When Lit Mags Behave Badly
By Amy Bernstein
Most of the time, literary magazines try their best to treat us writers well, but sometimes, we happen upon an exception. Sadly, I had an exception experience with a new literary magazine recently. There are several literary magazines that pride themselves on their respectful treatment of authors; apparently, Pangryus does not aspire to be one of these. A new magazine, they have already shown that being respectful to authors is not their top priority. I am writing to let other authors know what happened, so that they can consider these facts before submitting their work to this magazine.
I met the editor of this brand new magazine at Grubstreet’s Muse and the Marketplace conference. I have been a member of Grubstreet for ten years, and have always found them to be a great writers' community, concerned and helpful towards writers and their work. Naturally, then, I assumed Pangyrus was a reputable concern if it was allowed a booth at the conference. I sent them a story. Pretty quickly, I received an email saying that the editor liked the story, but thought it needed some rewrites and it was completely up to me if I wanted to make changes. I wrote back, saying that I was open to suggestions, and if I agreed with them, would make changes. My only condition was that he state that if I made the changes, the story would appear in his magazine. I was unwilling to rewrite on a maybe. He assured me if I could fix what he saw as some problems with the story, it would appear.
There followed a period of nine months in which I made changes (they seemed like mostly good ideas to me, they didn’t change the story in any way that bothered me), sent them, and then badgered the editor for a response. Since he didn’t answer my emails, (which should have been a tip off, right away, but I figured he was so busy…) I found a phone number for him at his office and called until I reached him. He then sent the story back with some needed smaller changes. I rewrote, and went through the business of trying to get feedback again, and again.
Somewhere in there, he invited me to a party for the magazine. There, I was introduced as “someone who was putting a story in the next issue,” which was nice. This all went on for almost a year. I was patient. Several times I asked to be reassured about my story’s eventual publication in the magazine, and was reassured.
You have undoubtedly guessed the end. When the story finally satisfied him, he submitted it to another reader…months passed…then he wrote to tell me that- oops, sorry, she hadn’t liked it and so the magazine would not publish the story. Mind you, I didn’t even get a phone call, just an email to tell me this and apologize for his “mistake.” He guessed he hadn’t really understood the process, he was new, etc. A year was wasted not sending this story to other magazines, hours and hours were spent on writing changes, most of which would now not be used.
I guess I learned something, though. I think it is important that we ask for assurances of publication to be made in writing before agreeing to spend our time and effort on rewrites or changes. And I know I am going to stay away from this particular magazine in the future.
What about you? Have negative experiences with literary magazines turned you off?
Two pieces of Amy's flash fiction have been published recently. “Upon Leaving The Hospital" appeared in Black Heart Magazine and “Volunteer Garden” in Cease, Cows. Her flash fiction story, “Missing in Action,” won the One City, One Story Competition at the Boston Book Festival in 2014. Her children’s story, and math book was published by Prufrock Press in 2010. It is called Time Travel Math. She is a member of GrubStreet in Boston and PEN America.