How to Stay Out of Your Editor’s ‘Jerks’ File

Blue retro typewriter with screwed up paper balls

As an editor receiving 50 to 100 essay submissions per week for roughly 125 slots per year, I pass on exponentially more pieces than I accept. This unfortunate math makes me anxious, not only because I’m an incorrigible people-pleaser who hates having so many humans unhappy with me, but also because I’m a writer myself, and I know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be not to land your work where you want to see it published.

Most of the time writers are understanding and gracious, not only about my passing, but also about my only responding if I’m interested in their piece, as I explain in my submissions guidelines. But now and then, someone will fire off a mean email. Obviously (well, to me, anyway) this is not a good strategy for anyone who wants to eventually have their work accepted!

Mcsweeny’s Internet Tendency editor Chris Monks feels my pain. In an essay for Vulture, he writes about some of the jerky replies he receives when he passes on humor submissions, and provides screenshots as well (with names and other identifying details redacted).

I empathize with the frustration of not getting your work published, but it still sucks to receive these sorts of emails because, you know, I have feelings. By nature, I flee from any signs of interpersonal conflict, so I rarely engage and fire back an equally snarky response. Instead, I place these mean messages in a folder I’ve titled “Jerks” and occasionally share screenshots of them (with the names of the jerks redacted) to my followers on Twitter.

I know all about rejection. Sure, I dole it out frequently, but I’ve been on the other end a lot, too. I, too, am a veteran struggling humor writer. I know what it’s like to work forever on a piece, meticulously crafting a joke, until it feels just right and worthy of submitting. I am familiar with the adrenaline rush of clicking “send,” and the overwhelming wave of dread and second-guessing that follows. And I am no stranger to the interminable waiting for an answer back, a yes or no, please not a no, but, yes, it will probably be a no. It always feels like it’s going to be a no.

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