Two years ago, a British newspaper editor emailed Mark Kleiman and me and asked us to write a short piece about crime and drugs. We dutifully did so and promptly sent it to him. But he didn’t respond. I rang him up a week later and asked if he had received it. He said “Oh Yes! I have it right here. I will read it right now and get back to you.”
Another week passed, during which Mark and I sent the editor a few emails to which he didn’t respond. I phoned him again and asked if he didn’t want the piece after all, because we could send it elsewhere if so. Oh no he very much wanted it, he indicated, why else would he have asked for it? He promised to get right back to us. We emailed him and left him voice mails a few more times in the coming weeks and then gave up, having never heard back from him. He never said our piece was good, he never said it was bad, he just solicited us to write it out of the blue and then blew us off.
Fast-forward to this week. I had helped a bright, friendly journalist from a national magazine on a story she was writing. Afterwards I got an email from the editor thanking me for helping the author and asking me to write a response to the article for the next issue. She gave me a word limit and a short time frame to produce the piece. It was a busy time, but my mother reads the magazine and I thought she would like seeing her son in print. I pulled the piece together with some help on drafts from friends and from my mother as well. The editor emailed me “thank you, very much, for this carefully considered response which we are delighted to have.”
Out came the magazine with a number of responses to the article, but mine was not among them. I had no note from the editor explaining why. I therefore emailed her and was informed that she didn’t have space for it. I told her this was most unkind, which beyond my mom and I cancelling our subscriptions is all I can do in response to such shabby treatment.
Mind you, I understand completely that editors receive an avalanche of unsolicited material. And when I send something unsolicited to a newspaper or magazine, I don’t expect any response at all if it isn’t what is wanted. But God, it galls me that editors contact strangers and ask them to write pieces on specific topics and then treat those authors like lepers for the sin of complying with the request.
Much has been written about why blogging has become popular, with decreasing technology costs, desire for self-expression, increasing individualism and the like being cited as plausible causes of the rise of medium. All of that seems reasonable to me, but I have to wonder if exasperation with editors isn’t also in the soup, at least for those bloggers who have experience publishing in print form. I have been edited by some real gems (Matt Seaton at The Guardian, Meredith White at San Francisco Chronicle), but when I see how some editors treat authors, it makes me more prone to cut out the abusive middleman and just go straight to on-line print.