Submission Protocol: Don’t Fear the Query

I’ve previously covered the submission status query letter, but I thought it was worth a revisit mostly because I’ve seen writers questioning if they should send a query letter and wondering if a publisher would be offended or angry if they did. Let me cut to the chase here. Unless a publisher specifically asks you not to query in the submission guidelines, there is no reason they should get upset if you send a query letter, provided you follow a few basic rules. What are those rules? Numbered list incoming! (Note, this post is NOT about initial queries to agents or publishers for novels. That’s a whole different beast.)

  1. Always check the guidelines. A lot of publishers deal with submission status queries in their guidelines and will give you very specific details on if and when you should send one. For example: Responses take 60-90 days on average. Feel free to send a follow-up query after that point. In this case, if you send a query on day 91, you are absolutely in the clear.
  2. Wait an appropriate amount of time. So what if the publisher doesn’t deal with submission queries in their guidelines? Easy. Most publishers will at least tell you when to expect a response, usually somewhere between 30 and 90 days. In my opinion, if you haven’t heard from the publisher after the stated response time, you should probably send a query letter. Again, there’s no reason for the publisher to get upset here. A polite query shouldn’t offend anyone in this business. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that a publisher’s stated response time and their actual response time can be very different. If you use a service like Duotrope, it’ll tell you how long, on average, a publisher takes to respond to submissions. If it’s longer than the stated response time, you could wait until then to send a query.
  3. Be polite and to the point. Your query letter should be short and polite. Tell them the name of your story, when you submitted it, and ask for an update. You don’t need to say anything else unless the publisher specifically requests it in the guidelines (for example, some publishers give every story an ID number and may want you to include that in a submission query).

So, let’s put this all together in a real-world example. I recently sent the following submission status query to a publisher:

Dear Editors,

I would like to inquire about the status of my short story “XXX” submitted for XXX on June 21st, 2017. 


Aeryn Rudel

In this case the publisher did not list an expected response time in their guidelines nor did they cover when/if to send queries. So I turned to Duotrope, which told me the publisher was responding to submissions in about 30 days, on average. I sent my query letter after 60 days. I might have sent it sooner, but 60 days felt like an appropriate amount of time to wait. I received a response (a rejection) two days after my query. So, did I follow the rules? I think so. I checked the guidelines, I waited an appropriate amount of time, and my letter was short, polite, and to the point. The result: I got a prompt response. The publisher did not send me an angry “how dare you” letter, just the form rejection I was going to get anyway.

To recap, if you follow the guidelines above, there’s no reason for a publisher to get upset if you send a query letter. Honestly, if something as simple and commonplace as a submission status query does upset a publisher, that’s likely a publisher you don’t want to work with. Just remember publishers are regular (and often very busy) folks who sometimes make mistakes, lose submissions, fall behind, and so on. Because of that, the query letter is often just as useful to the publisher as it is to the author. Hell, I’ve had publishers thank me for sending a query letter.

Of course, if you query and still don’t get a response after a reasonable amount of time, say two weeks, it might be time to consider a withdrawal letter so you can send your story somewhere else. For more info on withdrawal letters, check out this post.

Got a question or comment on submission status queries? I’d love to hear it in the comments.