What Writers Are Owed

Are we as writers entitled to anything? This is a question I've been thinking about lately.

Like: you write and write and attend a top MFA program and graduate and then what? Are you owed a job? Are you owed your thesis (novel or collection or whatever) being published? Are you owed a career in full-time writing and/or teaching?

Or: you write and write and submit and submit and keep getting rejected, always rejected. You write and submit for five years, ten years, twenty years. No acceptances. Is that fair? You put all that time in, are you owed publication?

What comes to mind first and foremost is journal and publisher response times -- are we as writers even owed responses?

There is no rule book, the last time I checked. No guide that says a submission must be responded to within X amount of days, and that it should always be personal and not form.

Like everyone else, I troll Duotrope's What's New page looking at the different response times. The 300-plus day responses almost always provide a good chuckle. I've even somewhat berated a magazine here for having at least one response time be up in the 900-day mark. Quite recently, someone reported a 1,000-plus day acceptance.

Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous.

Or is it?

Again, what are the rules? There are no rules. Sure, each magazine provides its own guidelines, telling writers what to expect, but they are all mostly generic, just wordage stolen from another magazine's guidelines, stolen from another magazine's guidelines, and so on.

Say you apply to twenty jobs. How many of those jobs will even respond to you telling you the position has been filled or that they received your application but are not interested? Some will, but not all. And what does that mean? Are they not worth your time? Are they not professional?

There are some journals that specifically state they do not respond to submissions. They only respond if they're interested. Personally, I find this a turn-off. I would very much like to hear some kind of answer. But realistically, so what if I don't? Obviously the story I submitted wasn't to their liking. Do I really need (deserve) a form rejection?

Sometimes it seems we as writers have very high expectations, not just for ourselves but for the publications to which we submit.

Such as the first time I started querying agents years back. I'd queried this one pretty big agent who never responded. A lot of agents never responded. Just the way of things. But I wasn't very happy about it. Thought it rather unprofessional. Was talking to writer friend who mentioned that particular pretty big agent and I said how I'd queried him and never heard anything back and how it was pretty unprofessional and blah blah blah.

So I ended up signing with a different agent, the novel didn't sell, the next novel didn't sell, I decided to part ways with this agent, leaving me agentless. I write another novel, start querying agents again, decide what the hell and query that pretty big agent who never responded to my first query years before. That pretty big agent e-mails me right back, asking for the full manuscript, and then two weeks later calls and offers me representation. And I'm happy to say I'm still represented by him.

The moral of the story? There are no rules. We as writers are not entitled to anything. To some common and professional courtesy, yes, but still, does that mean we shouldn't expect 400-plus day form rejections? Does that mean we shouldn't expect to query agents and not hear a single thing from them, not even a simple no?

Of course not. Because we're writers. This is what we do. We write, we submit, and we wait ... and wait ... and wait.

And through it all, we keep writing.