrantly submit more material more frequently than we request. They inquire by e-mail submissions (and snail mail submissions without an accompanying SASE) even though our guidelines clearly state these submissions will not be acknowledged unless accepted for publication. They frequently e-mail simple questions that are clearly addresses in our guidelines. Manuscript mechanics? Forget it--most authors don't even attempt to comply. Most distressing, however, is that most of the material received is not--even remotely--suitable for our magazine.

Couple this with some 'attitudes' and it's no wonder publisherd have 'had it' with freelancers. Authors who deem their work more valuable than the publisher does and then, on their own, attempt to change acceptance terms and compensation on the acceptance form do not ingratiate themselves to publishers. Neither do authors who attribute 'staff writer' status to themselves just becasue they have been published in a particular magazine a few times and then throw a hissy fit when they go unpublished in that magazine for awhile. Clearly, these 'professionals' don't help themselves or others engaged in the trade.

It seems sometimes from the voluminous material we receive that the biggest assumption many freelancers make is that all they have to do is come up with storylines, put words on paper and broadcast them to as many publishers as quickly and conveniently as possible. Don't bother to write well, don't research the market and pick a target or two--no, just throw words together and shotgun it out--just do it enough and some publisher will most likely pick it up. After all, it's a numbers game--isn't it?

Scattergun distribution has always been a problem for freelance publishers but it has escalated exponentially with the advent of desktop publishing and email. They are the frrelancer's boon--and the publisher's bane. Never has it been easier (and cheaper) for a freelancer to produce and distribute their work. There can be little or no involvement with paper, envelopes, repeated photocopying, stamps, or trips to the post office--just type it up, designate a bunch of publishers--and shoot it off. Oh, and don't bother with a cover letter--this is email--no courtesy or formality required.

I could go on and on--but I think you get the picture. Our patience with freelancers is wearing thin also. Our staff has neither the time--nor the desire--to process the plethora of irrelevant, poorly written material routinely submitted to us by freelancers who usually don't have the respect for their craft and the courtesy to us to research our needs.

Why don't freelancers get it? Why don't they understand that gaining a publisher's acceptance is little different from courting someone romantically or interviewing for a job? Each requires manners, politeness, presentability--and research--in order to be successful. Each is a potential relationship where first impressions count--and count big. Why don't they get it?

Freelancers have been our lifeblood for 55+years. That's not going to change--at least not anytime soon. But we are going to get tougher. More material is going to be returned for resubmission--more material is going to be tossed without review. Our guidelines will be expanded and tightened and enforced more stringently. Perhaps this is an incorrect approach--but freelancers have brought it upon themselves. If you have other ideas I'm open to considering them."


Mary DeMuth said...

Wow. Great stuff here, Sally. I'll link to you from wannabepublished, as this editor's words are worth trumpeting.


Mary DeMuth

Rachelle said...

I agree with Mary! I'll be posting a link on Saturday. Thanks, Sally!

Cyndi Lewis said...

Wow, as a writer who is considering breaking into freelancing this is an important reminder to me to be considerate of how I do business. Thank you for the insight and if you have time thank the editor that took the time to voice what we needed to hear.

Perry said...

While I agree with the writer's points in general, one thing does catch my eye:

"Why don't they understand that gaining a publisher's acceptance is little different from courting someone romantically..."

I've heard this sentiment many times before and it always amazes me that a publisher who wants to be "wooed" doesn't hesitate to offer me a generic, photo-copied "Dear John" letter in return, three months (or more) after I've asked him out, and it's usually not even signed.

Trust me, we writer's aren't "feelin' the love" either!



Kristi Holl said...

I think I've found another plus for being an older writer that broke in before email submissions, back in the typewriter age. Things were never instant then, and you were used to needing manners to talk to real people all the time. Today's new writers rarely have to interact with people. We now check out our library books at a kiosk, self-check our groceries, buy stamps and mail packages at a lobby machine, get movies from the McDonalds kiosk, get cash from ATMs, etc. New writers in this self-service world forget that on the other end of their email is a real person--not a machine.

Tiffany Stuart said...

Speak the truth. We need it. It'll make everyone's life easier if we learn to be professional.

Thank you.

Karen said...

Thanks, Sally, for reminding us that shortcuts, lazy habits, and insisting on our own way endear us to no one, least of all an editor or publisher who could make or break our business reputation.

Debbie said...

I'm reminded of an article I read recently about people just entering the workforce. A group of employers stated that the new employees seemed to believe they were doing management a favor by working for them. They don't seem to understand, perhaps due to arrogance, that the employer granted the favor by giving that person an opportunity -- a job. Humility and courtesy go a long way in any profession.

Paul Pettit said...

Good reminders. I work with many student writers and these are lessons we all need to abide. Writing is democratic and open to all...getting published is a privilege.

- Paul Pettit

Mary Jo Tate said...

I was on the editorial team of two national magazines several years ago, and I encountered all of these problems with writers as well. (Fortunately there were also many with whom it was a pleasure to work.)

I've just linked to your post at Write A Great Book, where I'm advocating the importance of excellent writing.

Thanks for sharing this publisher's letter, Sally!

Mary Jo Tate