A response to HTML Giant's blog post: "Fourteen Hills, WTF?"
As editors of a small, mostly-student-run publication produced in the context of a university course, as much as we hate to say it, the staff of Fourteen Hills sometimes makes mistakes. Recently, we were called out on one of our favorite lit blogs, HTML GIANT, in their post "Fourteen Hills, WTF?" for mailing a form rejection letter to an author more than two years after we received the submission.
Here's the story: About a month ago, the current editors of Fourteen Hills were cleaning the office and found a bag of sealed, self-addressed envelopes buried under a pile of back issues. This bag had been misplaced or lost in the shuffle by former editors of the magazine (an editor-in-chief at Fourteen Hills stays EIC for a max of one year). But now it was two years later, and our editors had two options:
1) Throw out the bag and pretend it didn't exist. Letters get lost in the mail all the time.
2) Add a few extra cents of postage to each letter and drop them in the mailbox.
The editors chose the latter. The number of letters was substantial, so writing a personal note to each writer while under the deadlines for our current issue and our single-author book didn't seem feasible. Our managing editor explains: "We often get emails from writers wondering about the status of submissions. Even though we weren't on staff when some of these people submitted, we still do our best to try to track the submissions down and respond. In this case, we think it was better to respond really late than never."
"Perhaps we should've written apologies to each of the writers whose envelopes were in that bag," says Matthew Clark Davison, who has been the Faculty Advisor for the magazine for the past two years. "We've really come a long way in implementing systems to make sure the people who consider us for their creative writing are treated as well, if not better, than the authors published in the bigger publications. The magazine also exists in the context of an MFA course, there are a lot of hands in the process. Fourteen Hills receives hundreds of submissions per month and given the context, we have a great record of responding according to our published turnaround times. Once in a while, however, something slips. We offer this as more of an explanation than an excuse, and we're sorry if the authors who took the time to send us their work were offended by our over/under sight."
The current budget crisis with public education in California has been well-publicized. To offer some perspective, since 1994, Fourteen Hills has been operating with the same university-funded annual budget of $7,000.
Most Universities (like Emerson College, University of Iowa, Georgia, Massachusetts) who produce, distribute, and promote books have full-time staffs. They pay graphic designers. They have office support and up-to-date equipment provided by the university. 90% of our magazine is put together by unpaid students who have an interest in learning the process. Fourteen Hills pays one graduate student to take on all of the above-described responsibilities and run a class.
Additionally, Fourteen Hills Press, out of the same budget and labor force, produces and promotes a book of one of the University's most promising students each year. While university funding for this publication has been cut, the staff and students have kept publishing it because we really do believe that what we do makes a difference in the lives of writers.
For comparison's sake, Fourteen Hills recently interviewed a staff member at Ploughshares, Emerson College's literary magazine that also offers a first-book award to one of their contributors (essentially they do what we at Fourteen Hills do).
* The staff person said they operated on an annual budget of $260,000 (and at the time of the interview were in negotiations for an increase).
* At the time the staff member reported that they had two full-time salaried employees that are able to apply for additional funding grants.
Fourteen Hills is operating a budget $253,000 less than Ploughshares. Yet, because of our efforts, our authors have won many of the same awards as theirs. Because of the quality of our contributors' work, we also receive close to the same number of submissions as our sister publications, and we haven't always been prepared for the ever-increasing demand.
The staff recently implemented a new system to track every submission and follow-up communication. "It's a lot of work," says Managing Editor Dan Lichtenberg, "but we do it so these things won't happen in the future, when we are no longer on staff."
If you were one of the writers to receive a form rejection letter from us two years after the fact, please let us know and we'll send you any back issue we have in stock. Your choice. And please accept our deepest apologies. In the meantime, submit again. We'll get back to you. We promise.
-Fourteen Hills Editors