Wouldn't you like to be a-culpa too? As promised, here's a self-flagellatory post regarding RMR's til-now somewhat spotty turnaround times. With a tiny caveat and, as always, a call-to-arms...

We were going to print, verbatim, some of the letters we've received on this subject...but we lost them! (Sadly, that's the god's honest truth. Proof positive that we can't keep track of any correspondence, even when we want to use it. Not really, but the method in our madness is -- as it is with a lot of publishing venues -- only apparent to a very select few, and even that select few has trouble deciphering it sometimes. Alas, that seems to be endemic to the beast known as "Editor.")

Actually, maybe it's better this way, because all the correspondence hits a similar note. Allow us to paraphrase the letters in question: A few writers have railed against us for not returning their manuscripts even though they had provided return postage. One of them even threatened to badmouth us at all the writers conferences he attends and teaches -- "Don't send them your work!" Another writer gave us props for running a free chapbook contest but was disappointed that he had to discover on the blog that his manuscript didn't win the contest -- this after he sent us a SASE that we requested for notification purposes. There have been letters and e-mails -- even phone calls -- checking on submission status, some cordial and empathetic, some short and not-so-sweet.

And we have to plead guilty as charged. Our turnaround time has not been what we'd like it to be. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

All-in-all, we're very proud of what we've achieved in our first two years of existence: Our publications are beautiful, thanks to Russell and Travis at
www.absnth.com. We've published first-time authors alongside writers who've been nominated for Pulitzers, Pushcarts, and National Book Awards. We've worked with friends and strangers and strangers-turned-friends. We've produced two great -- and very different -- chapbooks. We now publish a stand-alone version of the chapbook, and we've been able to double the contest honorarium and add a public reading to the award package. All while keeping the contest free to enter.

That doesn't mean that we haven't hit a few bumps along the way, and as far as we're concerned, the biggest bump has to be our inconsistent turnaround times. Our goal is to be writer-friendly, and this is the one area where we've made a few -- but vocal -- enemies.

Knowing what we know about publishing literary magazines, it's not a question of avoiding bumps. It's all about what you do once you hit them. So here's what we're doing:

  • We take e-submissions now. That, coupled with our "Yes-yes-a-thousand-times-yes!" policy regarding simultaneous submissions, helps give writers more freedom when it comes to where, when, and how they submit their work.
  • We're redoubling our efforts to make decisions in a more timely fashion. Prose (fiction and nonfiction) is read and decided upon in a central location, so those turnaround times should be faster -- we're aiming for within sixty days. There are more steps to our poetry process because our poetry editors are spread out. Rest assured all poems will be decided upon by the end of each academic year (May). And as a general rule, the longer we have it, the more likely we are to publish it (or at least to ask to see more work).
  • The blog will be a vital source of submissions-related information. To wit, the recent post announcing that fiction submissions for RMR3 are effectively closed now. Perhaps as useful, we're providing more regular content on the blog, which will give writers a sense of our overall aesthetic, our predilections, our current and/or abiding obsessions.
  • Chapbook contest results will be posted here and at the website by August 1 each year. No need to send a SASE.

Okay, so we promised a caveat and here it is: Writers need to step up to the plate with some personal accountability as well. Some uninvited advice and/or requests:
  1. Know the basic trends in literary publishing. Here's a biggie: Print manuscripts are recycled nowadays. Get a jump drive and save the extra postage. A 39-cent SASE will suffice for response to general submissions, and it saves you money in the long run.
  2. If you notoriously and indiscriminately sling your poems to the far reaches (yes, we do know who you are; you'd be surprised how easy it is to make a "name" for yourself in this regard) please take a moment and ask yourself why you do it. There may be a legitimate reason. We can't think of one right off the top of our heads, but we're willing to change our minds if somebody will present a compelling reason.
  3. Please think of literary magazines -- and their editors -- as your partners, not your enemies. In a world where it's too easy to feel disconnected and ignored, we understand it can be difficult to stomach an interminable reading period followed by an anonymous rejection. We get our fair share of those too in our other lives as writers-just-like-you.
  4. Understand, however, that anonymous, assembly-line submissions (and by that we mean sending work to any address you can find in the 2002 Literary Marketplace) are likely to yield anonymous, assembly-line rejections. Sadly, the system feeds itself. Too few editors and readers, too many writers and manuscripts. We're not complaining. Editing a lit mag is fun or else we wouldn't do it. We're just suggesting that we're in this together and that if we acknowledge we're all a part of the problem, we can all be a part of the solution.
  5. To dip back into the mailbag, from the day we hung out our shingle in 2004, we've received cover letters praising our "distinguished" publication -- even before we'd printed a single issue. In football, there's a saying: see what you hit. It's the safest way to tackle, for both the ball carrier and for the tackler. Well, see where you're sending your work -- it's better for everybody. Most notably, you.
  6. Submit less, write, read, and think more.
  7. Instead of sending work out in waves to all directions, send it out piece-by-piece to a magazine you've actually held in your hands. Just because you get rejected once, doesn't necessarily mean you should give up on that publication. Send something else -- something better. Don't have something better? Write it. If you are a good writer and your work fits the publication, you'll probably get in sooner or later. You're at least more likely to get some valuable and substantial editorial feedback. In our experience, that sort of feedback is at least as valuable as a single publication in a lit mag you've never even seen prior to receiving your obligatory two contributors copies.
  8. Try to resist the idea that literary magazines are anonymous gatekeeping meritocracies. Good work gets rejected more often than it gets accepted. And, yes, lots of mediocre work gets published each year. Individual editorial aesthetics play a big part in what gets selected, as does the phenomenon of solicited submissions. Artistic merit, while important, simply can't be the only consideration because there's more meritorious work than could ever possibly be published.
  9. Do submit work simultaneously; it's only fair. But sim-subs allow you to be more -- not less -- discriminate with where you send your work. Instead of sending a single story to thirty-nine magazines all at once, send it to two or three places at a time, places with which you've established some kind of connection. And the greatest connection you can make with any publication is to read it! You don't even have to buy it -- go find it in the library, or read its on-line counterpart regularly. You're more likely to get published in a publication you read religiously.
  10. Last-not-least, get involved in literary publishing. Start a zine or volunteer to work at a lit mag near you -- we guarantee there is one, even if you don't know it. Find it. Give it some of your time, effort, and energy. It will change your entire approach to publishing your own work, both practically and philosophically. It's like waiting tables -- everybody should have to do it at least once, if only for a little while.

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