No Reply re: short story status! What next?
January 22, 2010 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I query literary periodicals about "disappeared" short stories?

I submitted a short story online to StoryQuarterly back in June 4, 2009. I was thrilled to see it listed as "under review" in November--but there it has remained. Two weeks ago I sent a query email saying, Hello,I am writing to ask about the status of a short story, "XXXXX," which I submitted to StoryQuarterly on June 4, 2009. It has been listed as "under review" since November. sincerely, MS UANS That was two weeks ago. No reply of any kind. Last week I sent a similar query to Missouri Review, about a story I'd sent on August 27. I have not heard back from them either. A few months ago I had to query Willow Springs, and within the day someone wrote me back to explain they were overwhelmed with an unusual number of submissions, and could I please be patient. I was grateful for the gracious reply. (But no, the story didn't get accepted.) What do I do next, if anything?
posted by uans to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out for average waiting periods?

Six months to a year is highly common for popular literary magazines. Many guidelines would suggest a similar waiting period..

If you have a story out to multiple publications that gets accepted, you're free to publish it elsewhere although most magazines would prefer you email them if this happens.
posted by shownomercy at 7:36 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I do use Duotrope, and they made it clear--with red letters among the statistics--that stories submitted long after mine had received some kind of response from these two journals.
posted by uans at 7:40 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: My question is, should I be giving up on these stories as "lost" by the respective journals? Should I wait another month and query again?
posted by uans at 7:42 PM on January 22, 2010

I've had the same thing happen with poetry submitted to literary journals, and honestly, after about a year, I just figure it's a lost cause and submit elsewhere. If you'd like to be extra polite, you can always send them an email informing them that you'd like to formally withdraw your submission.

But shownomercy is right--six months isn't very long at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 PM on January 22, 2010

Literary journal slush piles can indeed be so huge that submissions may sit for months (er, if not years) without being finally accepted or rejected. Personally, I suggest a method along these lines:

1. Decide how long you're willing to wait for an answer (four months sounds about right if you're impatient);
2. At the of that time, send a query to the editor, asking about the status of your submission and advising that, although you love the journal in question - which is of course your first choice - if you do not hear back from them within a month, you will be withdrawing the story and submitting it elsewhere;
3. If you don't hear back by the end of the month, email the editor advising that you are indeed withdrawing the story; then
4. Submit it elsewhere!

This way, you keep your work circulating from journal to journal until it finds a home (assuming you are not making simultaneous submissions, which editors generally dislike, if not outright prohibit). A spreadsheet is useful for keeping track of what's been sent where, and when.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: (assuming you are not making simultaneous submissions, which editors generally dislike, if not outright prohibit).
On the contrary, what I've found on almost every website is the openness to simultaneous submission. The ones refusing them are rare on the ground.
I am not so terribly impatient, but if Duotrope data informs me that people have heard back about stories sent in three months after I submitted my story, I can't help but feel it got lost in the shovel, whether or not the online submission manager labels it "under review"
posted by uans at 8:11 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: oops, I meant lost in the shuffle
posted by uans at 8:12 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: "Seriously, hot soup girl, am I ruining my chances by being open about simultaneous submission, as the website suggest?
posted by uans at 8:25 PM on January 22, 2010

Hot soup girl's protocol is pretty reasonable.

Partly it depends on the size and venerableness of the journal. One hopes established journals (like StoryQuarterly) have their shit together to do things efficiently, but may be swamped in slush.

As a general principle, little tiny all-volunteer affairs probably have less to sort through, but are often fitting a ton of work in around the corners of the rest of their lives. I've been part of a crew working on a brand-new lit journal for a year. We have subs from June that haven't been looked at yet, because before anyone can read them, someone has to organize and anonymize them, and everybody's instead been scrambling non-stop on the first issue--soliciting ads, finding distributors, finalizing edits, getting layout out the door, planning the release, etc. On behalf of editors in similar situations: we love you for submitting and are excited and grateful and really want to do right by you and not leave you in limbo, but there are only so many hours in the day...

(mefi mail me if you're interested in submitting! feb 20 deadline)
posted by hippugeek at 8:31 PM on January 22, 2010

Seriously, hot soup girl, am I ruining my chances by being open about simultaneous submission, as the website suggest?

If the publication's submission guidelines allow simultaneous submissions, then obviously there's no problem; you're not breaking the rules.

Having said that: back when I edited journals that allowed simultaneous submissions, occasionally we'd discover that a piece we'd accepted for our next issue had already been accepted or even published elsewhere. Sometimes we wouldn't find out until just before publication - in which case we would pull the piece from our journal and either rush to select a replacement or run with one piece less than anticipated. Sometimes the author would not tell us at all that the piece had been (or was just about to be) published elsewhere, and we would only find out months later, by accident. That was most definitely not cool, and is the sort of thing that can make a dent in a writer's reputation. So please: if you've sent a piece out to bunch of places, and it gets accepted by one of them, do let the other journals know straight away.

In any case - now that I know you're sending out simultaneous submissions, I amend my previous method: I wouldn't even bother to chase or query at all. If the news is good, you'll find out sooner or later. If it's not, you'll hear back, or you won't. Either way, chasing the editors is unlikely to speed things up. Final selection and rejection of work often happens just before publication, and when you consider that a journal that's published quarterly or annually may well be working two issues ahead - plus all the reasons hippugreek cites above - this can add up to a long wait. I know it's frustrating, but having been on both sides of the fence, I think a zen "submit and forget" approach is best.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:12 PM on January 22, 2010

Response by poster: I wonder why all these magazines give a do-not-query before date? --which strongly suggests you should go ahead and do so after the time limit?
posted by uans at 12:29 PM on January 23, 2010

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