Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Case study: The man-baby submitter

Last night I relayed to my partner an incident that had just happened to one of my editor friends.

This friend had rejected work by a male writer, and she reported that he replied immediately with an acidic critique of both her mental health and her hair.

My friend mentioned this in a social media post, and she included the name of the writer, himself the editor of a casually thrown-together online journal. The response was immediate.

Several editor and writer friends, all female, reported that this editor had corresponded with them to comment on their rejections. One noted that this writer withdrew his submission from her journal before she had a chance to reach a decision because he claimed she was a person of color who would not have the proper experience to understand his work.

And the writer’s bad behavior wasn’t limited to his actions as a submitter. Someone I know reported that she had submitted to this fellow’s journal, only to be rejected and told that her work was incoherent and possibly came from an unstable mind. And yet another writer reported that this person, in his capacity as an editor, had critiqued her appearance in her author photo, which he adjudged to be insufficiently “honest.” She subsequently withdrew her work.

My partner was shocked at all of the accounts of this writer-editor’s behavior. “People do that?” he asked.

No. “People” do not do that—but certain guys do. Ask around. Most woman editors have stories of men insulting or even threatening them upon rejection.

Why would a writer lash out at an editor because of hair color? The obvious answer is that he is a big diaperbaby—unable to take rejection, unserious about his art. But let’s be clear; this is also about a power dynamic—an assertion of male dominance, which is threatened by rejection.

I debated sharing the name of this writer, and I opted not to, since I received the information secondhand. But I did reach out to him for an interview, and if he gets back to me, I will provide his name and share his perspective. Indeed, I am curious. What makes a writer respond abusively to an editor? And what specifically makes a male rejectee pick on a female editor’s appearance? This behavior is beyond my understanding.

Critiques of hair? That sounds original, but it’s really not. Women who present themselves as anything but conventionally attractive may as well expect wrath and censure from males they threaten with rejection.

It’s also telling that this male submitter and editor offers assessments of mental health and competence, based upon the limited evidence provided in a submission. There is a long history of patriarchal claims of women being “hysterical” or weak-minded. It’s just an odd thing to see in 2016.

My partner admitted that he had heard of this sort of bad behavior, but he didn’t want to believe it was as widespread as my non-male editor friends know it to be. I don’t want to believe it, either—but the evidence presents itself, again and again and again.

Sometimes I write here about what I see as mistakes on the editor side of the submitting relationship. Frequently, I take loose rejection language to task; just yesterday, I wrote critically about a specific strategy editors often use to soften the rejection blow.

But it must always be noted that editors do vital work, and many do it for no more than a love of literature and the desire to contribute to the life of letters. I stand in solidarity with these editors—especially against whiners who can’t deal with rejection.

Rejection is part of publishing. Don’t like it? Be a better writer. Or do the rest of us a favor and step aside.


  1. I've been doing this for over twenty years and know this: When you complain like this about your work not being accepted, it only makes you look ridiculous. Sure, complain about response time, complain about submission fees, stuff like that, the nuts and bolts, the respect between editor and writer. Complaining about a simple rejection? Just embarrassing for the writer to do that, 99.999999999% of the time. This person has just revealed himself to be small, someone with deep-seeded issues. Who else would deflect this standard part of the publishing process with insults on race, mental health, and personal appearance?

    I wouldn't call this person a baby, more like a petulant child not getting his way and throwing a tantrum, lying on his stomach and beating his feet and fists to the floor.

  2. Yeah. Babies are innocent and smell powdery and good.

    You're right. This is no writer.

  3. An "odd thing to see in 2016"? Au contraire, mon ami; this is the year of the angry man evidenced daily in our political discourse. Much of the misogyny is expressed in coded language that women of a certain age and/or experience have no difficulty translating. Much more is flat-out hate speech that aims to reduce women to little more than paper dolls.

    1. A good point. It just seems like such un-evolved thinking -- hysteria charges. But then, we're not dealing with the cream of the crop, are we?

  4. He's an editor? Yikes! Shouldn't he have a better understanding of how things work?
    Does he respond to a rejection from a male editor that way? I don't get his behavior from anything resembling a logical view.

    I will now have a tiny flash of anxiety when submitting to small online journals ran by white men. It's a virtual jungle out there where many things byte.

    1. Some people just can't handle rejection. I would think there are better fields for those people to devote their time to. :)

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  6. Karen you are absolutely correct. Really some people cant handle rejection. They will feel like every one should listen their words only other wise they will blast if any body says something against them.

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