In response to some recent emails from writers and this article on Luna Park's website, it seemed apropos to put my two cents into the whole Slush Pile Discussion. Here are a few things I'd like HFR's submitters to know...
WE LOVE THE SLUSH PILE. HONEST.
The attitude of literary journals editors (though I suppose I can only speak for HFR) toward the slush pile is remarkably different than those of book publishers and agents, from what I've read and heard. The slush pile, for HFR, is its bread and butter. We do not hate the slush pile, use it for kindling or toilet paper, look at it with disdain, purposely throw its contents into dark and dirty places. We do not mock it. We are grateful for it. We don't expect the worst; we hope for the best. Nothing gives us more editorial pleasure than to read something wonderful from the slush, particularly if the author has never been published before. Our mission is to find emerging writers and to help them find an audience. We are cheering for you. I mean it.
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT LIKING YOUR WORK.
There's more that goes into editing than simply "liking" something. Editors are mindful of creating a unified issue, and also of creating an ongoing archive that shows diverse work. That, of course, means we want to feature writers with varied backgrounds. But it also means that we want to publish work that spans the spectrum of form and subject matter. If we've already accepted a first person story about a boy with a bug collection for the upcoming issue, your first person story about a boy with a stamp collection might not get accepted. Even if it's better than the first one. A sestina about birds? You must have missed our last issue, with a special section on bird sestinas. Our editors also usually team up, which sometimes means that they don't agree. One editor may love a story the other one detests. Collaboration means comprising. Editing is full of difficult choices.
WE DO NOT SEND FORM REJECTIONS TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD.
There are plenty of places online (here's one) where writers can vent about their rejections. The paper stock, the type, the font we used, the sentence structure: all fodder for the fire. Rejection notes, from our end, are an economical way to get you a response to your submission. They save us time, and the smaller they are, the more money and trees they save, too. Do I wish I could send a personalized note to everyone who submits? Yes. Is such a thing humanly possible? No. And anyway, do I think that a personalized note would make you all better writers? Not necessarily. We all know editing is subjective. Telling you the things that didn't work for me would tell you only that. Everyone who's ever been in a workshop situation knows you'll hear all sorts of conflicting opinions and recommendations for one piece of work. You can't - and shouldn't - listen to them all. The last story I got published was rejected twenty times and accepted once. If those twenty people all gave me personalized rejections and I'd changed my story according to any or all of them, I might never have gotten the story published at all. Find writers you trust to give you feedback. And always submit again to the journals who encourage your work.
WE WANT TO RESPOND TO YOU IN A TIMELY FASHION.
Oh yes, I'm aware that HFR is on Duotrope Digest's Most Slothful List. (Though, as of today, we're 25th - and almost off of it!) Getting quick responses out and giving each submission the attention it deserves can be a difficult balancing act. I prefer the latter to the former. Please know that our lengthy response time hurts us as much as it hurts you. Because we allow simultaneous submissions, we run the risk of losing great work before we get a chance to read it. This knowledge haunts me. I do my best to create a (volunteer!) editorial staff that is dedicated, diligent and aesthically in sync. Readers of this caliber do not exactly run rampant. Most of our editors and readers here are MFA students, which means they teach, write, and submit their own work in addition to finding time to read the slush. That's not an excuse, but a fact of how we're run. If we could afford a dedicated staff that reads full time, we would hire one. Immediately.
I AM HAPPY TO GIVE YOU STATUS UPDATES.
Provided that you've waited at least 4 months (we report our response time as 4-6 months), I am more than happy to email you an update about your submission (contact me at HFR@asu.edu). Usually I'll respond to your email in just a few days. An important thing to note is that if we're taking longer than 6 months, it's probably a sign that your submission is making its way through our editorial process - and that's a good thing. That means you haven't been rejected. And I'm much more comfortable confirming that than to have you assume I've flushed your story down the toilet.
MISTAKES HAPPEN. AND WE FEEL BAD ABOUT THEM!
We lose things sometimes, but we don't mean to. Our readers check your work out, read it, and then - ideally - bring it back. Once, one of our editors got his briefcase stolen, with your poems inside of it. When my luggage got lost and so did your story, the thing I wanted you to focus on was this: I really wanted to read the slush, even on my California vacation. Not all blunders are to be blamed on acts of god or mischief, though. We misplace things sometimes. With thousands of submissions for every issue, it's bound to happen. It's nothing personal. And I'll try to make it up to you when I can.
WE ARE WRITERS, TOO!
There's often an "us vs. them" attitude between editors and writers, but keep this in mind: every HFR reader is a writer, too. We've all been rejected. Lots. And we don't like it, either.
For more perspective on the slush, read Slushkiller by editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden. It's fantastic.