Thursday, April 7, 2016


In the past few days, I have been a model of productivity and efficiency.

I have written and edited, cleaned and laundered, visited friends in the hospital and wished bon voyage to folks going overseas. I have gone to the gym and had fun, as I was told to do. I have fixed things—a showerhead that sprayed liberally but not where it was supposed to; a balky space heater; a bookshelf bent on collapsing under the weight of a three volume dictionary from the 1880.  

I have queried and waited. And waited. And waited.

Querying is a writer’s misery.

In the past couple of decades, some strange malady has come to affect editors, agents and others in the publishing industry. They have lost all sense of basic courtesy and respect for writers. They no longer bother to respond to queries. They are too busy, they say, overwhelmed by the sheer weight of demands placed upon them by novelists and poets and essayists trying to place work. Nowadays a writer is told that if the query does not get a response within ten days, or thirty days, or three months, well, screw you, we’re not interested.

This amazes me. It’s as if the glue that for decades has held the publishing together has dissolved.

I’m used to not having phone calls returned by people I want to interview, particularly if the interviewee is unsure of the interviewer’s motives. There was a time when, working for a major newspaper, my calls were not necessarily welcomed, and chasing someone down for a quote was part and parcel of the job. Now, however, I’m one of those writers who does unthreatening pieces, and I can still spend days chasing a source who would benefit from my writing.  

Not too long ago, I met a man who said he was desperate for stories to fill his new magazine. Great! I sent queries. No response. I called. No callback. I wafted emails aloft and finally, in sheer desperation, sent an actual paper letter with story suggestions, on stationery that declared me a writer and editor, in case there was doubt.  A few weeks ago, an editor was enthused about a food piece I proposed writing. Did I have photos? Yes. Recipes? Yes. Great and grand, the editor said, and that was the last time I heard from her.

I’ve noticed a proliferation of small online magazines, thousands of them, quite literally, that offer new writers a non-paying venue. Unfortunately, even those often don’t bother replying to authors directly, and frequently rely on dedicated websites such as to handle the rejections they issue.

The actual physical act of writing, I know, has gotten easier. I wrote my first book on a manual typewriter and literally cut and pasted pages together with Scotch tape. It took some fortitude to put a book together, to type and retype and use bottles of Wite-Out, and this, of course, was a step up from a century earlier when books were written entirely in longhand with pen and ink. I sent five-pound manuscripts by mail to editors in major houses who responded—mostly by saying ‘no, thank you’—and occasionally commented on my draft suggesting changes that might better my chances to get published.

I suppose you could call it the depersonalization of writing…

No doubt in recent years there’s been an explosion of creativity. Word processing has facilitated writing immensely, and the next generation of word-to-screen software promises to make it easier for anyone to dictate their deathless prose. Computerization, sadly, has also led to initiatives like NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which encourage people to write by weight and flood the market with stuff that, realistically, should for the most part never see the light of day (I’m going to get a lot of grief for this statement, but I recall an agent telling me he was tempted to close his office in December, knowing he’ll receive poundes of NaNoWriMo manuscripts.)

Over the years I have gathered hundreds of actual rejection slips on notes embossed with the editors’ names. One, which I kept and someway will frame, suggested I never write again. That magazine has gone out of business, so I am justified in chanting neener neener neener.  Many of the others, though, bore handwritten notes offering encouragement.

I seldom see that anymore from publishers, editors or agents. Most simply don’t bother with a reply, and that’s a shame. Somewhere, a superlative writer just put down his or her pen for the last time, discouraged by the dearth of response, and that’s too bad. We need more and better writers.   


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