Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999
Subject: Re: Submission Crucible
>>>Mr. Waber proposes that rejection letters ought
to be accompanied
by a subscription form . . . "adding insult to injury," "rubbing
salt in the
wound," etc. What do y'all think about this? Would you feel insulted,
salted, annoyed, demeaned or otherwise antagonized by such an
enclosure? I'd really like to know. Because we'd really like to have
Why do you say only "rejection letters" should be accompanied
form? What is it about your acceptance letters or, for that matter,
even solicited contributors that makes you leave them out of the
equation? If you'd have qualms sending unasked-for subscription forms
to, say, a Charles Bernstein, or Geoffrey O'Brien, or
when you notify them of publication, that hesitation should apply to
those whom you decline to publish, as well.
Some things to consider:
It's perfectly legitimate for a magazine to run a subscription campaign,
and even to assemble a mailing list from the addresses of "submitters."
But, in scrupulous business terms, that effort should be treated as
own separate account; otherwise, you're piggybacking your
development campaign onto the backs of somebody else's 33 cent
There may be genuine reasons for deciding not to subscribe to journals
and to buy them in bookstores, instead. The covers of perfectbound
journals are usually not designed to be folded over and squashed to
into narrow city mailboxes. So immediately, subscription means reading
a damaged copy.
The publication schedule of small press journals is, as a rule,
undependable. You never know exactly when they're going to come
out. To be truly subscription-oriented, journals would have to hold
themselves to the same firm commitment of unbending dates as
periodicals, guaranteeing when the books will be sent out, and those
dates should be advertised as such. A subscription is a contract.
We're conditioned to these nuisances of punctuality and efficiency,
paying for something that you're never sure when you'll see it may be
reason for its unpopularity.
Also, the climate of non-literary journal magazines (glossies) we're
acculturated to, where subscriptions are standard, has learned to run
certain features to encourage an air of dialogue between the
subscriber/reader and the magazine. Specifically, letters to the editor
columns or "polls" as part of the aura that builds a subscription
That's what you'd be buying into. Such lures foster (even if an illusion)
an impression of things being interactive, so that subscription
are dismissed as only part of a larger two-way communication. A
subscription campaign requires bait, in addition to the product
In same Madison Avenue glossy culture, subscribers are offered
substantial financial discounts off newstand copies, which literary
journals do not offer. Or t-shirts or mugs.
By sending out subscription forms like that, now you're the one entering
into the "pretty please" realm of the unsolicited. And you
risk having the
reputation of your journal and its logo become part of the junk mail
Personally, I've been spending about $35.00 a month, currently, sending
off for small press journals ($3, maybe $5, rarely $7 a pop) who do
have national distributors. (That does not include the off-the-rack
buy, at about one a week; I have been known to buy $80.00 worth of
literary magazines at a single shot.) I find it presumptuous, this bias
"submitters" are somehow not pulling their share of the weight.
you ~know~ that the recipient of the rejection letter hasn't bought
issue to date? But, I must say, I very much like the feel of not
into conventional consumerism that comes of this practice. It feels
personal: whoever mailed that journal wrote "Thanks!" on the
the mailing envelope! Converting the audience ("submitters")
cow returns the literary journal to a whole ethos (sorry) of target
demographics and such, which I thought the iconoclasm of the poetry
was ostensibly subverting. And once literary journals have become
mixed into the blizzard of "Bill me later" forms, why not
just belly up and
subscribe to W?
An alternative to treating the (frankly unpromising) "submitters"
golden goose might be to step up the drive for advertisers.
I hope this broadens the ramifications for "we'd really like