Haven’t heard back on your writing submissions? Here’s what NOT to do

No submission response

One of my favorite literary journals, Rattle, just posted this picture on their Facebook page of a Better Business Bureau complaint form filed by some writer who’d submitted to Rattle but had not yet gotten a response:

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OK. I get it. It’s frustrating to wait a long time for a response to a submission. But filing a BBB complaint?

Some publications (like Beloit Poetry Journal) have great systems in place where you get ultra-speedy responses. Other journals (I won’t name names) can take over a year to get back to you. That sucks. But in the case of Rattle they actually ENCOURAGE simultaneous submissions, so you’re free to submit the same pieces to other outlets so long as you notify them if the work is accepted elsewhere.

Rattle wasn’t holding this writer back from other opportunities. They just weren’t responding quickly enough for the submitter. Now that the complaint has been filed (and posted on Facebook) I’m sure this writer isn’t going to get a second chance at that journal, and might find some closed doors elsewhere too. I’m not saying there’s a blacklist in the publishing world, but editors talk to editors.

So here’s my advice for people who get frustrated if they don’t receive a timely response to submissions:

1) Only submit to journals that accept simultaneous submissions. That way it doesn’t matter how long people take to respond. The first publication to say yes wins!

2) Read the submission guidelines. The journal will usually tell you how long you should expect to wait for a response. Do NOT contact the editors before that window has closed.

3) Chill out and keep waiting. If the guidelines say something like, “We normally respond within 180 days, but can sometimes take a bit longer,” well then be patient, grasshopper. It can sometimes take longer!

4) Send a short, polite inquiry. If you’ve waited another couple months past the guidelines’ estimate, send the editor an email. Keep it brief and friendly. Oh, and make absolutely sure it’s the correct email address.

5) Chill out and wait some more. It might take them a week or two to respond to your question. These people get TONS of emails. Also, brace yourself for a form rejection letter.

6) Send a follow-up email. Still no response? Try again.

7) Throw your hands up in the air. STILL no response? Don’t get pushy or rude. Just return to step 1 and realize that you can keep submitting the same material to other journals. Check this journal off your mental list — and hey, no hurt feelings if they get back to you a year later and say, “We love it. We want to publish it.”

If you couldn’t tell from the above steps, my basic advice would be: chill out. This isn’t life or death; it’s the literary submissions game. Play your best and don’t piss off the ref.

What’s the longest you’ve ever waited for a response to a submission? Have you found any correlation between wait-time and acceptances? Let me know in the comments below.

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Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

3 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Chris,
    Why don’t literary magazines follow the steps of scientific journals and provide automatic response to an electronic submission of literary work to acknowledge reception? I sent a short story to a journal via email and for months I requested an acknowledgment of reception, yes acknowledgment of reception and not the acceptance to publish the work, but I never received a response on four emails for more than six months

  2. Good article. I agree. I sent out thousands (literally) thousands and a year and a half later I’m still getting polite rejections. One literary agency even sent me a rejection twice. I thought to myself: “hey 6 months ago you already rejected me. Why are you sending another one geez when I haven’t submitted anything else to you?” Lol. It’s all part of the game. Authors need to realize it takes time and hard work and luck to find the right agent or publisher at the right time, and that’s only if they are looking for what you have to offer.

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