Feminist publishers are binning manuscripts addressed to ‘Dear sirs’

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Moya Crockett
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Two publishers who run an independent press in Ireland have announced that they will no longer be considering manuscripts sent with cover letters addressed to “Dear sirs”, saying: “Sexists need not apply”.

Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen head up Tramp Press, a small publishing house based in Dublin. They have now changed their guidelines for submissions, writing on social media that they were tired of receiving manuscripts from people who assumed they must be men, or who ignored female writers when discussing their literary influences.

“We at Tramp experience sexism in lots of ways all the time, being dreaded women,” wrote Davis-Goff and Coen on Twitter.

“One really annoying way we experience it is when authors send us their manuscripts and do one or both of the following: 1. Addressing us as ‘Dear Sirs’ and 2. Sending us a cover letter in which they declare they do not read books by women.”

“So we’ve decided to make a small but important change to our criteria for submission. If you do either of those things, we will decline to read your manuscript.”

The publishers said that they had not taken the decision to ignore these submissions lightly. “This is a big deal for us – we’ve always kept the ‘slush pile’ open lest we let any truly exciting piece of work pass us by because of rules.”

However, they said they had learned that people who didn’t bother to find out their gender – or who boasted about only enjoying the work of male authors – were not the kind of writers whose work they wanted to read.

“It turns out that while overtly sexist authors send us a lot of work (a lot), they have never sent us anything we’ve wanted to publish. Not in over four years at Tramp, nor in our past publishing lives.

“But more importantly, people have to stop thinking there are no consequences to being sexist. So as of today, sexists need not apply.”

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Speaking to The Guardian, Davis-Goff said they had been inspired to make the change to their submissions rules after reading an essay in the London Review of Books about sexism in publishing, by the Man Booker prize-winning author Anne Enright. While she and Coen have received some pushback about their decision, she said she wasn’t troubled by it.

People who begin their cover letters with “dear sir” “haven’t stopped to look with a critical eye,” Davis-Goff said.

“And words are so important – writers should know that better than anyone.”

In the longer submission guidelines on the Tramp Press website, Davis-Goff and Coen also highlight the kind of writers that they do want to hear from.

“If you’re an exceptional writer, we’re looking for you. If you’re a person of colour, we’re particularly looking for you. If you identify in any way with a group that has been under-represented in literature, we’re looking for you.”

If “you read women and don’t assume that the only people qualified to read your work are men (you’d be amazed at how often we get this), we promise to acknowledge receipt of your manuscript, and to get back to you on your work as soon as possible.”

Images: Tramp Press / iStock