I often encounter a general sense among authors that magazine editors are waiting to pounce on them if they make a mistake or need to ask for an appropriate allowance in the submission process. The belief is that an error or request will result in a scathing rebuke and maybe even inclusion on the dreaded “do not publish” list. In my experience, this simply isn’t true. The editors I’ve had the pleasure of communicating and working with have been polite, professional, and understanding. Most of them are or have been writers too, and are quite familiar with the rigors of the submission process from the author’s side of the fence.
Let me see if I can illustrate how accommodating an editor can be with a little tale and timeline of a story submission I made back in 2015. This timeline will also give you a good idea of when and how I send submission status queries and withdrawal letters.
Just a quick note, I have removed parts of the publisher responses below because they contain unimportant details or they might help identify the publisher. The latter isn’t too much of a concern since, sadly, the publisher folded some time ago, but that’s how I do things on the blog.
Over five years ago, I had a little horror flash piece I was quite proud of, so I took a chance and fired it off to a pro markets dealing specifically with horror flash fiction. Here’s my cover letter.
Dear Fiction Editors,
Please consider my short story [Story Title] for publication at [publication]. The story is approximately 1,000 words in length.
Bio: I currently work as the acquisitions editor for Skull Island eXpeditions, a fiction imprint of Privateer Press, Inc. My short fiction has recently been published by Allegory, Devilfish Review, and The Molotov Cocktail.
Thank you for your time.
What you see here is an ancient version of my cover letter. The one I use now is pretty much the same, and the only real change is the bio ( I’d actually left Privateer Press on June 1st of this year, but I’d forgotten to update my bio). Since this was a Submittable submission I received the following acknowledgement the same day.
Thank you for sending your submission to [publisher].
You can review your submission online by going here: [Submittable link]
I settled in to wait, knowing it might be a while. I believe the market had a 120-day average response time.
After six months had passed without any response, I sent a submission status query.
Dear Fiction Editors,
I am writing to inquire about the status of my short story [story title] submitted to [publisher] on 6/20/15.
Six months is plenty long to wait for a response, and there’s nothing wrong with firing off a status query if you’ve exceeded both the stated and the expected wait times (and the publisher guidelines do not prohibit it). So that’s what I did.
I waited for a response to my query for over three weeks, and then I sent a withdrawal letter.
I have not received a response to my query sent 12/21/15 regarding the status of my submission [story title]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration at [publisher].
At this point I’d ben waiting for seven months, well beyond the response time for the market, so I just chalked this up to a) the submission was lost through a glitch in Submittable or b) the publisher had essentially issued a no-response rejection. I figured it was the former because I’d received a rejection from this publisher before. Little did I know there was a third option.
I should note I do not use this withdrawal letter any longer. The template I use now is better worded, I think. Looking back, this one feels too confrontational, which is not my intention.
Exactly one week after my withdrawal letter, the publisher sent me this notification.
Just a quick update to let you know that your story has made it to the final round of reviews for publication in [publisher] magazine and anthology series.
Thanks for your patience!
Whoops! As you can see, I was in kind of a pickle. To be clear, I don’t think I did anything wrong by sending a status query and withdrawal letter, but I really wanted my story to remain under consideration. What to do, huh?
On the same day the editor sent me the shortlist letter, I responded with the following email. I agonized over what to say, but, in the end, I figured I had nothing to lose by just being completely honest about the situation.
I recently withdrew this story after sending a status query letter. I have not submitted the story elsewhere, and in light of the recent note you sent regarding the story making it to the final round of reviews, I would, of course, like to keep it under consideration at [publisher]. However, since the story’s status is now withdrawn, I understand if that’s not possible.
Thank you for your consideration.
I would have completely understood if the publisher decided to let my story go. I did withdraw it after all, and I was essentially asking him to do more work on my behalf.
Thankfully, the editor did not leave me hanging after sending my un-withdrawal letter and responded with the following short email.
Ok, I’ve added it back into the final round of reviews. Thanks!
Whew! It was quite magnanimous (and much appreciated) for the editor to put my story back on the shortlist. Maybe he did it because he liked the story that much, or maybe, like most editors, he’s just an understanding human being. Either way, I was more than a little relieved.
A few months after the editor put my story back on the shortlist, I received this letter.
Thanks for sending [story title] to [publisher]. I have finished my review and have decided to accept it and offer you a contract. Please look for a contract to be issued through Docusign shortly.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Needless to say, this was not the response I expected after withdrawing my withdrawal. I was quite pleased for the acceptance and that my persistence paid off.
The takeaway to my little tale is that polite, professional, and appropriate communication with an editor should never hurt your chances at future publication. So if you make a mistake or need to ask an editor to make an allowance for you, like I did, be honest and transparent and things will more than likely work out.