Ah, the withdrawal letter, that awkward little thing that informs an editor you are removing your story from consideration before he or she has made a decision on it. I’ve always felt weird about sending them, like I’m breaking a sacred pact or somehow sending a rejection to the publisher. I shouldn’t feel that way, though. There are totally legit reasons to send withdrawal letters. Hey, let’s talk about some of them!
In my experience, there are generally two occasions when you’ll need to send a withdrawal letter. The first is when you’ve sent the same story to multiple publishers, called a simultaneous submission, and you get an acceptance letter from one of them. At that point, before you jump on Facebook to crow about your acceptance, you need to fire off a withdrawal letter to any remaining publishers still considering the story. Why? Because it’s courteous and professional, and almost every single publisher that allows sim-subs (bless them) will ask you to notify them right away if you sell the story somewhere else. So, you see, it’s part of following the submission guidelines, and we always follow the submission guidelines, right? Right.
So what should the sim-sub withdrawal letter look like? Like the query letter, it should be short, simple, and right to the point. In addition, I think you should let the publisher know it’s a withdrawal letter right in the subject line of the email so it doesn’t get overlooked with incoming submissions. Something like: Submission Withdrawal [STORY TITLE]. The body of that email could be something like this:
I submitted my short story “Murderous Monkeys on the Moon” to Monkey Junkies Quarterly on January 1st, 2016. I am withdrawing the story from consideration, as it has been accepted elsewhere for publication.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Easy peasy, right? Play with the language to suit you, but in my opinion, the essential bits are the story title, the date you submitted it, and why you are withdrawing it. Personally, I don’t think you need to tell the publisher where the story was accepted (it kind of feels boastful to me). If the publisher accepts sim-subs, this type of letter will hardly be a surprise to them, and it should absolutely not affect your chances for publication with this market in the future. The strongest reaction you are likely to get is a thank you and a congrats.
The second reason to send a withdrawal letter is when you’ve heard nothing but crickets in response to a submission. If the publisher has not responded to your submission within the estimated response time (usually stated in their guidelines), first send a submissions status query. If you get no response to your query after a reasonable amount of time has passed—yes, “reasonable” is highly subjective, and you’ll have to take this on a case-by-case basis—then it might be time to send the following withdrawal letter:
I submitted my short story “Naughty Nosferatus of Neptune” to Vampires in SPACE! on January 1st, 2016. I sent a submission status query on March 1st, 2016. As I have received no response to my status query, I am withdrawing the story from consideration.
Thank you for your time.
Again, play with the language, but I think the important points here are when you submitted, when you sent the query letter, and why you are withdrawing the story. As galling as it can be to have a story in limbo for months and never get a response, I think you should fight the urge to take the editor/publication to task for not responding to you. Who knows, there might be a perfectly valid reason they didn’t get back to you. Shit happens, and the letter above says you can stay professional regardless of said shit.
So, why else might you send a withdrawal letter? Good question. Here’s the only other one I could come up with. If you submit a story and then realize you’ve completely fucked the dog on some aspect of the submission guidelines—like they only take stories up to 2,500 words and you sent them your novella—I think a polite withdrawal letter admitting your mistake is a good way to go. In my opinion, it’s better to be professional, own your mistake, and withdraw your story than to let the editor discover your error and think you are yet another sufferer of FTFFD (failure to follow fucking directions) or the dreaded SSD (special snowflake disorder). Shit happens, people make mistakes, and I think most editors would understand that. I would, anyway.
Know another valid reason to send a withdrawal letter? Tell me about it in the comments.