Saturday, August 25, 2007

We are not your writing teachers

At upstreet, we get many different kinds of letters from writers. Some of them want us to double as their writing instructor. Here’s an exchange that followed a letter we wrote telling an author we wouldn’t be using her short story. Sally is not her real name.

Dear Vivian and/or editors,
Would you be so kind as to tell me how come. It would be very important for me to know what you didn't like about my short story. Please get back to me asap. In great appreciation of your trouble and time. Kind regards, Sally

Dear Sally,
It really isn’t possible for us to give a critique of every piece that is submitted to upstreet. We receive a great many submissions, and inclusion in the journal becomes more competitive each year. The Fiction Editor has read 97 short stories thus far, and turned down 92 of them. Five have been shortlisted, but it may be that none of them will ultimately make it into upstreet number four, since we will probably receive more than two hundred more stories to consider.
Best of luck with your writing,

Dear Vivian,
Thank you so much for getting back to me. But you don't give any personal critique whatsoever? After all you invest all the time into reading it? But maybe that is too much trouble. Kind regards, Sally

I don’t know of any literary journal that gives personal critiques, Sally. This is the sort of thing that writers pay an editor or ms consultant to do, or that one gets from a professional workshop at a writers’ conference, for example. At upstreet, we have a Fiction Editor, and she has no assistant or additional readers (and she reads for another literary journal as well). Reading to decide whether or not we’ll take a submission is a very different kind of reading from the kind that would be done by someone doing a critical evaluation. The stories that end up on the shortlist will be read two or three times before a final decision is made.
Best wishes,


angelle said...

i feel like sometimes they hope that if it's ALMOST good enough but not quite, they'll get some note telling them where they missed the mark. i've actually heard of that happening before, but only if it was ALMOST good enough.

btw, though, sally's english seems a little off in her emails...

vivian said...

If something is that close (poetry, usually), we will sometimes say, "If you'll change this or that, we think we can use it."

Yes, you're correct about her English. She doesn't write well, in fact.

Anonymous said...

It may be true that your job is not to critique "Sally's" submission. But insulting her writing is also not the best way to go.

vivian said...

I don't believe I did insult her writing, anonymous.