Letters to the Editor

One of the things I do in my spare time—which I have more of since I left my magazine editorship—is serve as (volunteer) editor-in-chief of Southern California Review (SCR), the literary journal published by the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. So, even though I’m in Cambridge for three weeks studying fiction and screenwriting, I spent an afternoon last week taking care of some SCR business—namely, sending out the press release announcing the winner of our annual poetry prize.

I sent out hundreds of emails to readers and writers who had entered the contest, submitted material for publication, signed up for more information about the magazine, etc. A few then took the opportunity to get in touch.

I got a couple of requests to “please remove me from your mailing list.” Fair enough.

I also got an inquiry from a submitter who took offense that we had passed on one of his stories without including a form rejection. After I assured him that it must have been an oversight, however, he seemed satisfied.

And then there are the outright hostile emails that engender responses such as Fence‘s earlier this year.

I haven’t decided yet how I feel about the publication of correspondence that might be assumed by the author to be private (cover letters, email exchanges, internal comments on submissions, etc.). I’m certainly not in a position to do so on my private blog-we’re not the scrappy independent publication we’d probably like to be but have a faculty adviser and program director as well as the university itself to answer to.

But I can say that I have received some angry, accusatory, completely unfounded complaints—all of which I responded to politely and professionally. In every case, one of two things has happened: I never heard from the letter writer again, or they were pleased to have received a reply and respond in kind. The situation has never escalated to personal attacks.

Not that I don’t feel frustrated, as I’m sure the writers do. It’s just that a little restraint on both sides would be well-served.


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