Nitwittery Abounds

Dear Miss Snark,

As someone who works w/friends at a zine, I get a few submissions a week. The work is not as stressful as something like agenting or editing, but there's a problem I've run into that I don't know how to tackle––maybe you have some advice.

There's a pretty regular submitter, "Tory." Tory first submitted a story a few months ago that wasn't good enough; form rejection. A month passes. I get the same story from Tory, completely unchanged, with the same cover letter saying "I submitted this awhile ago but was rejected...hope you like it now." Of course, I'm the only one here, so I use the same form rejection again.

Fast-forward to now, two months later. I have an e-mail from Tory in my inbox, with the same story in the same words and a more irate cover letter. I don't want to bring the guy down, but "We cannot accept your submission at this time" does not mean "We'll accept it later." I know first-hand that rejection sucks, but I can't help noticing Tory is in desperate need of a clue gun or some personal attention...or both.

How can I be diplomatic about this without giving him too much hope or reason to depair? Is there a balance? If so, where does it lie?

Wait, you asked Miss Snark for advice on how to be diplomatic???
Hang on, I think KY might be laughing too hard to actually fetch me a new keyboard after the coffee out the nose on that idea.

If you want diplomatic, you gotta go hang out with the nice girls. Hint: Here and Here.

On the other hand, if you really want Miss Snark's advice, you simply keep sending him form rejection letters. His mental health is not your responsiblity. His rendition of a temper tantrum on the floor of the grocery store at 5pm in the express checkout line right in front of the lady clutching a box of feminine hygiene products does not require anything from you other than "sorry, not right for us".

If you really really really insist on interacting with this guy, you're making a mistake. There's NO answer other than yes that will get him off your back, out of your mailbox, and away from your slush pile. This is why Dog invented the "junk email" file. His email should go on that list.

I'm reminded again and again that people do weird ass things.
I've probably done more than my share as well.
Consider it grist for your novel and move on.


Sue said...

Maybe that form rejection should read "not right for us" rather than "We cannot accept your submission at this time." It's a bit colder, but it also closes the door.

You may also amend the form letter by adding a coda that says something like: we do not take simultaneous submissions, we do not take multiple submissions, we do not take reprints, we do not take re-submissions. (Whichever of those that applies.)

Anonymous said...

When agents who are kind enough to take a second look at a rewrite of my ms (Yeah, I know: this guy didn't do any rewriting and to that I say, "WTF?!)and then send a second rejection letter with the words "FINALLY I must pass," I take the hint and move on.

The only hint this guy will ever understand is blunt force trauma.

Bonnie Shimko said...

I'd probably win first prize, hands down, for all the nitwit stuff I've pulled. But I think it's time for no response to this guy. His behavior is really close to stalking. Best to ignore him. Maybe he'll go away. Even I understand what silence means.

Anonymous said...

I'd say the rejection letter needs to remove the "at this time." It implies that there may be a change of heart (or mind) later. Perhaps you could use "for all time" instead?

Anonymous said...

Just remove "at this time" from the letter. It implies that the issue was full, but you might consider his work for a different issue.

Why were you using this phrase in the first place? It doesn't seem to add any useful meaning. Better to be direct:

"Thank you for your submission, but it's not right fot this publication. Good luck placing it elsewhere."

Ex-ed said...

On the point of his mental health - this man clearly doesn't understand that publishing isn't a dream-granting industry set up for his benefit, so silence might actually be the best thing for him. He'll end up blaming the publishing world as a closed-to-new-writers place, like so many people do, but that'll be less painful for him than realising his stuff is no good. When I worked as a submissions editor, I'd make a point of sending as impersonal a rejection as possible to the most importuning and hopeless writers, as I figured it would at least allow them the comforting delusion that the rejection was my fault, not theirs.

