Like Entrekin, I totally agree that writers should not reply to rejection slips. This is bad form.
And I agree with both Wills that editors should behave professionally. I realize, though, that not everyone feels the same.
Among the many approaches to editing, various assumptions play a part. One, which I'll call the Squelch theory, buys into the notion that writers should be squelched as firmly as possible in order to drive out the weak-willed. This approach regards writing as an endless,
inexhaustible supply, and indeed this may be the case, but I am not sure the same holds true of the very highest quality writing. (And what constitutes "quality" writing is a discussion for another time.) The Squelch theory holds to the Nietzechean principle that what does not kill you only makes you stronger.
In this spirit, the Squelch theory administers feedback in a way that means to discourage some writers from writing again. Sometimes this feedback can be scathing or downright mean. As such it may winnow the field, but in a way that I would argue promotes the survival of the thick-skinned rather than the talented.
There's a lot of chaff out there, but personally I prefer to winnow as much of it as possible in order to extract as much good stuff as I
can. Paging through the Fantasy Magazine slushpile is like panning for gold, and I like to dip my sieve deep. So I don't buy into Squelching.
I also don't do it because I don't believe in being mean to people. I find such acts as rude and socially unacceptable as physically assaulting a person. I realize many people don't feel the same, and I'm pretty inured to them. I've been around the Internet since ARPAnet days and an early BBS called Note. I have seen flames fashioned of vitriol and the insides of stars and flung a few myself from time to time.
And I have run two MUDs, multiplayer online games populated primarily by geeks and nerds, all of them bright as buttons. The populations of these MUDs have ranged from the very young to the older hardcore computerheads. I have written hundreds of administrative e-mails over the course of two decades dealing with personalities that included the crazy, the passionate, the well-intentioned, and the misdirected. I have yet to find a case where a polite/professional e-mail was not the best answer to any of them.
Do I believe that sometimes a blow, verbal or physical, is the best way to teach someone something? No. I agree that it can be an effective way to teach, but I do not agree that it is the best way. I do not feel that amusing myself by hurting other people is an ethical act. I believe violence perpetuates violence, and that such acts erode society and prevent us from moving forward. This is my belief, and I realize and acknowledge that not everyone shares it.
Unlike me, some Squelchers believe verbal attacks are valid forms of self-expression, that they are harmless entertainment or
socially-instructive. Or that they are justified in some other way -- a belief that people are stupid sheep, or that the Universe is at its heart unfair, or that they are owed permission to perform them from some entity.
Therefore, it is important to remember that when you submit something to an editor, you are agreeing to play by their terms. Adherents of the Squelch theory are public about their methods. AlienSkin has its Hall of Shame where it identifies guideline offenders by name, as does Nick Mamatas when discussing bannings on his LJ. Enter at your own risk.
Remember that the risk may be worth it. Writers may well get better feedback from the Squelchers than the non-Squelchers. Mamatas is direct and precise, identifying exactly what in wrong with a story, along the lines of "Get rid of the infodump at the beginning" and has influenced the way I look at and edit scene breaks. By contrast, I tend not to say "Your writing is not of the caliber I'm looking, you need to learn the basics of story telling, and your story should not be all one long paragraph in 8 point font" because I don't want to argue with people about things like the strategy behind their use of future tense.
Part of the reason for this is also that unlike the Squelchers, I don't have a commitment to the Darwinian onslaught on the writing population driving me to administer correctives. People learn as much from continuing to work on story after story as they do from quick bursts from the verbal cannon, and I leave it to that slower force to instruct them.
As an editor, I consider my main job not improving the pool of writing, but rather the assembling and publishing of fiction of consistently high quality. Like every editor, I have strong opinions about clarity of language as well as the ethics of fiction, including the writer/editor relationship. I try to treat the writers in the way I prefer editors deal with me: professionally and informatively. I do not discourage new writers, and I try to give them encouragement and useful feedback when I have the bandwidth, but I do not give them the same degree of attention that a Squelcher may. This is worth writers taking into consideration.
There are some writers who won't submit to various Squelcher-run magazines because of their policies. It's something I'm starting to think about, but I will admit that Clarkesworld pays very nicely indeed, and much better than the more-politely run Fantasy Magazine.
This is the Internet. Your mileage may vary.