You want to. So do we all. Sometimes, I try. I’ve sent some really bitchy emails to editors that I later regretted. Did they deserve it? Maybe. But that’s no excuse. Don’t ever burn bridges if you can help it. If you’re a starving writer, you just can’t afford much dignity. Especially these days. Anyway, let me tell you some of my biggest fights with editors.
- Lazy editor. Many years ago, I wrote a piece on an unsolved murder and sent it to a big magazine. Lots of research, interviews, traveling, and the whole works. The managing editor loved it. She passed it up the chain to the head honcho, who sat on it for three months. I sent two follow-up emails. Each time I was told “Just a few more days.” After almost four months, I emailed the head editor directly and said something like, “You’re holding my piece hostage, fuck wad. What gives? I’m a genius writer and you should be kissing my feet.” He wrote back something like, “You know what, missy? You can just deal with it, because I don’t owe you shit.” I wrote back, “If you’re going to treat me like that, then fuck you. I’m withdrawing the piece.” Who knows how that might have ended if I’d swallowed a little more pride, just waited a couple more weeks? Or maybe I could’ve just quietly sent my article to a couple other publications. But ohhhhh no. Jessica had to win. Why? I was probably having a bad week. I could just picture this guy tossing back scotches in his office and having long hilarious conversations with big-wig authors. Meanwhile, I was sharing an office with two other adjuncts and making less than minimum wage teaching 4 classes a semester. It made me hate him.
- Asshole editor. A year later, I submitted a story to a mid-tier journal that I’d worked on for almost a year. He rejected it less than 24 hours later. Then he friended me on Facebook and commented on one of my pics. “Cute,” he said. It made me furious. Instead of grabbing a drink with some friends and bitching (which I did later anyway), I emailed him something like, “How much of my story did you actually read?” He told me a couple of paragraphs. I replied, “So submitting to your journal was a huge mistake.” We went on like that for a couple of hours until I blocked him and deleted his email.
- Another time, an academic journal sat on my submission for 8 weeks and then threw it back. “We can’t send this out for peer review,” they said. “Sorry.” I wrote and explained that since I’d given them 8 weeks, could they at least tell me why? They wrote, “Time does not permit us to.” Fuckers. By then I’d learned not to engage with editors at length. Besides, they knew my dissertation director. Academia can be a small world. I learned pretty quick that you can’t afford to piss anyone off.
- My next to worst mistake: For a while, I was writing op-ed pieces for a pretty well-known online newspaper. They published three of mine and paid about $400 a pop. It was great. But the editor didn’t respond to my fourth one for about two months. About that time, they published a piece eerily similar to the one I’d submitted, except by a much bigger author. It pissed me off. I jumped to conclusions and wrote a pretty irate email to the editor, who apologized. It was a complete coincidence, and apparently he’d never even received my email in the first place. Was he lying? Not sure. But we were both rattled by the experience, and I stopped writing for them. Awkward. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d written a calmer email.
- My worst mistake: One time, I waited about 5 weeks on a little fluff news piece for an online magazine. They had asked me to write it. So I was a kind of pissed when they didn’t respond at all. Plus, it was a time sensitive topic. I wrote, “Hey, what gives? You asked me to send you something and now radio silence. Did your dog die or something?” Well, it turns out his dog hadn’t died. But his best friend from college had cancer, and he’d been visiting him in the hospital. Egg on my face. Especially since he liked the piece and published it.
That was the old me. If any editors out there are reading, I repent. Okay? Please don’t be scared if I ever email you anything. Turning 30 and earning a tenure-track job chills you out some. In fact, success tends to help with one’s attitude toward the publishing worlds. The desperation felt by young, unaccomplished writers often triggers them to act against their own interests. It’s hard not to see editors as privileged, even if they’re not.
Over time, I’ve learned what mature professional writers do. Editors might jerk you around, piss you off, act like assholes. You really shouldn’t take it personally. There’s tons of magazines and journals out there. Some of them are bound to be nice. Besides, you don’t want to get black-listed if you can help it.
Only about 20 percent of editors suck. The rest of them work hard, and they have lives.
It’s not like all writers are angels, either. For every asshole editor there’s 10 asshole writers. I learned that firsthand working as an editor myself. People have yelled at me for trimming too much from their stories. They’ve accused me of unfair treatment. They’ been late with deadlines, and they’ve refused to listen and follow directions. I’ll say this, though. It’s a lot easier to ignore asshole writers than the other way around. Maybe it has something to do with power. If a writer pisses me off, I can just kill their piece and fill the gap with someone else’s work. At the end of the day, we’re all replaceable.