Courtesy Costs Nothing … Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs everybody would know, we have just announced the [untitled] short story longlist. We received submissions for said competition through Submittable, a submission engine that more and more publishers, journals, and competitions are using. Submittable allows you to track where your submissions are, and will tell you where they stand: ‘Received’, ‘In-Progress’, ‘Accepted’, ‘Declined’, or ‘Withdrawn’. On the other side of the desk, Submittable will automate a lot of the duties we previously had to do individually, and also allows us to communicate (when required) with submitters en masse.

Now, let’s backtrack.

[untitled] (and page seventeen) are not profitable ventures for Busybird Publishing. In fact, they run at a small loss. We persevere with them in an attempt to contribute something to the literary community, as well as help give exposure to new and emerging authors. Moreover, we hope [untitled] provides a home for good stories that other journals might be too literary to consider. As we keep saying, We’re about stories.

The administration of the competition is performed by an intern. This involves downloading stories through Submittable, filing them (on her own computer initially, no less), logging details into a spreadsheet, and corresponding with any authors who might have queries. She also has to file hardcopy submissions, which are provided when she comes into the Studio. When the submission window closes, she comes in and files everything on this computer where this very blog is now being written.

Some might wonder whether every entry in the competition is read, from (as they say) cover to cover or whether some underhanded practice is in place, where a handful of submissions are randomly chosen, and the rest are discarded, unread. I’m sure more than a few people have considered that, or something like that. After all, there’s a lot of material to get through in a short space of time.

Well, we can assure you everything is read, the stories divvied (on this occasion) between myself, Blaise (head of Busybird Publishing), Beau Hillier (chief editor of page seventeen), and several assistant editors. What’s more, everything is read in our own personal time. This is also often the case with general submissions for [untitled], as well as for page seventeen, (and is probably the case with most unprofitable journals).

Sometimes, though, things can seem to go awry.

In this case, it involves Submittable not ticking over the status of submissions for submitters from ‘Received’ to ‘In-Progress’, so after the longlist was announced Tuesday, we fielded several queries asking whether we had, in fact, read their submissions. Surely, if we had, submissions would be listed as ‘In-Progress’ in the submitter’s Submittable account, rather than remain at ‘Received’, which seemed to imply that their submissions were sitting here unopened.

We checked our spreadsheet and found that stories in question had been logged. We then checked the folder that contained all the stories, and found them both sitting there. We then checked the file allocation, and found that each story had gone to somebody to read. Effectively, the stories went through the same course as all the others. Nothing had been overlooked on our behalf.

We then emailed the people at Submittable (who are always very prompt and helpful in responding), who explained the status only changes when the submission is assigned to a reader, a note is added to the submission, or a vote is cast or the review of the submission is completed – these are all internal Submittable functions, (which are available when one of our staff logs into our Submittable account). The status does not change, we were told, if the submission is simply downloaded off Submittable.

It’s deflating to be accused of some sort of impropriety, which – in this case – amounts to larceny (taking subs for the money) and fraud (but not then reading the subs). Should this really be the first response when something seemingly goes awry? Is that more probable than contemplating that there’d be some perfectly logical explanation?

This is not the first time we’ve run afoul of submitters. Early in our tenure, one submitter responded indignantly to being edited and pulled his story, then tried to offer it back. By that time, we’d filled the slot and offered to carry his story over to the next issue, but he re-withdrew it. We later discovered he’d behaved similarly with the journal 21D. On another occasion, we fielded a haughty inquiry about our response times. Sometimes, things get on top of us and we can slip behind. We don’t like it – we really don’t like it – but it happens. If you want to know the status of a submission, just ask. We’re happy to respond.

Most people are great – polite and understanding and a pleasure to work with. But, if for some reason, you feel you need an explanation for anything that’s occurred, feel free to bug us but, but, please, show some courtesy. It’s all we ask.


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