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.
ASK AWAY: THE SUBMISSION STATUS QUERY
Column by Aeryn Rudel
March 18, 2021
This month, we’re going to that place many authors fear to tread: the submission status query. But it doesn’t haven’t to be a harrowing experience; in fact, it’s just a normal part of the submission process every author should be familiar with.
What is a Submission Status Query?
The submission status query is a short email you send a publisher to check on the status of your submission. It gives the editor some basic information and politely asks for an update. Here’s the one I’ve been using for years.
I would like to inquire about the status of my short story [story title] submitted to [publisher] on [date].
Pretty simple, right? Just give the editor the basic facts, so they can find your story in the submission queue. Always check the guidelines before you send a query, though. Some publishers may want additional information in the letter, such as submission ID number from a submission management service like Submittable or Moksha.
Of course, the big question is when is it appropriate to send a submission status query? Let’s dive into that.
When to Query
Most of the time, authors send submission status queries when they haven’t heard from a publisher well past the expected response time. But how long should you wait before you send a query? There’s no hard and fast rule, but there are some data points you can use to make an informed decision.
First, check the guidelines. Publishers often address submission status queries there, like this:
If you have not heard back from us after 30 days, feel free to query us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this case, the publisher would like you to wait at least 30 days from submission before querying, but, as you can see, they clearly have no issue with you inquiring after your submission beyond that point.
You should also check the guidelines to see if a publisher allows submission queries at all. It’s rare, but some markets do discourage authors from inquiring after submissions. In that case, don’t query, but you might want to get ready with a withdrawal letter (more on that next month).
Once you check the guidelines, there are three numbers you should know: how long your story has been held, the publisher’s stated response time, and the publisher’s actual response time. By comparing these numbers, you can get a good idea of when it’s appropriate to query.
To demonstrate what I mean, let’s pretend I sent a submission to Dark Matter Magazine, and I’m wondering if it’s time to send a submission status query.
The first number, how long my story has been held, is easy, right? If I sent the story on February 1 and today is March 5, my story has been held for 33 days.
The second number is simple to find, too. Dark Matter puts their stated response time right in their submission guidelines. As you can see above, it’s 30 days. Of course, not all markets do this, so the next number is important.
Now you might be thinking if the stated response time is 30 days and my story has been held for 33 days, I should send a query. I certainly could, and according to Dark Matter’s guidelines, they’re a-okay with that. But before I fire off that email, let’s take a look at the publisher’s actual response time, which can be found by checking a submission database like Duotrope or The Submission Grinder.
Submission databases track recent submissions for a publisher, which can give you a fairly accurate picture of when they’re responding to submissions. If I went out to Duotrope and saw Dark Matter was responding to submissions at the 40-day mark, I’d probably wait until after that point to send a status query. My rule of thumb is usually to wait a week or two after the actual response time gas elapsed before I send a query. That’s just me, though. You may be different, and as long as you’re following the guidelines, sending the query earlier is absolutely fine.
What to Expect
Once you’ve sent a submission status query, you can generally expect one of three responses. I’ll discuss each below.
- The Usual. In this case, your query will prompt a rejection, an acceptance, or whatever else the publisher would normally send you. If you followed the guidelines and sent a polite, professional query, it won’t affect the publisher’s decision one way or the other (other than possibly speeding up the response). In my experience, it’s not uncommon for a publisher to thank an author for sending a query in the eventual response.
- Our Mistake. Editors are human beings. Human beings make mistakes. That means sometimes submissions get lost or responses don’t go out. If that happens, and you send a submission status query, the publisher will almost certainly get back to you with an apology and an official response. More than a few of my submission status queries fall into this category, which is why it’s so important to send them. They can alert the publisher to a mistake or even a potential ongoing issue in their submission queue.
- Crickets. Sometimes you send a submission query, and it goes unanswered. It’s rare, but when it happens, it may be time to consider withdrawing the story. We’ll cover that process in the next article.
Now let’s address why authors sometimes don’t send submission status queries when they should. They’re afraid a query will anger the editor and all but ensure their story will be rejected along with a nasty response. Put that fear to rest. If you follow the guidelines, wait an appropriate amount of time, and send a polite, professional status query, then no reputable editor is going to be upset by the inquiry. It’s an expected part of the job.
Submission status queries are a normal part of the submission process, so don’t be afraid to send them. Just remember to follow these steps.
- Check the submission guidelines to see if the publisher mentions queries, gives a stated response time, or forbids status queries altogether.
- Compare how long your story has been held with the publisher’s stated response time and their actual response time to ascertain if it’s appropriate to send a query.
- Make sure your submission status query is short, to the point, and contains only the information a publisher needs to check on the status of your submission.
If you do these three thins, you have no reason to fear the query. Good luck and good writing.
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.