Professionalism and punctuality

Searching for magazines, even using Duotrope’s Digest as a starting point, you come across a wide variety at all levels, from the international print to the one-man glorified blog. What most of them have in common is their insistence on correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

I’ve seen magazines who say that poor spelling or ungrammatical constructions will result in work being deleted, and I’ve even seen magazines who say they’ll publish it on the website exactly as it is, to ‘show everyone you didn’t pay attention in English at school’. Now I didn’t pay too much attention in English at school, I think I may have mentioned it was just about my worst subject: I was good at creative writing, I managed spelling tests, but when it came to grammar and punctuation, I memorised a few rules and stuck to them rigidly then kind of made the rest up as I went along. What I did learn at school, though, is that some behaviour is generally regarded as childish, or if you want a milder way of putting it, ‘unprofessional’.

When I see mini-rants on the submission guidelines page that almost descend into personal abuse because not everyone followed all the instructions to the letter, or when I see a ‘hall of shame’ listing all the offenders by name, not only does it put me off sending my work there, but it also makes me want nothing whatsoever to do with that publication. The layout of the website can be as professional and enticing as you like, but sounding like a spoilt teenager doesn’t do the editor any favours.

I appreciate that a lot of the smaller magazines out there are run on love alone, and I wouldn’t want to spend my free time wading through slush, but is that any reason to be abusive about it? Would it kill them to have a stock response they could email out that said maybe the author should have someone check over their grammar before they try again? I’m not suggesting a critiquing service, just a little courtesy.

At a time when it’s easier than ever to submit every half-baked incoherent story you’ve ever written to a dozen or more magazines, I’m guessing a whole lot of editors feel they can afford to be ruthless. Perhaps they should also bear in mind that it’s easier than ever to find a dozen or more magazines to suit any author or reader’s taste, and if their attitude alienates all the good writers too, they might not survive.

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