Tales calculated to drive me frustrated

Lately, we've been receiving what seems like a lot of submissions from authors who aren't following our submission procedure, one way or another.

Saturday night and Sunday morning, for example, we had two submissions in a row that were submitted as email attachments, immediately followed by a new story from an author who's already got a story under consideration with us. Not long after, there was a repeat of a story we'd already considered, plus a cover letter from the author letting us know that our guidelines don't say anything about not sending multiple stories at once. That author also sent a Word .doc file email attachment, on the grounds that they felt our system was unlikely to be able to handle RTF files generated on a Mac.

(As I've probably noted here before, there are few things I find more frustrating about the submission process than authors who tell us that our guidelines don't cover something that they do cover. But at least this time the author wasn't smug or self-righteous about it, as such notes usually are. In this case, the author clearly meant well.)

The thing that I really really don't get about all of this is that in this latest spate of problem stories, most of the authors had successfully submitted to us in the past using our submission form, and/or had received notes from me in the past asking them not to do whatever it was they were doing again.

Later on Sunday and then again today, there was more of the same kind of thing, culminating in an author attempting to submit via an email attachment for the fourth time in the past year, despite three previous notes explaining that we can't consider email attachments.

I'm afraid I was not as polite with some of these authors as I generally strive to be. After several of this kind of thing in a row, my patience starts to wear thin.

(Digression into other areas of my life: It was also, I should note, a frustrating day today in a bunch of other ways. I continued to be sick--the sore throat and cough and runny nose come and go every eight to twelve hours or so--and I haven't slept well lately, so all morning and afternoon it felt like I was trying to think through a thick cloud of cotton. I was going to work from home again, but it turned out there was a utility that I couldn't access from home; so, trying to meet my noon deadline, I rushed in to work to use it there, only to discover that it was broken. I did several final steps to check in my files, only to be told that I shouldn't have checked them in after all, resulting in a couple hours' worth of shenanigans and confusions involving the checkin system.

I eventually left work early--though since I'd started early, I did put in about eight hours--because (a) I couldn't think coherently, and (b) I had barely restrained myself from sending an unnecessarily snippy email to the executive in charge of our division (whom I haven't even met) and several other unnecessarily snippy emails to anyone else who contacted me about anything, no matter how innocuous. Also, I discovered that an invitation I'd sent out using Google Calendar had gone horribly awry. I ended up coming home and lying on the lawn in the sun and reading an Eleanor Arnason book and my LiveJournal friends list, and then chatting a bit with Twig, all of which calmed me down considerably though it didn't help with the huge backlog of magazine work I've got waiting for me, nor with my other work deadline tomorrow. End digression.)

The first time an author sends us a story as an email attachment, I'm pretty forgiving. I'll admit that even the first time, I get mildly frustrated, because nowhere in our guidelines does it even hint that that's okay, and the guidelines explicitly say that it's not okay, and I can't figure out what it is that makes authors assume that it must be okay; and I can't figure out how they get our email address to send a submission to without also seeing the part that tells them to use the form. (Is there some site or market list out there that says "Strange Horizons takes RTF submissions" but doesn't explain about the submission form? If there is, and you know about it, please either tell them to change their description or point me to their description so I can tell them to change it.) But, y'know, everyone makes mistakes; the first time an author does this, I just send them a copy of our polite standard letter telling them not to do it, and telling them that the story's being deleted unread, and telling them to read our guidelines before submitting again. Doesn't take much of my time or energy.

But when an author does it again after being told not to, perhaps especially after they've successfully used our form in the past, it really annoys me. It makes me suspect that the author is just not paying any attention. It doesn't take much more of my time to deal with it than the first time, but it takes a lot more of my emotional energy. I know that I ought to just send the standard letter and move on, and most of the time that's what I do, but it seems like this has been happening a lot lately. I think part of my reaction is that it seems disrespectful--as if the author just couldn't be bothered to follow our extraordinarily simple and straightforward submission process (among the easiest in the field), or even to take the five extra minutes that it would've taken them to learn (or remember) what that process is.

Sigh. I suppose this is really just another version of the age-old editorial rant about authors not reading submission guidelines.

