Withdrawing a story from a publisher is an oft-discussed topic in writer circles, and there are a lot of opinions on when and if you should do it. My views have evolved on this subject over the years, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit it. It should be noted that I’m specifically talking about withdrawing a story from a publisher that has been unresponsive for a considerable amount of time. There are other times when the decision to withdraw a story is much more cut and dry (sim-subs and defunct publishers, to name two).
When should you withdraw a story? Well, again, there are a lot of opinions, but here’s a checklist or series of “if this, then that” scenarios you might consider before pulling the trigger on the withdrawal letter.
Step 1: Has the publisher exceeded their stated (1) response time by a reasonable (2) period? If yes, go to step two. If no, then wait until that time has passed, then go to step two.
Step 2: Is the publisher responding to submissions on Duotrope or the Submission Grinder (3)? If yes, consider waiting until they’ve exceeded their actual (4) response time. If no, then go to step three.
Step 3: Has the publisher indicated on their website or social media they are working through submissions? (5) If yes, and the publisher has given a deadline, consider waiting until that date has passed. If no, go to step four.
Step 4: Does the publisher allow submission status queries? (6) If yes, and all criteria from the previous steps have been met, then send a submission status query and go to step five. If the publisher does not allow them, do not send one, and go to step five.
Step 5: Has the publisher responded to the submission status query (or responded in general if they don’t allow them) and resolved the submission with a rejection, an acceptance, a further consideration letter, or an update of some kind? If yes, congrats; you’re done. If no, and a reasonable amount of time has passed, then go to step six.
Step 6: Assuming the publisher has not responded to you, have they responded to any submissions on Duotrope or The Submission Grinder or left any indication on their website or social media about submissions since the first/last time you checked? If yes, it’s reasonable to wait and not entirely unreasonable to go to step seven at this point. If no, go to step seven.
Step 7: Send a withdrawal letter.
(1) The stated response time is usually in the publisher’s guidelines. For genre, I find it’s somewhere between 30 and 90 days. If the publisher does not list a stated response time, look at Duotrope or The Submission Grinder for an average response time and use that.
(2) What’s a reasonable amount of time in this situation? That’s really a gut check thing. A month past the stated response time for a query letter is reasonable, I think. Waiting a month after the submission status query to send the withdrawal letter is also reasonable. Still, this all comes down to what you are comfortable with, so take my checklist with a grain of salt and do what works for you (while still following publisher guidelines).
(3) If you don’t use Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, I’d recommend you do. If not for tracking submissions, then as a market database, and, of course, an excellent way to gauge publisher response times.
(4) The actual response time can vary dramatically from the publisher’s stated response time. It’s often longer, but there are markets that routinely have actual response times far shorter than their stated response times. Obviously, you won’t have to worry about the latter when it comes to withdrawal letters.
(5) It’s a good habit to check a publisher’s Facebook and Twitter for updates about response times. Many publishers also post a lot of great advice about submissions and writing in general.
(6) Even if a publisher allows submission status queries, they might mention a specific period of time they want authors to wait before sending one. Always check the guidelines before you send that letter.
If you do make it to step seven, what should the withdrawal letter look like? Here’s an example of one I’ve used:
I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher name] on [date submitted]. I sent a submission status query on [date of query]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration.
Just give the publisher the facts: story title, when you sent it, and when you sent the submission status query (if you sent one). I also think it’s a good idea to alert the publisher you’re withdrawing the story in the subject line of the email. Something like: – Submission Withdrawal – [Story Title] – [Author Name]. If the publisher assigns any kind of tracking number to the submission, you should also include that in the subject line or body of the email.
Keep the letter short, to the point, and, above all, professional. You don’t know the situation on the other end of that email, so be polite, move on, and send the story somewhere else.
Thoughts on withdrawing a story? Tell me about it in the comments.