And honestly, if his grasp on empathy is bad enough that he's acting this way, I seriously doubt he's ever going to be an insightful writer. In which case, if he gives up, it's really not the publishing industry's loss. Rephrasing the letter as suggested by other posters might be wise; otherwise, let him blame it on you. He doesn't merit the office time it would take to send him a more detailed rejection, and he probably wouldn't listen anyway.

Tattieheid said...

"We cannot accept your submission at this time"

This phrase sounds far too vague, a hopeful writer could read it to mean too busy try later. Something along the lines of "sorry this one is not for us" or "this needs a lot of work" or "we are not interested, try someone/something else." Is more direct and not open to misinterpretation.

You are sweet and kind to be considering writers feelings but the name of this game seems to be development of "thick skins all round" and brutal honesty is the best policy. :)

Although she denies it, even Miss Snark has a soft spot for writers but she still tells it as it is.

Anonymous said...

I agree on the stalking thing; he is clueless.

If you absolutely must interact (like he still keeps sending the same thing months from now) send him to absolutewrite-dot-com to get feedback.

Then back it up with the "you are sending your story to the wrong zine--we cannot use it! Please submit to some other publication. Then put his e-addy on the block senders list. A few bounces should do the trick.

He might write a different story down the road, but his lack of professionalism for the current work is not something you need to deal with, should that happen.

carlynarr said...

Is there a reason you can't just write "please don't send this story again" at the bottom of the rejection letter?

Anonymous said...

Aspiring writers will crawl all over rejection letters, however standardly crookedly and fifteenth-handedly xeroxed, in a desperate attempt to find some personal hope tucked away in the address of the Registered Office. '...at this time' is simply asking for them to think you mean '...but maybe another time.'

I'd agree with the others: the standard letter needs to say 'not right for us' period, and possibly, 'please note that we don't accept resubmissions of the same work'. Once you've sent this standard letter out to Mr Insanely Persistent, you can amend it for the future to '...but we are always pleased to consider new material,' if you want to give a reasonable impression of encouraging new work.

Christine said...

This guy's initial's aren't NP, are they?

If they are, run! Then block his e-mail. :) 'cause he's a whack of the First Order.

It's probably not him; I'm sure there's more than one whack in the world.

litagent said...

Probably a mistake, but I call the author on it -- "This is the third time you've queried me about/submitted this and the answer remains no. I wish you luck, etc. etc."

Kimber An said...

I've been advised that it's okay to re-submit, but ONLY after radical revisions or a different story altogether. This submitter doesn't sound like he's done his homework. Sadly, if you try to educate him, he will only take that as an invitation to continue harrassing you. I agree that it may be time to revise your form rejection letter.

Zany Mom said...

I'd either ignore this one (and the next) or change the standard form to 'thanks, but not for us.'

In my business we get the same thing. And the more 'hope' you give them, the more persistent they are.

To call him on it with 'you've sent this 3 times and it's still no' is going to make him want to know WHY and he'll likely be MORE persistent.

Crazies abound in all professions.

Anonymous said...

Look, you always get the crazies submitting to literary journals. The question is, how crazy do you want to let them make you. You can try to deal with this person rationally but that will (a) probably not be fruitful if they are not rational; (b) merely make you feel okay because you think you're being reasonable; and (c) not solve the problem.

How do you solve the problem? Use whatever mechanism your email has to simply filter this person out or block them. Period. End of discussion. No explanation. None is required. There's 2000 journals listed in the Novel and Short Story Market book from Writer's Digest for this person to submit to. Let them go elsewhere.

Kim said...

So you mean I can't just wear you down until you say yes?

All kidding aside, egads... please, do yourself a favor and change the wording to "best of luck placing it elsewhere" or a reasonable facisimilie of that.

It'll save your sanity...

i didn't spell 'facsimilie' right, did i?

Dave said...

Take the simple way - send the rejection and then mark his e-mail as junk. Don't block his e-mail because then he will know what you did when he gets the return. If he creates a nother e-mail and sends again, ignore it and set that e-mail to junk.