I imagine that some editors are going to read this entry and smugly think "That's what comes of taking online submissions," so I should note that taking online submissions is what makes this process bearable for me. Firstly because the vast majority of submissions do use the form, and are therefore correctly formatted and easy to process (which is another reason I shouldn't get as exercised about a small number of problem submissions as I do, even when--as happened these past few days--the number of problem submissions rises to about 10% of the total subs); secondly because sending a standardized and semi-automated "please resubmit using our submission form" email takes me only seconds and doesn't cost me any money.

So really I suppose the real problem is that I get inordinately annoyed at people who don't follow instructions. And that there've been a lot of them lately.

Still, I do wish that people would send queries asking us questions when they have questions about the submission process, rather than making guesses and then submitting as if those guesses were facts.

Also factoring into all this was that I was looking at, and replying to, problem submissions before having breakfast, so my blood sugar was low on Sunday morning when I wrote most of this entry. Things did seem better after food, as usual. But then much of the rest of Sunday and Monday turned out frustrating too.

4 Responses to “Tales calculated to drive me frustrated”

  1. artemisin

    Just wanted to say that markets which accept esubs are doing a lot for the diversity of the genre, allowing ex-pats and people living outside the US to submit to mags at no cost (as well as students and people without economic means). If no big mags allowed esubs, I probably wouldn’t have kept writing. At 5-7 euros a postal submission, I simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.

  2. Peter Hollo

    Strange Horizons does allow esubs – just not by email. Their guidelines are very clear on this, but unfortunately even ostensibly intelligent people just can’t read. I work for a medical publisher and the number of doctors who submit things in incomprehensibly weird ways, or make nonsensical orders from our online store, is… impressive.
    “Hi, I’m just making contact because the book I ordered is taking quite a long time to come…”
    “You mean the one that’s a pre-order for the 2008 edition, due next February?”
    “Yes, that one.”

  3. Jed

    artemisin: Thanks! That’s good to hear–especially because we at SH want to encourage writers outside the US to submit to us.

    Peter H: Yeah, I think artemisin was including SH as one of the venues that does take esubs. 🙂 on the pre-order thing, though I’m sure it’s less funny when it’s actually happening.

    I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, including really obvious and dumb ones, that I try to cut people slack for mistakes. But I quickly lose patience when people persist in their mistakes after being corrected. Even though I suppose I’ve done that now and then, too.

    …Latest update: This morning we received a novel submission, with a subject line indicating that they’d tried to submit using the RTF form but it hadn’t worked. I wonder if that could have anything to do with the fact that they’re trying to submit a novel to a short-story magazine.

    Which reminds me that a couple weeks ago, someone submitted a story that was much too long for us. They tried indicating the story’s actual wordcount in our online form, and when they got the error message saying that we can’t consider stories that long, they changed the number–in other words, they lied about their wordcount in order to bypass the automated wordcount checking and submit a story that our system had already told them was too long for us.

    To be fair, I should note that so many automated systems are so bad, and break so easily, and are so poorly designed, that finding ways to work around them sometimes becomes more or less habitual. I often see automated systems as barriers designed to prevent me from getting what I want (like phone-tree systems that are ostensibly there to guide me to the right information but in practice end up preventing me from speaking to a human). So I can understand people coming into our submission form with the idea in mind that it’s there to frustrate and block them, and therefore coming up with ingenious workarounds to fool it. And yet, pretty much everything about system is there for a very good reason, designed to work that way intentionally, and the system is as flexible and foolproof as we could make it; so in the case of our particular automated system, I really really don’t want people trying to work around it.

  4. artemisin

    Yeah, I meant to include Strange Horizons in the list of big markets that take e-subs. As long as I’m saving postage, I don’t care how I have to sub, although the form is a lot easier than the old instructions which required some formating.

    I’ve made submission errors, mostly due to skimming a guidelines page the third or forth time that I submit to the market and missing the one line that has changed since my last sub. Still, none of those mistakes were bad, more like dang! now I’ll have to wait for 15 weeks instead of 30 days and that kind of thing.

    After reading a few editor blogs, I suspect I’m never going to go into slush reading: I’ll contribute to the slush-pile from this end, thank you very much.

    If it makes you feel any better, people do the wackiest things in other areas of life. I’ve heard horror stories from doctors. You’d be surprised how many poeple don’t understand simple instructions and manage to take one pill each hour instead of taking one pill a day, orally.


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