Submission Protocol: Ask the Editor

As I’ve stated many, many times on this blog, you should always read submission guidelines carefully and completely. Nine times out of ten, all the information you need to successfully submit a story will be there in black and white. But every once in a while, submission guidelines might not address a specific situation and leave you wondering if and how you should submit a particular story. What do you do then? Could you ask the editor directly?

I know, I know. Sending an email directly to the editor sounds terrifying, right? I mean, what if you’re bothering them? What if you offend them with your question, and they put you on the dreaded author blacklist and you never get a story accepted again?! Scary, huh? Well, let’s look at submission guidelines and see what editors actually say about this.

Email [email address] for all submission-related inquiries, or if you have any trouble using our online submission system.

That doesn’t sound too bad. Let’s look at another one.

If you have questions about submitting materials to the site, please contact us [hyperlink].

Huh, it’s almost like they want you to contact them if you have a question. Okay, one more.

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or criticism (but not stories) send them to our staff at [email address]. We’ll do our best to get back to you within a few days.

I guess that seals it. Maybe it is okay to just ask the editor. 🙂

Okay, okay, in all seriousness, if you have a question about submissions that are not covered in the guidelines, you should absolutely ask the editor. In fact, the vast majority of submission guidelines will instruct you to do just that (as above). You shouldn’t have any fear or hesitation about it, and, in my experience, editors are often grateful that you asked a question rather than sending in a submission that might not conform to their guidelines.

Some things to keep in mind, though, before you fire off that email.

1) Make sure your question is not already covered in the guidelines. Read them carefully, then read them again. It’s easy to miss a single sentence on something like sim-subs or reprints. In fact, if I have a question about either of the two subjects, I’ll actually do a CTRL+F search for the word, just to make sure I didn’t overlook anything. I would advise against asking an editor if you can do something the guidelines expressly forbid. In other words, don’t ask if you can submit your 30,000-word novella when the publisher has clearly stated they don’t want stories more than 5,000 words in length. Instead, go find a publisher that accepts and publishes novellas.

2) Send your question to the right place. Most of the time, the submission guidelines will instruct you where to send a submission-related question, but not always. If submission questions are not directly covered in the guidelines, then look for a “Contact Us” or similar option on the publisher’s website. That’ll generally take you to the editor’s in-box or to someone who can answer your question without cluttering up the slush pile.

3) Be polite, professional, and brief. Your email should look something like a status query or withdrawal letter. Short and to the point. Make it clear you’re asking a question in the subject line. Something simple like “Reprint Question”. Address the email like you would in a cover letter (I always use Dear Editors), ask your question in a clear and concise manner, then close it out. Don’t include your manuscript and don’t talk about your publishing history (save that for the actual submission). Here’s an example of what a letter to the editors might look like:

Dear Editors,

Does Totally Awesome Professional Genre Market consider a story a reprint if it has been previously published on a blog or Patreon account? 

Thank you for your time. 

Best,

Aeryn Rudel

This is a question I’ve actually asked. Some markets mention where they stand on stories published on blogs and Patreon accounts and some don’t. I have a story I published years ago on the blog that I’ve since taken down and revised heavily. I’ll often ask editors if I should submit it as a reprint (or not at all if they don’t publish reprints) if that’s not spelled out in the guidelines. Each time, I’ve gotten a prompt, polite response that says, “Yeah, go ahead and send it in.” or “No, we consider that a reprint. Thanks for asking.” In the first case, I can now submit without worrying I’m breaking the rules, and in the second case, I can just move on with no harm, no foul.

4) Don’t argue with the answer. This should go without saying, but if the answer to your question is not what you hoped it would be, don’t argue. It’s a bad look because what you’re essentially getting is an addendum to the submission guidelines, and we always follow the submissions guidelines, right? Right.


So, to sum up, don’t be afraid to ask the editor if you have a question and can’t find the answer in the guidelines. Most, if not all, will be happy to answer polite queries about submissions.

Thoughts on asking the editor? Tell me about it in the comments.

6 Comments on “Submission Protocol: Ask the Editor

  1. Oh I skim all the pages of a publisher’s website before asking, because I don’t want to look like a fool. But I have had to ask one publisher—who did not have a guidelines page—about what their best practices are, and I have to say that they’re pretty cool about it most of the time. Thanks for this post!

    • Wow, no guidelines page? That’s a new one on me. But, yeah, I can’t imagine any editor having s problem with an author reaching out with a legitimate question.

  2. I had a story accepted by a literary journal. However, due to Covid and an office move, they were back-logged, and by the time (6-8 months after acceptance) they sent me the copy-editor’s review, there was not a lot of time left for re-editing their edits. However, their condensed and edited version (first round) was not acceptable to me ,and the editor-in-chief said that there unfortunately was not time for a back and forth on this… So I regrettably accepted the kill-fee and this story was not published.

    Now I am sending out the story again. Should I explain the history on this to new journal editors? Should I change the title? BYW, can journals see one’s Submittable list so they could see that this story was accepted already, even tho it was not actually publshed?
    Thanks.

    • If the story wasn’t published, then I don’t think you have to explain the situation to new editors. It’s not a reprint, which would be the only reason you’d ever have to mention a story’s publication history.

      No, I don’t believe editors can see anything but their own queue on Submittable, just as you can only see yours.

      So, my advice is to just submit the story like you would any other new piece.

      Thanks for the comment and the follow. 🙂

      • Thanks. Just read your recent rejection tally… oh my, I know those numbers as well. ¡Buena suerte with your next week of submissions!

      • Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a rough go of late, but it’ll turn around soon enough. It always does. 🙂

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