Basic Etiquette for Editors

Photobucket A bit of a rant today, although I make no apologies for it.

I’m working through a list of possible markets for a couple of projects, using the database at, and I was just reminded of an editorial practice which I hope we cannot call a “trend.” Fortunately right now it seems fairly rare, but I think writers have to speak up about it at every opportunity to ensure that it does NOT become the norm.

It’s this kind of thing: “Editor’s Note: Please do not send SASE. No response unless interested in publication.”

“No response unless interested in publication.” This is a descent into rudeness that I find inexcusable.

I’m speaking here as both a writer and an editor. As writers, we’re expected to adhere strictly to guidelines set out by editors/publishers when submitting our work, and to interact with them “professionally” (which at its most basic level means; send your best work, the way they want it, and take your rejections, if they come, as an adult). As a writer, I accept that, and as an editor, I stand by the necessity to set parameters. I understand that many editors are swamped by submissions. I know firsthand that the job of an editor is not always an easy one.

But this policy of non-response means that the editor has abdicated his or her responsibility to also act “professionally.” We writers might sigh over form rejection letters, but they are the most fundamental level of simple common courtesy in an editor-writer interaction. If we apply for a loan, we expect an answer from the bank, be it “yes” or “no.” We can’t move on until that’s been provided. If we speak to someone at a social gathering, we expect a reply, whether that person is going to engage in conversation with us or make an excuse and discreetly slip away. A response from an editor is no different.

I will admit that I haven’t actually asked any editors the rationale behind this policy. (Frankly, if they won’t respond to my submissions, they likely won’t answer this question, either.) But I assume it comes down to one or both of the following: time and money.

Quickly referencing this article and a few office supply websites, I’m guesstimating the cost of printing a thousand form rejection letters could be as low as about $160.00. Half that, if they’re printed on half-sheets (the smallest rejection letter I’ve ever seen was 8.5 x .5 inch [yes, that’s one-half inch], so we’re being generous here). Remember, publishers long ago got us to absorb the costs of envelopes and postage. So honestly, even in “these tough economic times,” it can’t be the cost.

As for time, I could print a form rejection letter and stuff it into a pre-addressed and stamped envelope in less than a minute (assuming I have no secretary who could do it for me). But one minute is too much for a writer to expect? Surely they can’t expect us to believe that time is the deciding factor.

In my experience as an editor, I have written some very difficult rejection letters. But I have written them, and they all took more than a minute. Even if all I can truly say about a piece is that it’s not suitable for my project, then I say that. I consider it part of the editorial job description. Writers who take a chance and submit their work to me deserve at least a civil reply.

Now, the crux of the matter: what can we, as writers, do about this disturbing lack of etiquette on the part of some editors? We are conditioned to view the writer/editor relationship as one in which the editor has all the power and we are mere supplicants. The automatic reaction is to shrug and accept it.

I’ve decided that I won’t. It’s true we mere writers don’t have much power or influence, but I will not submit work (nor submit in the other sense of the word) to any editor or publisher who espouses this policy. Yes, it’s entirely possible that I will miss an opportunity to sell something this way, but honestly, until I’m shown a valid explanation for it, I have to assume that anyone who operates their business this way is a jerk. And I encounter enough jerks in the run of a day just by chance that I see no need to actively seek out interactions with more.

Photo by Scyza

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  1. w00t! You tell ’em, Sherry! Great article. Justified rant!

  2. ethel louise clark

    Sherry I am so proud of you. This is a great article and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

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