• Emily Lackey
  • The Art of Submission: How Do You Query Without Being Pushy (No, Really. How Do You?)
The Art of Submission: How Do You Query Without Being Pushy (No, Really. How Do You?)
Written by
Emily Lackey
April 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
April 2015

Here’s something I’ve been struggling with: there has been a significant lull in responses to my submissions lately.

It must be the time of year, right? Journals and magazines are slammed with the mid-submission-season accumulation, the stories piling up in their Submittable accounts as May approaches. It’s only natural that the stuff I sent out on September 1st got responses within weeks, while the stuff that I sent out in, say, December, is accumulating digital dust in some editor’s inbox.

But here is where I am struggling: I don’t want to write to these journals to let them know it’s been five months, seven months, hell in one case THIRTEEN MONTHS since I submitted my work for their consideration.

I don’t entirely know why. I know it has something to do with my time as an editor and how I was always annoyed by the people who did this. We’re working on it! I wanted to say in response. We have lives, you know!

Not that I ever did. Instead, I immediately went to my Submittable page, found their submission, read the first few pages, and generally sent them a rejection letter.

So. Yeah. I don’t want my stuff to wallow in Submittable forever, but I also don’t want a less-than-earnest consideration of my work either.

And then there is this reason: It feels a little hopeful to have a piece at a place longer than they say it will take. It feels nice to imagine an editorial board sitting around, discussing your piece as it works its way up from the top one hundred entries to the top ten.

I realize this is not realistic. That the more likely reality is that it’s lost somewhere in some editor’s inbox, never to be heard about again. But, still, it’s nice to live in delusion for a little bit, to believe that One Story hasn’t gotten back to you on that second-person piece because Hannah Tinti is fighting for its publication as we speak, and not because they have thousands of submission to get through on any given day.

And then there is the final reason why I don’t push it when my submissions go unresponded to: I don’t know what the hell I would say. How do you word an e-mail so that it doesn’t seem pushy and annoying and like you are calling an editor out on their untimely work when that is exactly what you are doing?

I’m a writer. I should know how to do this, but I don’t.

Do you do this? Or do you let your work linger in the inboxes of readers and editors on the off chance that they might be fighting for it to see the light of day? If so, how do you do this? What do you say?

Help? Please?

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  • Emily Lackey

    So many different opinions! I'm glad I'm not alone in this! The blind leading the blind, I guess. :)

  • Lorrie Sprecher

    i generally let my work linger forever unless i have some kind of relationship with someone at the journal.  if it's someone i've corresponded with before, i might drop a friendly line that is also chatty.  otherwise after a while i just assume i can send out the work again if it has been a ridiculously long time.  i think the clever thing to do would be to write and say:  are you still considering this?  because there is interest from another source.  but i don't have the guts to lie!

  • Lissa Brown

    Here's a related scenario. People applying for jobs often don't get even a 'thank you for applying' note. It happened to me numerous times. Years later, when I was in a position to hire people and I received a resume from someone who had not responded to my resume, guess who didn't get called for an interview. I already had a good sense of their lack of appropriate customer service behavior. I've been tempted to remind editors of this, but I haven't.

  • ...and how long do you wait before you send an inquiry about the status of your submission if a response time is not given? I want to be timely, but not unrealistic in expecting a too-soon response.

  • Kate Raphael

    It's not quite the same, but similar - as a radio producer, I get a lot of pitches.  If I'm not interested at all, I'll usually respond right away.  If it seems like a story I might want to do, I leave it in my inbox and think I'll respond when I have time.  And then a lot of the time I don't.  In that case, a nudge from the publicist or the potential guest might at least prompt me to decide whether or not I'm really going to do it.  So at least from me, a non-response is often a more positive sign than an immediate one.  Even though I'm incredibly annoyed by pushy publicists, I don't reject a pitch just because they annoy me.  My advice is to gently re-query.

  • Mardith Louisell

    Perhaps, incorrectly, I've assumed that if I don't hear, it's a no. There are so many journals and magazines and even, yes, agents, who do not respond these days.

  • Speaking as a writer and a magazine editor (bluelyrareview.com), I suggest sending a brief, polite email asking for an update. When I make an inquiry, I send an email with the subject line reading: Update requested for essay "An Afternoon in the Park" by Adrienne Ross Scanlan.  That way, whoever gets the email immediately knows what piece they need to look up. In the body of the email, I give the month that I sent the piece and then ask, "Is the piece still under review? If it is, I'll gladly keep it at your magazine for you to consider it further. But if a decision has been made, I'd appreciate an update."

    Carole makes a good point of checking the website first. If the website says the response time is 8 months out, and you're checking in at 6 months, they may not have had time to even get to your piece.  And, as Carole points out, sometimes a polite check-in gives a magazine a chance to resolve problems, such as discovering that a piece has  fallen through the cracks.

    A polite, professional email is also a way of building a relationship with the managing editor or genre editor. It gives you a chance to become a person and not just a stranger's name on a page.

    As for Ellen's question, I wouldn't give a flat-out rejection following a nudge. I try to read every piece at least twice. Often the pieces that have been left sitting in Submittable are ones I read once and didn't like, so I moved on to other pieces that seemed more promising. A nudge may be nothing more than a reminder to send out a rejection letter, but it won't cause a rejection to occur.

  • Carol D. Marsh

    I checked in with a literary journal at 6.5 months. The website said they respond within 6 months, so I felt that gave me permission to inquire. My email went something like this: I notice that your submissions page promises a 6-month response time. I hope it's not inconvenient for me to inquire about my submission of (date), almost 7 months ago. etc

    It turned out the piece had got lost in Submittable - I don't know how - so the editor asked me to send by email, which I thought was really nice. And she liked it, sent it to the CNF editor, who ultimately declined it. But the experience was generally a good one, and my sense is that most of the journals will respond politely to a polite email.

  • Ellen Cassedy

    Good post, Emily Lackey.  Do editors really respond to "noodge" queries by giving the submission an irritated once-over and rejecting it?   Any editors out there who can tell us?