Stuff happens. Mistakes are made. There are errors, glitches, boo-boos. Snafus. Bloopers, bumbles, and flubs.
What separates a responsible organization from the other kind is how it handles its blunders. And when Passages North experienced a boner yesterday with its rejection process—submitters received no fewer than three rejections because of a problem with their software—the journal took to social media to explain the error and to offer a sincere apology.
Here is the note Passages North sent out today via Facebook:
Hey, friends, good morning! It came to our attention that some of our submitters received as many as three form rejections back-to-back from us yesterday. That sucks (no, seriously, it's the worst), and we're so sorry about it. Rejection is hard, and impersonal rejection is even harder. Rejection that makes you feel like the target of a spam bot is unacceptable. Obviously, rejection is the name of the game when it comes to publishing, but you always go into it hoping that the person on the other end will treat your work with care and compassion. When that doesn't happen, it's easy to feel discouraged or dehumanized, and that's the last thing we want. Our staff cares deeply about your work from top to bottom, and we're so grateful you trusted us with it. If anything we did made you feel like you were dealing with a gaggle of rude robots, we hope you'll trust that it was a result of very human error.
That said, have an excellent Thursday. Congrats on being a writer and doing the thing. You're doing a great job.
What I like best about this apology is that it contains an actual apology: “We’re so sorry about it,” the managing editor writes. So often, the apologies that we see in the literary world express regret for a thing that mysteriously happened, and often we see a distancing by editors—These views are not our own.
Occasionally, too, editors apologize not for their actions, but for our reactions—they regret that we felt a certain way in response to whatever outrageous action or statement predicated the apology.
It’s a treat, then, to see an apology that says both “We did it” and “We’re sorry,” and that’s what we have here in the Passages North example. Who knows why multiple rejections were sent (and possibly lots of them—I saw a reference to the multiple rejections in a Facebook writers’ group). Whether the software crapped out on them or a human editor pressed “send” three times, the thing happened, and it was not intended.
I received the apology because I’m a past submitter (a.k.a. bridesmaid) to Passages North, and I liked the journal enough to make my “like” Facebook official. Another appealing thing about the apology is that the managing editor connects to people like me—those who care about the journal, and those who have possibly been in these rejectees’ shoes.
This note acknowledges the unwritten contract between journal and writer. We send our work expecting respect in all of its forms—a fair shake at publication, a careful reading, a punctual response, and a respectful attitude. And a journal has expectations, too—that the work be original and unpublished, first and foremost, but that writers respect the opinions and efforts of the editors. There is give and take. We wait for each other. We give each other a chance.
My favorite part? These words: “Our staff cares deeply about your work from top to bottom, and we’re so grateful you trusted us with it.” I get very weary of journals that act like our submissions are a pain—just piles of crap to be shoveled away. There are editors who claim to have too many submissions (like that’s a thing). It’s very common for journals to close reading periods, sometimes without even informing submitters. Very few journals take the Passages North attitude—respect, care, compassion. Those that do are the ones that merit our support, with our work and our subscription dollars and our attention.
Thank you, Passages North, and thanks to you, specifically, Jacqueline Boucher—for keeping humanity at the fore, and for cementing your submitters’ trust while making us feel valued and respected. That’s just the kind of magazine I’d like to be part of. And that’s exactly why I plan to try again.