It finally happened: I received my first official acceptance from a literary journal. It arrived last Monday and read:
Dear Allison Freeman: The editors of [literary journal] are interested in publishing [correct story title] in the next issue. Please take a look at the following publishing agreement for details. We’ll need to hear back from you within seven (7) days to move forward.
Seven days? Are you kidding? Within minutes I had replied to the email and accepted their offer, gone to Submittable and accepted there as well, withdrawn the piece from the 11 other journals that were still considering it, done a happy dance, and uploaded and sent to the journal a brief bio and a photograph.
Then, later that evening, I looked more closely at the publishing agreement they had sent. It read:
This agreement, made between [WRONG AUTHOR NAME] (hereinafter called Contributor) acknowledges that the Contributor wishes for [literary journal] to publish the work titled [WRONG STORY NAME].
I emailed the journal immediately for clarification: did they want to publish my story or not? The week crept by as I heard nothing.
On Friday, I finally emailed two wise writer friends who have far more experience than I do with all this and asked them what to do. They were kind and sympathetic and told me (basically) to cut my losses and send the piece out again.
Because I am determined never to be a pain-in-the-ass author – the kind who sends out a piece that is not actually available and wastes editors’ time – I decided to clarify with the journal before sending the story out again. I sent them an email:
Could you please reply immediately and let me know if you are interested in publishing my story? If your acceptance was sent in error, no hard feelings, mistakes happen. However, please do let me know one way or the other. If I have not received a valid publishing agreement by Monday, I will assume a rejection and proceed accordingly.
What have I received back in the 72 hours since I sent this? You can probably guess by now: nothing.
I’m pretty new to the literary journal game, so maybe this kind of behavior is normal for some journals. It’s hard to believe they would survive if so, though: surely if a journal behaved like this on a regular basis, word would get out and writers would boycott. But maybe not. This recent situation has left me wanting a centralized website on which we writers could swap our experiences, both positive and negative. Our hard work results in little financial gain: the least we should expect is decent treatment.
Since no publication will come out of this, what can I gain from this experience? I’m taking away three lessons:
- Read the contract agreement carefully (seems a little obvious, but it was less obvious when I was so excited).
- Don’t withdraw the piece from other markets until you have a valid contract in hand.
- Research more carefully and submit to journals that have a long track record of publishing good work.
Point #3 might slow down the acceptance process – aiming at journals with good, long-standing reputations means trying for markets that are harder to get into – but if I follow this practice, at least the next time I receive an acceptance, it should lead to actual publication.