You’ve sent your story to a publisher, you’ve read and followed all the guidelines, and now you’re just waiting for the rejection hammer to fall. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) You watch the calendar, and at some point, you realize, “Hey, I haven’t heard from publisher X about story Y, and it’s been months.” A quick check reveals the publisher has had your story past the estimated response time. Now what? It might be time to send the publisher a query about the status of your story. However, there are some things to keep in mind before you do.
Check the guidelines. Always, always, always check the guidelines before you send a query letter. First, you need to check the publisher’s estimated response time and make sure your story has been held beyond it. I think it’s a really bad idea to send a submission status query before the estimated response time has elapsed. I mean, you knew how long they were likely to keep the story because you read all the guidelines before you submitted, right? You did read the guidelines, didn’t you?
Next, check if the publisher mentions when they would prefer you query about story status. A lot of publishers list specific time frames for query letters. You should also check the guidelines to see if the publisher wants specific information in the query letter. For example, they might ask you to write the subject of your email in a specific way or even include a submission tracking number (usually provided in an acknowledgement email). As with all submission guidelines, you should follow them to the letter.
Check Duotrope. Duotrope and other online submission trackers can give you a lot of data on a publisher’s actual response times. A publisher may state 60 days in their guidelines, but a quick look at Duotrope might tell you they’re averaging more like 75. I’ve found that publishers are closer to their estimated response times with rejections than they are with acceptances, and Duotrope’s numbers back this up. I also find that this “true” response time often coincides with a publisher’s guidelines for when they prefer you to send a query.
You could wait until that “true” response time has passed, and I sometimes do that, but if the publisher states they’ll respond within 30 days and they have no other stipulation for query letters, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sending a polite query on day 31.
You don’t use Duotrope? Madness. Read my post about why you need it (or something like it).
The query letter. Like most communications with publishers, I think short and to the point is best. Here’s a query letter I sent a publisher a while back:
I would like to inquire about the status of my story “XXX” submitted on 9/9/99.
Yup, just the facts: my name, the story’s title, and when I sent it. I don’t think a query letter should contain more than that unless the publisher specifically asks you to include more. This particular publisher has an estimated response time of 30 days, and I sent my query letter on day 35. I received a response two days later—a form rejection. Just to be clear, I do not in any way believe my query letter affected the publisher’s decision. At most, it merely prompted the publisher (who had probably already decided on a rejection) to respond to me. In other words, it’s not rude or even unexpected to send a query letter.
So, why send a query letter instead of simply waiting for a response? Because shit happens, and you deserve to know what’s up with your story. I’m sure stories get misplaced, accidentally deleted, or they don’t reach the publisher at all. It’s also possible that a publisher has read your story and replied, but the notification email never reached you. Technical difficulties are always a possibility, and hey, editors are people too, and they sometimes make mistakes or get behind. For this very reason, many publishers encourage authors to send submission status queries if they haven’t heard anything after the estimated response time has elapsed.
What are your thoughts on submission status queries? Tell me about it in the comments.
Alas, some editors just don’t respond to submissions, perhaps operating under the belief that no response means no. Unfortunately, that leaves writers hanging for a potentially unbearable amount of time. Years ago, I would send a non-responsive editor two or three or more status queries, deepening my frustration with each non-response.
At some point, I decided to be more proactive and give editors a response deadline.
So, many of my status queries look something like this:
On January 1, 2015, I submitted “Really Cool Story,” but I’ve heard nothing from you since then. I hope the story is still under consideration, and I look forward to an update on its status. However, If I have not heard from you by October 30, I will presume the story was not suitable and will feel free to submit it elsewhere.
This prompts some editors to respond–“we never received your submission,” “we’re holding it for further consideration,” “we rejected it on January 2,” etc.–and some never do respond. Regardless, I need send no additional status queries, and when the respond-by date passes I feel free to send my ms. to another editor.
Yeah, I’ve even seen something like “If we don’t respond, just consider it a rejection” in submission guidelines. I know editors are busy folks–I used to be one–but, call me crazy, I don’t think a simple one-sentence form letter is too much to ask.
I like the inclusion of a deadline in your query. That’s really smart. I may have to adopt that. 😉
Thanks for your comment, Michael.
Thank you for DUOTROPE! What a great resource!!!
I absolutely could not survive without it. 😉
I’ve been using QueryTracker. Have you used that? If so, how does it compare to Duotrope and what are the benefits you see for using Duotrope?
I haven’t used QueryTracker, which is, I believe, primarily used for tracking novel queries to agents and publishers (correct if I’m wrong there). Duotrope seems more focused on short fiction and tracks submissions rather than queries. At least, that’s how I see it most commonly used. Duotrope also collects data on publishers and tracks things like acceptance rates, response times, recent acceptances and rejections, and so on. All of this data comes from the authors who use the service.
Gotcha. So for submitting my short stories to journals, Duotrope may be a better option. But for submitting my novel to agents and publishers, QueryTracker could be the way to go. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks.
Yep, that’s what I’d do anyway.
I’ve just started submitting short stories this year, and been trying to decide whether to send a query for a story I sent out almost 5 months ago (to a market that says to query after 3 months), but wasn’t even sure what a query for this should say. 😀 This post was really helpful, and I’ve finally sent my query. Thanks for this!
Glad to hear it. If you don’t hear back from them, read my post on withdrawing a submission. 😉