If you’re a writer who regularly submits short stories and who also uses submission tracking sites like Duotrope, then the following scenario will likely be very familiar to you.
You send your submission to a publisher, noting on Duotrope their average response times for rejections and acceptances, then sit back and wait. Your submission crosses the rejection threshold, and you dare to hope, “Could they be considering my story?” Then your story crosses the acceptance threshold, and you start getting really excited. “They’ve held my story so long they MUST be STRONGLY considering it for publication!” You wait a few more weeks, more hopeful every day an acceptance letter is forthcoming, and then . . . BOOM! Form rejection.
So what happened? Well, there are a bunch of possibilities, but just because a publisher holds your story for longer than their usual response time for rejections or acceptances doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more likely to be published. I’m not saying it’s not being considered, but I’ve learned not to put too much stock in how long a publisher holds on to my story. I’ll explain why in a sec, but first a quick advisory note.
What follows is rejectomancy at its finest. It is the attempt of one writer to make sense of the grand chaos of the submission process by stringing together bits of disparate information that likely have no relation to one another. It is absolutely, one-hundred-percent anecdotal evidence and should be read with the clear understanding the author may be and probably is completely full of shit.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s how I approach the waiting game. Like everyone else, when my story is held longer than usual, I get hopeful, but then I remember two things.
1) Submittable. If you send a lot of submission to magazines, e-zines, and the like, then I’ll bet huge sums of money you have a Submittable account. If you’re unfamiliar with this service, Submittable is a submission management platform that many publishers use both for submission intake and submission tracking. The author side of things lets you see what the publisher has done or is doing with your story via a number of different status labels. After you send a story, it’ll be marked RECEIVED, which according to Submittable means: “Your submission has been successfully sent to the organization and is in queue or being printed and read outside the Submittable system.” It may also be marked IN-PROGRESS, which means: “Your submission has been received and additionally handled in some way (e.g. assigned, commented on, etc.).” The other two status tags are DECLINED and ACCEPTED, and those are self-explanatory.
Okay, so here’s the thing, in my experience, the RECEIVED tag only lives up to the first half of Submittable’s explanation. Basically, the publisher has received it, and it’s in a queue to be read. It’s not until that status becomes IN-PROGRESS that someone is actually reading/considering your story. This is all anecdotal, of course, but many times a story of mine has languished in RECEIVED purgatory, and once it became IN-PROGRESS I received a response in a few days to a week. Not once, not twice, dozens of times I’ve seen this happen. So, if you submit a story to a publisher via Submittable, I wouldn’t get too excited until you see the IN-PROGRESS tag. Are there exceptions to this “rule”? Absolutely, and there are very probably publishers who are reading stories while they’re in RECEIVED status.
2) Further consideration letters. Okay, I feel like I’m on slightly firmer ground with this one. In my experience, bigger publishers have first readers or editors who sort through the slush pile and decide which stories are good enough to pass up to the decision-makers. If your story is chosen by one of those first readers, you won’t have to guess if you’re story is being considered because the publication will tell you via a further consideration letter, like this one.
Thank you for submitting “XXX” toXXX. One of our first readers has read your story and believes it deserves a closer look. We would like to hold it for further consideration. Good luck!
With these publishers, how long the story has been held probably doesn’t matter. Your story is likely not being considered unless you get one of these letters. Now, of course, after the further consideration letter, it’s anyone’s guess. With the letter above, I received a form rejection 28 days later (funny thing, the submission was a zombie story), which put my total wait time at 49 days. That’s about half their estimated wait time for an acceptance.
I can think of three pro publishers in the horror market that send first-reader further consideration letters, and I’d be willing to bet many others follow suit. Again, like with most things on this blog, this is anecdotal evidence from my own experience, and there are definitely going to be publishers who work differently.
So, why would a publisher hold on to your story past their usual rejection or acceptance thresholds and not be considering it? The simple answer is they have a ton of submission to get through. As I’ve said many times, the big, pro-paying markets receive hundreds of submissions a month, and it’s no surprise they get backlogged from time to time. Smaller publishers have the same problem; they might get fewer submissions, but they usually have less people to read them. Sometimes publishers just lose a submission. That’s happened to me a couple of times. Lastly, publishers go out of business. I’ve experience that scenario twice while one of my submissions was in the publisher’s queue.
At the end of the day, if your submission has been held for longer than seems typical, it’s probably best to send a status query to the publisher. Check the guidelines first, though. Some publishers only want status queries after a certain amount of time has passed (usually 60 days). In my experience, a status update query almost always speeds up the process, and I usually receive a response shortly after sending one.
How do you handle the waiting game? Any tips or tricks to share?