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On Waiting: Suggestions for Writers
by Terry W. Ervin II

You’ve just submitted your short story after several days spent locating the perfect market. Now what do you do? Common advice suggests that you begin another project and write while you’re waiting for a response.

Makes sense, but there’s that nasty, dreaded seven-lettered word in the previous sentence. Waiting. It’s often followed by the question: How long should I wait? Then the next question: Wait for how long…until I do what?

Do I begin thinking about other potential markets? Do I query about the status of my submission? Do I pull my story?

A lot of questions, to which I don’t have all of the answers. Every writer’s situation is different. But I do have a few suggestions.

Do you begin thinking about other potential markets?
No. The best way to handle this is to make a list of potential markets while finding the first one to submit your story to. Note in the list items such as rate of pay, windows of when the market may be open to submissions, print or online (or both), and any notes about stories or information provided in the guidelines that caught your attention. Jot it all down because in a few months with other projects at the forefront, you’ll forget.

If you stumble across another potential market for the story already out, add it to the list. What this does is help resist the urge to invest time surfing online for a ‘just in case I get rejected’ market. This is true even if you’ve submitted to markets that accept simultaneous submissions.

Do you query about the status of your submission?
No. At least not right away. Sure, the submission guidelines may indicate a response time of three months. Sometimes it’ll even happen, and if so, more often if the story is rejected. Editors mean well and do the best they can. But, in addition to the hundreds of slush submissions a month, they are also editing and formatting already bought stories and dealing with printers, budgets, contracts, distribution, advertisement and more. Often assigned slush editors sift through the pile, weeding out the stories that are not well written, incorrect genre, don’t conform to the guidelines (wrong file type, weird fonts and spacing, etc.), aren’t quite good enough and a variety of other reasons earning the submission a rejection letter. The slush editors pass on up those they see having potential to make the cut into a new, ever-growing-never-ending pile waiting for attention.

Beyond that, sending a status query to the editor on the exact day the posted guidelines say a submission should’ve been read may not win you any points. It is another hassle an editor has to deal with. Editors are dealing with dozens of issues mentioned above, including their own deadlines—such as meeting press dates and paying bills. Why involve themselves with a writer who could potentially make the experience of running a magazine/ezine/anthology a little more unpleasant, especially if the content or tone of the status query is questionable?

What to do? Be patient. Check websites such as Duotrope (
http://www.duotrope.com ), Submitting to the Black Hole ( http://brain-of-pooh.tech-soft.com/critters/blackholes/ ) and Ralan’s Webstravaganza ( http://www.ralan.com/ ). There you can find information on what to expect from different markets, such as shortest, longest and average time for a submission to be read and accepted or rejected, rates of acceptance and rejection, and if a market has closed its doors, among other things.

If you do decide to contact a market about the status of your submission, if for no other reason than to know if it did arrive (yes, this question does bounce around just about every writer’s frontal lobe and on very rare occasions weird things do happen in cyberspace), provide the relevant information for them to easily search and identify your story. Title of the work, genre, author name, date of submission, return email address are all important. In your contact be brief and polite.

Do you pull your story?
That’s up to you. How long you wait is an individual choice based on many factors. Is it a market you really want your story to appear in? How many other markets are likely to accept the piece you’ve written? Have you given the editors enough time to make a decision?

If you do decide to pull your story (and sometimes it becomes the right thing to do), just as when you may have queried about its status, be brief and professional and give adequate information for the editors to locate and delete the story from their queue.

Getting a bit snotty may feel justifiable for about 90 seconds after you’ve hit the send key. It is doubtful, unless you’re someone influential in the field or genre, that your email announcing that you’re pulling your story because you gave them over nine months to read and accept your story when their posted guidelines said to expect three! What an unprofessional magazine they run and how you won’t submit to them ever again and intend to tell your friends and writing associates not to either—and not subscribe to boot! will change anything except to solidify your name in that editor’s memory. And they just might share their experience with some of their peers.

Setting fire to a bridge may initially feel rewarding until one sees the flames devour that bridge, resulting in its inevitable collapse. What work might one day be necessary to rebuild those collapsed bridges, if the foundation on which to start isn’t already forever lost?

Waiting is hard but it’s a section of the road a writer must travel toward publication.


Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All Rights Reserved.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. His short stories have appeared in a number of places including MindFlights, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and The Sword Review. His novel, Flank Hawk is scheduled for release by Gryphonwood Press in late 2009.

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at


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