Literary Journals

January 10, 2007

Most literary journals say they’re going to get back to you within 4 months. Some give themselves a little bigger of a window – 4 to 6 months, they say, with that six looming pretty ominously (half a year! What?) Now I know that literary journals are understaffed, underpaid, and near drowning in beige manila envelopes, and on the whole, in a platonic ideal sense, I pay them a great deal of respect. They are holding up the small people, the beginners, the short story world, and that deserves our admiration. Some of the journals, though, do far better in responding promptly than others. For instance, what prompted this post was receiving a rejection slip from Zoetrope – the journal started by Francis Ford Coppola – a high level journal, well respected. I received it yesterday, January 9th. Only trouble is, I sent the short story to them January 5th. That’s right, 2006. So they’re coming in with a reply at just a couple days over a year. I had emailed them twice during the year, both times at which they told me my story had been logged into the system on March 3rd (two months just to get logged in?) and that the editors were experiencing a backlog. A backlog might be the right term for an eight-month delay. When you take over a year to reply, that’s more like an impasse.

You would expect a journal like Zoetrope – one so exquisitely funded, I mean – to be more prompt. Or if they weren’t being prompt, to hire more editors. But what I’ve been observing is that size, reputation, and financial backing have nothing to do with expediency in the journal world. I’ll have a tiny journal like Apple Valley Review reject my short shorts in less than a week, while a heavy hitter like Columbia Journal still hasn’t responded to a story I mailed out in January 2006 (and neither have they responded to email queries, and my last short story I sent them took a year and a half to receive a reply). On the other hand, Glimmer Train is practically a model for speed. Zyzzyva is another one that has been prompt, and as a plus, Howard Junker’s rejection slip is the nicest I’ve ever read. Kenyon Review and One-Story have both been pretty quick. I’ve had multiple relative die while waiting to hear back from The Chattahoochee Review (and still have an outstanding story. . .) and Notre Dame Review clocked in at a snail pace of 8 months and 9 months for two separate submissions.

I am aware of all the variables that are at play (and that’s why I’m not writing about any journals that I’ve only sent to once). There’s the time of year, there is the quality of my submission (which may take longer if they are considering it), and there is the staffing snafus that leave a journal shorthanded. But the length of time to receive a reply makes barring simultaneous submissions quite a joke, and ultimately, anything over eight months makes me extremely reluctant to send any more submissions.

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