Why aren't more editors more helpful?
I could throw the time thing at you––the number of submissions so high we couldn't possibly comment on each one––but those first readers going through the slush pile actually could make a comment. The reason they don't has less to do with time and more to do with experience.
My editing background is with online publications, many of which do start out commenting, and many of which, eventually, put an end to the process. Here are some reasons why:
- Most submissions have far too many flaws. No one likes to hear that, but it's true. Most of what editors receive ranges from really bad to not bad. Notice that is "not bad" not good or really good. Anything falling along that range has more than one or two flaws, and asking for comments on more than one or two flaws amounts to asking for a free critique.
- Too many submitters mistake a kindly comment for an invitation to re-submit. When an editor offers you the opportunity to re-submit, it will say it clearly in the rejection, but desperate writers often look for any hope to cling to.
- Other submitters take it as an invitation to submit something else, soon and often.
- Some few submitters actually get testy and send back a reply refuting each comment word for word.
No everyone doesn't do this, but it's the old "bad apple" thing. Enough submitters do one of these things to make publications re-think their replies. One zine I worked with started out commenting on each submission and including a standard invitation to submit again. After a couple of years of the above they knocked off the comments and in another couple of years they knocked off the invitation to submit again, unless they really really meant it.