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Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every month right here at Dark Matter Magazine to get tips on writing, publishing, and the subtle art of rejection. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.

AN HONORABLE RETREAT: THE WITHDRAWAL LETTER

Column by Aeryn Rudel

April 16, 2021

Last month, we discussed the somewhat sensitive subject of when to send a submission status query. This month, we’re taking it a step further and addressing one of the toughest submission scenarios. When is it appropriate to withdraw a story?

What is a Withdrawal Letter?

Simply put, a withdrawal letter is when you inform a publisher you no longer wish for them to consider a story for publication. You’re removing it from their submission queue. The two most common reasons you would do this are as follows.

The first reason is when you’ve sent a simultaneous submission and one publisher accepts the story while the other is still considering it. It is professional and expected to immediately inform the second publisher that the story is no longer available. 

The second scenario is more vague. When a publisher has not responded to you after a reasonable amount of time and they have also not responded to your submission status queries, it may be time to pull the story.

Let’s discuss both these scenarios in more detail.

The Sim-Sub Withdrawal

If you followed the guidelines and sent simultaneous submissions only to publishers that accept them, this an incredibly straightforward process. If one publisher accepts the story, immediately inform any other publishers still considering the piece with a letter like this one.

Dear Editors,

Thank you for reviewing my short story [story title], which I submitted on [date of submission]. The story has been accepted elsewhere for publication. At this time, I would like to withdraw my story from consideration.

Regards,

Simple and straightforward. Just tell the publisher the title of the story and when you submitted it. If there’s a submission ID number or the like, you might include that too. You don’t need to tell the editor where the story was published or offer any other reason that what’s stated. If a publisher accepts simultaneous submissions, this kind of letter won’t be a surprise. The worst you’re likely to get in response is a thank you and even a short congratulatory note.

The No-Response Withdrawal

This one is trickier because, like the submission status query, there are no hard and fast rules. You kind of have to go with your gut. I use a checklist when I’m trying to decide if a withdrawal letter is appropriate. It’s a series of questions, and if I can answer yes to all of them, it’s likely time to withdraw the story. It looks like this.

  • Has the story surpassed the stated response time?
  • Has the story surpassed the actual response time?
  • Have I checked the publisher’s website and social media to see if they’ve addressed a delay in response times?
  • Have I sent a submission status query?
  • Has the publisher not responded to the submission status query?
  • Have I waited an appropriate amount of time since I sent the submission status query?

A quick note on the bolded terms. Stated response time is what the publisher puts in their guidelines. Actual response time is just that and can be ascertained from submission databases like Duotrope and The Submission Grinder. Actual response times are often longer than stated response times. An appropriate amount of time will vary on your tolerances. For me, it’s two to three weeks.

I want to highlight that third question. It’s important. Many publishers head off submission status queries and potential withdrawals by letting authors know about delays in response times on their websites and/or social media. I’m seeing this a lot more frequently (and appreciating it), so make sure you check before you pull a story (or send a status query).

If I’ve answered yes to all the question on my list, which means I’ve probably determined it’s time to withdraw the story, I’ll send a letter like this.

Dear Editors,

I submitted my short story [story title] to [publisher name] on [date submitted]. I sent a submission status query on [date of query]. At this time, I would like to withdraw the story from consideration.

Best,

Even more than sim-sub withdrawal letter, this one should only state the facts. It should consist of three elements. When you submitted the story, when you sent the status query, and that your withdrawing the piece. I include the date of the submission status query to let the publisher know I’ve done my due diligence. You could leave that out, though, and it would still be a perfectly serviceable withdrawal letter.

Again, just the facts. There’s no need to be confrontational or snarky. It’s unprofessional, and you don’t know why the publisher hasn’t responded. It may be something truly beyond their control. Just regroup and send the story somewhere else.

I will say this is kind of withdrawal is still pretty rare. Out of over 500 submissions, I’ve only sent a handful of these. Often times, I’m sad to say, the market closed soon after. In other words, a complete lack of response from a publisher may be an indicator of bigger problems.

Final Word

Withdrawal letters are a necessary part of the submission process, and you shouldn’t be afraid to send one when it’s appropriate. I’ve covered the most common reasons to withdraw here, but there are other scenarios where it might be appropriate as well. In all circumstances, if you follow the submission guidelines, and your letter is short and professional, there shouldn’t be any repercussions when you withdraw a story.

Check back next month for more advice on how and where to submit your work or head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.