Does Kindness Kill Vision?

Cross-posted from: Halo Lit Mag
Originally published: 18.04.16

Here at Halo Towers (yes, we have an actual castle), we’ve been talking a lot about kindness recently. We figured it was worth sharing some of those thoughts on here, so they’re down in writing and you know what to expect from us if you ever submit your work to Halo.

NEWSFLASH: Creative writing is hard. NEWSFLASH 2: Submitting your writing is even harder because you’re making yourself vulnerable—you’ve not only produced something that you think is good, you’re sending it to someone else in the hope that they’ll think that it’s good as well. You’re asking to be judged, by a stranger, on something you’ve put your heart into. It takes guts.

I decided to found Halo – which is a literary mag just for women’s short fiction – because I wanted women writers to have an opportunity to be heard. But, women are notoriously reluctant to submit their work anywhere – often, we’re basically convinced we suck. In order to encourage women to come forward, I knew there needed to be a level of kindness and openness in our interactions and online content.

Recently, I’ve noticed a level of, if not unkindness, then frostiness and high-handedness from certain literary journals. Not too many – most of we’ve interacted with, either as editors or potential contributors, have been complete sweethearts – but not too few, either. Who knows, maybe there’s something in the water.

Snarkiness, lofty visions communicated in convoluted terms, overly rigid formatting demands, and outright rudeness – it’s been a real mixed bag. I’ve seen magazines telling writers not to “waste your time or ours”, and journals telling potential contributors that if they haven’t bought a copy of the magazine, they may just find themselves considered unsuitable for inclusion. One delightful publication actually prefaced their guidelines by telling potential contributors they were “parsimonious” and “shortcutty” if they hadn’t bought a copy. Out of interest, when I shared that particular snippet with some of our online followers, reactions ranged from “!!!” to to “fuck that shit” – little surprise, to be honest.

Every journal wants to be the best. But for every perfect submission you receive, there are going to be tens of others that aren’t right. Maybe they don’t fit with your current issue, maybe they’re not what you’re looking for, maybe they’re just not very good – it happens. And yes, it’s infuriating when people don’t read your submission guidelines; writers can be so desperate for publication that they adopt a scattergun approach, and end up sending you something that’s so far from what you’re looking for, you find yourself wondering if it came to the wrong place (looking at you, middle-aged guy who sent us links to his published non-fiction).

Kevin Spacey side-eye gif

So sure, you want your magazine to be the best; you want to open your email inbox and find only the most beautiful prose, stunning stories, and fabulous fiction. And yes, Lord, yes, when you open the fifth piece in a row that doesn’t work – for whatever reason – you can feel disheartened. Editors are human, your journal is your baby, and you have big ideas of where you hope that baby’s going to go in future.

What this doesn’t mean—or shouldn’t mean—is that you adopt rudeness, high-handedness or even pre-emptive aggression as policy. Insulting potential contributors before they’ve even read the submission guidelines tis not only going to be a turnoff for a lot of writers, it’s just really unkind. And yeah, I know that’s not a fashionable concept, and yeah, I know this business is cut-throat, baby; gotta grow a thick skin, but come on – there’s no need.

I believe in kindness. It’s a conscious choice. We’ve just come to the end of our reading period for Halo’s issue one (yes, we’re still babies), and we’re grateful for all the submissions. Some of them weren’t suitable, sure, and some of the writers should definitely have known that their work wasn’t right for us before sending it, but we’re not in the market for insulting people – just let it go, send that rejection and move on. As I said before, Halo aims to encourage women writers to submit their work. It was supposed to be a Good Thing – it still is. The world can be pretty intense place and kindness can be in short supply, particularly online, particularly for women. The last thing we want is to contribute to a sister having a really bad day.

We want Halo to be the best it can be. Hell, we want it to be better than All The Other Mags out there (sucks to be you, other mags). We’re proud of it already – it’s a good project, and we’ve had some amazing submissions that we’re looking forward to sharing with you. We’re not doing you a favour by publishing your work – this is a mutual thing, where you send us your best and we publish the work that’s really moved us. We might send you a rejection, we might send you several, but you’ll never have our contempt – especially not before you’ve sent us anything at all.

The day we start including things like, “Don’t waste your time” in our submission guidelines is the day something’s gone horribly wrong – and should probably be the day we stop doing what we’re doing. Kindness costs nothing, not even vision.

Mike and Boo hug

Lorrie Hartshorn
Halo Lit Magwomen’s short fiction magazine