Rejection Letter Rundown: The No-Response Rejection

There are many types of rejections, and I’ve covered a bunch of them on this blog, but in my opinion, the most frustrating is the no-response rejection. That’s when the publisher simply never responds to your submission, and the rejection is implied rather than stated outright.

There are a few publishers that even state in their guidelines you should consider a submission rejected if you don’t hear from them in a certain amount of time. In my experience, these publishers are pretty rare, at least in the genre market, so it’s important to eliminate three of the more common reasons for the lack of response before determining if you have indeed received the no-response brushoff.

  1. Human error. Hey, shit happens, legit emails end up in spam, editors forget to respond, Cthulhu eats your submission (and then your soul), and so on. If you’ve submitted to a market that traditionally responds quickly and has a good track record of getting back to authors (info you can get from Duotrope), it’s probably just a case of humans being humans.
  2. They’re slow. Yep, some publishers just take a while to respond. Most of these publishers are aware of that fact and will warn you in the guidelines. If not, a quick look at Duotrope or The Submission Grinder should tell how long it typically takes a publisher to respond.
  3. They’re defunct. It’s a tough ol’ market out there for small publishers, and sometimes they disappear without warning. When this happens, you probably won’t get notification if you have a submission pending. It’s happened to me twice. Again, Duotrope is your friend here, as they post a list (updated frequently) of markets believed to be defunct.

If you suspect any of the three scenarios above and your submission has been held past the expected response date (usually stated in the publisher’s guidelines), then it’s time to send a polite status query letter and inquire about your story.

If you’ve eliminated the three scenarios above or you’ve submitted a story to a publisher that actually tells you they do no-response rejections, I think you should still send a status query letter (unless the guidelines tell you not to). It’s the polite, professional thing to do. Give the publisher a reasonable amount of time to respond, and if you’ve still heard nothing, send a polite withdrawal letter, removing your story from consideration. This way, all your bases are covered, you’ve been professional and courteous (always a good plan), and there’s no mystery regarding the status of your story.

Okay, now for the op-ed portion of this post. I think every publisher should respond to every author that sends them a story, even if that’s just a brief “not for us” form letter. Publishers expect authors to follow the letter of the law when it comes to guidelines, as well they should, be courteous and professional, and accept rejection with grace and dignity, again, as well they should. It’s a social contract, and the publisher’s part of that contract is simple: read a story (or some of it, at least) and respond to the author. In my opinion, that’s not too much to ask.

I don’t think volume of submissions is a good excuse, either. It might extend the time it takes for a publisher to get back to you, but it shouldn’t preclude them from responding to you completely. There are magazines that receive hundreds of submissions every month, yet still respond to every author. For example, Clarkesworld is one of the most prestigious (and biggest) genre markets out there, and their stories have been nominated for or won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, BSFA, Sturgeon, Locus, Shirley Jackson, Ditmar, Aurora, Aurealis, WSFA Small Press and Stoker Awards. Want to know what their “Never Responded” percentage is at Duotrope? It’s 0.16%. That’s less than two submission out of a thousand (if my math is right). I’d be willing to bet large sums of money those few submissions reported as never responded fall squarely into the human error category. And Clarkesworld is just one example. A quick bit of research shows nearly all the big genre markets have no-response rates well under one percent. That’s actually pretty awesome, and as an author who has submitted to many of these markets, I really do appreciate it.

What are your thoughts on the no-response rejection? Tell us about it in the comments.

3 Comments on “Rejection Letter Rundown: The No-Response Rejection

  1. If it’s an electronic submission, it seems almost inexcusable not to fire back a form email rejection, especially since you can’t technically submit it to a lot of markets if it’s still under consideration. I have seen guidelines that state if you don’t hear back by N days, consider it rejected, and I can appreciate that. Still…

    Another thing that makes me a little nervous is when I send an email to a publisher and I don’t get the form “We received your submission” email back. I’m always afraid I entered the address wrong or something 🙂

  2. I think the non-response is unprofessional. I started to write “incredibly unprofessional,” but I changed it because sadly, it’s not incredible in the least. If my experience is any indication, most writers can expect to run into this periodically. Aeryn, your advice to follow up with a query is good, but again, my experience has been that he who didn’t respond to the submission is likely not to respond to the query, either. So it comes down to a choice of pulling the story and resubmitting elsewhere or waiting longer. And you can’t help worrying that if you pull it, you’ll be doing so just when they were on the verge of accepting it, so you’re likely to leave it in limbo longer than you really should.

    • Yeah, I agree; it’s very unprofessional, which is why I’m surprised at some of the more prestigious publications that do it. These are publications, mind you, that demand professionalism from their writers.

      I hear you about the query letter. One thing a writer might do if he or she was inclined to send a query letter in this scenario is to include a short deadline for the publisher. Something like, “If I haven’t heard from you by X date, I will assume the story has been rejected and feel free to submit it elsewhere.” That way the story is not in limbo for very long.

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