So Rob sent me this letter that was sent to Swill inquiring about our pay rates. I'm not going to print it here; you can probably figure out everything you need to know from my response. I am so going to hell for this.
Dear Mr. -------,
I’m not sure what the appropriate response to something like this would be. Part of me wonders if in your innocence you’ve gotten the impression that a display of brash vulgarity would impress us; part of me wonders if you’re as arrogant as your letter makes you seem, which would be unfortunate for both you and those around you.
If my first guess is true, please. No one responds positively to this kind of rudeness. If you aren’t an asshole don’t play one for effect; from the outside there is no difference between someone who pretends to be an insufferable dickwad and the genuine article. And unfortunately you simply are not gifted in your chosen arena -- this letter doesn’t just give the impression that it was written by a jerk; the incompetence with which it is riddled eliminates any strength of provocation you may have intended. Rather, it falls under the category of ‘irritainment,’ something simultaneously laughable and annoying. I love it because I hate it. Of course the appropriate response would be for me to ignore this but hey. It’s not often I get an opportunity to let someone know exactly what I think of their writing; thank you very much for the opportunity.
(Incidentally, when you say that your fiction is better than that of Hemmingway and Fitzgerald two thoughts immediately came to mind. One is that I dislike the work of both writers; the other is that I doubt you’ve read much by either. Or by ‘others of their ilk.’ Or anyone else. And I guarantee you that there are a lot of ‘candy asses’ in the world who are better writers than you are – and quite possibly better human beings.)
Allow me to make a few suggestions that might prove useful.
First, learn to swear properly. ‘What the piss’ is the kind of thing you hear from a child first experimenting with profanity – by starting out with this phrase I immediately pictured you as a strutting fourth-grader who’s just figured out how to give people the finger. ‘What the fuck,’ or ‘what the hell’ are, though timeworn, still sturdy expressions. To insert a random word into a familiar phrase is a gesture in the direction of creativity, I will grant you. Perhaps further study and experimentation may produce results – let me know if your research along these lines progresses usefully.
One suckles at his mother’s breast, one sucks at his momma’s tit. (I wonder if this is your problem – were you breast-fed? It is important to an infant’s physical development and ability to resist disease. Perhaps you suffered an early fever or a diet deficient in protein?)
And it’s interesting that you chose to capitalize Goddamn but not hell. Consistency is important; pick an approach and stick with it.
In the non-cuss category of errors there is the issue of exclamation points. Good writers use them sparingly. Some very good writers such as Joe R. Lansdale never use them at all. Your ratio of periods to exclamation points is one to four. And to use two exclamation points in conjunction with a word written all in capitals gives the impression that you were taught to write by one of those diseased imbeciles who write hateful anonymous messages on the Internet. I assure you, they are not good models for anyone with literary aspirations. Perhaps you should consider text messaging as your medium of choice.
‘Layout’ is a noun – you meant ‘lay out.’
And finally, when you say that ‘most lit mags’ list their pay rates in their submissions guidelines, well. That would be true for paying markets. The literary small press tends not to pay. It is either a calling or a hobby, depending on your perspective. I put a considerable amount of work into Swill and have not seen dime one nor do I expect to. I’m not sure if we break even on our sales. And that’s what it’s like for the little magazines such as ours.
If you want pay, I’d suggest submitting to magazines like Granta or The New Yorker. LET ME KNOW HOW YOU DO!!
Thank you very much for your letter; it was a real pleasure.