Even if I completely revised a story, I would never resend the new version to a magazine. Why? Because if they liked it enough to print despite its flaws, they would have said, please fix this and resubmit. They didn't. They said no and that is it for that story with that magazine.

Sherry D said...

I edited and published a small press fiction magazine for 4 1/2 years and at rejected numereous Torys in that time. I advise you to hand write on the bottom of the form rejection, "This story is not right for our publication. Please do not submit it again." There is no way to be diplomatic. It takes a clue gun the size of a bazooka to reach them.

Anonymous said...

Yeeks, there was a fellow I ran into on a writer's board who sounded just like Tory.

The history: he started a thread grumbling about how rejection letters contain only bland twaddle instead of useful comments to help him improve his writing.

In a long and tedious exchange, many members of the board attempted to thump into his head the idea that the rest of humanity was not put on this Earth just to do him favours. It didn't work, and he only got more pig-headed and abusive as the exchange progressed.

The reason I mention it is that he explicitly said, as part of this conversation, that when someone sends him a rejection that says "not right for us at this time", his inclination is to send the same story back to them in a few months' time.

Yeah. Just like Tory.

Writerious said...

If you read the Rejection Collection (http://www.rejectioncollection.com/), you'll find a whole lot of people who don't quite understand the nature of a form rejection (as well as the occasional doozy of a rejection that really does deserve posting).

I was managing editor of an academic journal and while the majority of the submissions were appropriate, we got our occasional head-scratcher. The best thing to do with someone who is clueless and who sends something completely inappropriate is NOT to engage in any dialogue about how to make the work better or more appropriate to your publication. What began as a productive conversation between one of our editors and a submitter turned sour very quickly when it became clear that the submitter only wanted to rant, and had all the answers to solve every problem in our academic field instantly if we'd only listen to him and publish his 30 page editorial.

With some folks, you can fire the clue gun all you want, but they already have their shields up and their doofus cannons set on "shred." Don't make eye contact with these types. Just say, "Not appropriate for our journal," leaving off the "at this time" phrase, and if you're feeling particularly obnoxious, suggest another place where they can send their work.

One bright side of managing an academic journal: our acceptance rate averaged 23%, so I didn't have to send out quite so many rejections as mainstream publishers, nor did our reviewers have to plow through quite so much dross to find the gems.

Samuel Tinianow said...

Sounds like yet another person who thinks that getting published works the same way as getting a job; in this case, that if you bug the editor enough, they'll give buy your story just to shut you up. Might work in the job market, but there are no such tricks here. Perhaps you should explain this to him.

ex-ed said...

Re Samuel Tinianow's advice - Don't try to explain anything to him, say I. If he gets irate at a simple rejection, trying to give him advice is only going to win you abuse. Trust me, I've tried it.

Bill Ectric said...

How about, "The first time we rejected this piece, it saddened us. This time, it breaks our heart. If you send it again, we may need the suicide hotline."

Bill Ectric said...

I just read Dave's comment about not submitting twice to the same place, even if you rewrite - that's exactly what McSweeney's said to me once, so Dave is right.

Elsa Neal said...

I agree with the other comments - it sounds far too much like you're inviting him to "try again another time". You need a period after "submission". Or how about using strikethrough font for "at this time" and following it with "ever" in normal caps? Probably not a big enough clue, though.

Samuel Tinianow said...

ex-ed: You're right. Someone should explain it to the poor sap, just not the person editing the zine.

ex-ed said...

Hi Bill Ectric. He'd probably conclude from the 'saddened us' letter that the story was simply too moving for the editors to be able to stand, and they decided to reject it because they're cowards who only publish safe, cosy stuff for the stultified proletariat. Seriously. Either that or that editors are sadists who delight in upsetting writers. Some people are clueless and can learn, and some people are emotionally invested in denial. The way this guy carried on, I'm guessing the latter in his case. In which case, *anything* you do is going to be taken as provocation.

(Yes, I do realise you were probably joking. I can be literal like that sometimes. Sorry.)

Hi Samuel T. :-)