Hostage Situation: When Your Accepted Work Doesn’t Actually Get Published

handcuffsI’ve been mulling over my C.V. and noticing that there are a number of acceptances that are still listed as “forthcoming” because the journals where my work was accepted haven’t yet published them.  This doesn’t bother me with recent acceptances, of course, but three pieces (two poems and one flash fiction) received acceptances last year and have yet to be published.

I think this is unconscionable—especially because the journals that accepted them are little.  It would be one thing, if I were waiting on a print magazine like The New Yorker, which accepts work with the caveat that there is considerable lead time until publication. But these online journals are neither large nor prestigious, so what’s the hold up?

I am especially annoyed at the situation surrounding the publication of the flash piece because that had been accepted at another journal (in August 2015), and it never came out.  I guess the journal folded before it ever even released an issue—although the journal still has a webpage and an active Submittable site.  I wrote them an e-mail to withdraw the story, and began sending it out to other places.  And after a time, it was accepted again (October 2016).  And then nothing.

I’ve looked at the journal and its Duotrope statistics, and it appears that nothing has been updated on the journal, and the most recent response reported on Duotrope was—wait for it—October 2016.  Two e-mail inquiries I sent have received no response.  So the damn story is just in limbo.  I plan to give the journal one more month, and then I’m withdrawing it and starting the whole process again.

The publication sitch with the poems is similar.  Both poems were accepted in April 2016—while I was at AWP, no less—and I waited and waited for some news about their publication.  First I went to Duotrope to see what was the most recent reported response and saw that Duotrope apparently considered the journal “defunct.”  When I went to its listing in Poets & Writers, I clicked on the website, and it brought me to their former website, which had been sold to some rando guy who was now going to post his own stuff on his new blog.  The journal was missing.  I tracked down the journal’s FB page, and sure enough, it had a new website address, but no information about when any new issues would be appearing.

A few weeks ago, I went back to the site, and there was a notice that the journal was restructuring and would be on hiatus until Fall 2017.  I will give them some time before I withdraw the pieces; maybe they are still planning on publishing them—I have to cut them a little slack, since there was obviously some kind of problem.  And at least they (belatedly) had the courtesy of posting a note on the website about the hiatus.

All of this gets me to thinking though about how important it is for editors to be ethical about the writing they accept from people.  Editors should say, in their acceptances, when publication will happen—or at least give a ballpark figure.  (At Atlanta Review, the expectation is that any work accepted will appear in the next issue without question.  If there is some reason why the poem will not appear in the next issue—like if we miscalculate the number of pages we need—you better believe I contact the author with an updated ETA when their poem will appear.)

Of course journals—especially little ones—come and go, but it seems to me that when a journal has accepted work, if some catastrophic tragedy happens, and they can’t actually fulfill their contract to publish the piece, they have an obligation to e-mail the writers and explain.  It’s wrong to keep work hostage, and it’s wrong not to respond to polite and professional queries for updates.

Writing and publication are a writer’s livelihood—and sure, I’m not getting paid for this work—but publications add to my reputation as a writer, and I count on my work being available for people to read.  When work is accepted, and then not published for whatever reason, and editors don’t respond to emails asking about updates on the status, that’s unprofessional behavior.  And they shouldn’t be editors.

Not publishing accepted work compounds the already problematic issue of not getting paid for work (yes, yes, I know poets and most fiction writers don’t get paid—and don’t get me started about that) by denying writers exposure—the exposure that being published for free is supposed to bring.  Exposure helps you to create name recognition and to build your brand.  (Not to be all corporate-business-speaky about it.)

Additionally, when journals charge submission fees (as one of these journals charged me), not publishing my work as promised becomes even more egregiously unacceptable.  It is, in some ways, outright theft.  To wit:

  1. I’ve paid for them to read my submission.
  2. They accepted my story for publication.
  3. They have not published the story.
  4. I’m out the $5 bucks and the story.

That’s not ok.

Journals that engage in behavior like that are not ok.  And they should be called out for their unethical practices. I haven’t named the journals here only because I’m still giving them a chance to redeem themselves.  But if it doesn’t get fixed, I certainly would want to warn other people about the treatment I’ve received at the hands of these journals.  I would hate for other writers to have a similar, crappy experience, getting work accepted and then all their hopes dashed when the journals flake out.

I hope none of you, my five loyal readers, have experienced such a thing.  But if this has happened, what did you do to set it to rights?  (Looking for suggestions.)

Well, But One Acceptance Is Better than None at All, Right? So Quitcherbitchin.

I recently had the experience where I received an acceptance for two pieces of flash creative non-fiction.  To say I was delighted would be an understatement, particularly because the journal was one in which I’ve discovered many pieces that have moved me in one way or the other since I began reading it.  And I thought, hooray!  My writing will be archived among these paragons of the short form!  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Then the other day, the journal contacted me about the galleys, asking me to look over the work and see if anything were amiss.  But they only sent me the link to one of the pieces they accepted.  So I inquired—what happened to the second piece?  Shouldn’t they have sent me the galley to it?

The CNF editor apologized, but said that clearly Submittable had made an error, and really, they only meant to take Piece A, not Piece A and Piece B.  They hoped I was ok with this, and they hoped Piece A was still available.

I’m not sure if the editor thought I might hold Piece A hostage—like, “You said you were going to publish both, and if you can’t publish both, you can’t publish either, nyah, nyah, nyah.”  I’m not so stupid that I would do that—an acceptance is an acceptance.  But it made me wonder if she had had that experience before, where she or one of the other editors had a Submittable “glitch” which accepted multiple pieces from an author only to have to break it to the author that there must have been some error with Submittable that day, and they only desired to publish one piece.  I could understand an author choosing to say, “To hell with that journal!  If they can’t even be clear about the works they want to publish, maybe I don’t want my work published there.”

I understand about computer errors, and software glitches, and even human mistakes—I get that.  Computers are machinery and bound to fail at some point, and editors have a lot on their plates and don’t always catch things.  But it’s hard, when you’re hungry to start racking up pubs in a different genre than you’re used to publishing in, to have an acceptance snatched away from you like that.  Part of me wishes that they would just have agreed to publish both works, since that’s what they said—and since I withdrew Piece B from all the journals I had sent it to, like a good little simultaneous submitter should do.  But then another part of me thinks I’d rather the work they didn’t want find a home in a journal that loves it for what it is—and not feel constrained to publish it under duress.

I’m trying really hard to see the multiple perspectives here.  I am grateful, of course, that they wanted to take any of my work at all.  That should be enough right?  Mistakes happen, blah blah—at least they wanted one piece—they could have told me the entire acceptance was a mistake.  But I’m stubborn and don’t want to be reasonable about this situation—particularly in light of some other recent (huge) writing rejections that have really demoralized me.  A little part of me feels like this “accidental” acceptance scenario is just too much to take.

I know, I know, this is the publishing biz.  I’m just having a little difficulty being rational while I wallow in my self-pity.