Respectful Submission

I’m not talking about anything kinky here, but about addressing editors respectfully when you submit or pitch a story, poem, or article. You’d think this would be a no-brainer–wouldn’t you want to start off on the right foot with the people you hope would publish your work?–but apparently not, according to SF poetry zine Stone Telling co-editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan. In a series of blog posts that are well worth reading, Rose explains how to address submissions to the zine, discusses correspondence with an SFPA representative who addressed important award nomination announcement emails only to Rose and then told her it was because Shweta’s name was hard to find on the Stone Telling website (where both are listed quite prominently as co-editors), and talks about the underlying assumptions and attitudes that lead many people to address letters only to the editor with the three-syllable Jewish name and not to the editor with the five-syllable Indian name.

Now I wonder how many people will address Long Hidden submissions just to me because my name doesn’t have accented characters in it, or just to Daniel because he has a masculine name. Something to add to our submission guidelines, I suppose. (And I will take a moment here to squee that we’ve made our initial funding goal and then some, and are now pushing toward awesome stretch goals like more stories and interior art! It’s really going to happen! Eeeee!)

It irks me that Daniel and I have to think about this, and that Rose and Shweta have to think about this, because addressing a submission correctly is at the same basic level of courtesy, professionalism, and self-preservation as making sure your resume doesn’t have typos on it. When I addressed a submission to Stone Telling, I opened my email with “Dear Stone Tellers”; super-formality is not always required. But I knew it wasn’t required in this case because I already knew the editors and had read past issues of the zine, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t stand on ceremony–and also I wasn’t 100% sure who handled submissions, so I erred on the side of caution by not naming someone who might be the wrong person. This is because I wanted them to actually read and consider my poem rather than rejecting it out of hand. I’m stunned that anyone goes about things any other way.

I understand having internalized and subconscious biases–we all have them, try as we might to uproot them–but I don’t understand letting them get in the way of careful professionalism in business correspondence. The whole point of the concept of professionalism is that it provides helpful guidelines for putting one’s best foot forward.

Just remember that editors are people with feelings and opinions, and that you want to approach them in such a way that their opinion of you will be positive. Everything else follows from that.

One thought on “Respectful Submission

  1. Andrew Porter

    I still have a “Weird Stuff” file from when I read the slushpile at F&SF, 1966-74, and later received submissions for my own ALGOL and SF CHRONICLE. You would not believe the cover letters, nor their contents. There was one person who wanted the lead role in the X-rated film they were sure to make of his story, which comes back to your title, in all the wrong ways…

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